Where guitarists earned their stripes...
The Story of the Yardbirds overcomes a rather curious opening career précis by the late Tommy Vance, to tell the story of the de facto rise of one of rock's most influential bands. Unlike many low budget musical bio doc compilations, the strength of 'The Story of the Yardbirds' is that the rise and fall of the band is told first hand by remaining members Chris Dreja and Jim McCartney as well as band member turned producer Paul Samell Smith and star turns Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page and briefly Eric Clapton.
There's even a brief interview with original manger Giorgio Gomelsky and the late Peter Grant who later teamed up with page in Zeppelin. Most of the interview footage probably comes from the early 90's's judging by Clapton's hair style, Beck's pretty boy demeanour and a young looking Chris Dreja and Jim McCarty. But no matter the story is eloquently told, and is liberally sprinkled with excellent world wide footage of the band and several unseen photos, some of which comes from Chris Dreja's private collection.
There's some excellent1965 American footage including a priceless clip from 'Shindig Goes to London', capturing the band whipping up a storm at the Richmond Jazz & Blues Festival. Clapton's departure was probably more significant than the band realised at the time, as despite playing on the forthcoming hit 'For Your Love' he didn't have any real interest in the psychedelic experimentation that the Yardbirds later embraced.
EC's successor Jeff Beck speaks openly about how he was all dragged off the stage at the 100 Club by Hamish Grimes and but press ganged into the evolving band. Tellingly Beck traces his own stylistic leanings from Booker T and the like to full on rock within the context of the band. And as he concludes with relish at the end of the film, The Yardbirds were 'pioneers of Heavy metal and psychedelia because there was nothing else like it'.
A couple of clips including a '67 French TV clip show Jimmy Page with his pre Zeppelin bow routine and there's a further footage of Page in full flow in 1967 'Happening Ten Years Ago' from German TV.
There's also a perfect Page coda to be found on the welcome bonus track that finds the band on Frankfurt's 'Beat-Beat-Beat' TV show also in '67. The irony is not lost on Dreja that while the band had just about reached the end of their tether in 1968, Jimmy was fresh from playing sessions and ready to hit the road again.
As a postscript to the times Jim McCarty make mention of the fact that the band were getting problems with the MU and could only play private parties before their big leap to the States and the remaking musical history. Here was a band who in their naivety were thrown on tour and recorded with Sonny Boy Williamson, and barely a hop, skip and a jump later they are reinventing the blues wheel in the States.
Most of the salient career highlights are included with a couple of particular raucous versions of 'Train Kept a Rollin', including the footage of Beck destroying his amp on Antonioni's film 'Blow Up'.
Perhaps the only minor blemish on this 16 year old documentary is that the makers could have updated the band's affairs with another bonus track comprising the present band. After all having spawned three heavyweight guitarists plus the unheralded Gypie Mayo, The Yardbirds are now touring world wide again with a new 19 year old guitar protégé Ben King.
Review by Pete Feenstra