Guitar heroes help the Yardbirds fly again with Birdland



By Steve Newton

When the Yardbirds were recording their new Birdland CD for the guitar-oriented Favored Nations label, they made sure to feature company prez Steve Vai on the remake of their 1966 hit, “Shapes of Things”. The quintet also encouraged such six-string stalwarts as Jeff “Skunk” Baxter, Steve Lukather, Slash, Brian May, and Vai’s former guitar teacher, Joe Satriani, to get their licks in on other tracks. Since the band has in the past included rock guitar’s Big Three—Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page—founding drummer Jim McCarty is used to supporting godlike talent. Still, the 59-year-old skin basher was thrilled by Birdland’s recent guests.

“It was especially great to have Brian May onboard, flying the flag,” McCarty says on the phone from Florida. “Brian was always a big Yardbirds fan, and I met him a few times through the years. He actually went to my high school in London, Hampton Grammar School, though we didn’t actually know each other.”

After a three-decade break, McCarty resurrected the Yardbirds name seven years ago, hooking up with original rhythm guitarist Chris Dreja. They enlisted Detroit vocalist-bassist John Idan and onetime Nine Below Zero harmonica man Alan Glen, then set their sights on a lead guitarist who could live up to the band’s pedigree. At first they brought in former Mott guitarist Ray Major, but his playing style didn’t quite suit the granddaddies of garage.

“We thought he was a bit too heavy metal for us,” McCarty notes, “and it was suggested that [former Dr. Feelgood guitarist] Gypie Mayo was more in the Jeff Beck mould, so we got him in. He was a much more spontaneous and off-the-wall player.”

Far from being just a timekeeper for the Yardbirds, McCarty cowrote such deathless gems as “Still I’m Sad”, “Over Under Sideways Down”, “Happenings Ten Years’ Time Ago”, and the aforementioned “Shapes”. But that hasn’t stopped naysayers from claiming that, with only two original members, the current Yardbirds are taking advantage of the famous name. “I’ve seen some reviews which say that,” reports McCarty, “but overall, I’d say 80 or 90 percent, it’s pretty good. Most people really like the album, and are really pleased that we’re coming back to play.”

The Yardbirds take the stage at Sonar tonight (July 3), their first Vancouver date since the ’60s, when they played “some kind of ice rink” with Page on guitar. “I heard through the grapevine that Jimmy liked the Birdland album,” says McCarty, “and was a bit miffed he wasn’t asked to play on it. But the idea really was that we were gonna do the old songs with guests on, and the new songs with the lineup we’ve got. Apart from the Jeff Beck appearance, which was a one-off, we didn’t ask the old players to play on old songs.”

So which of the Yardbirds’ signature tunes are going over best with today’s audiences? “They pretty well all do,” McCarty claims. “You know, ‘Shapes of Things’ is a classic track, and ‘For Your Love’ goes down really well. ‘Train Kept a Rollin’ is always good, too—especially in America.”

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