I am a record person, always have been, always will be. I buy CDs for three reasons — a new release that will never be found in vinyl form, a box sets that contains unique material, or an impulse purchase when I can hear the CD whispering to me. Live! Blueswailing July ’64 by the Yardbirds falls into the third category.
The Yardbirds are one of the forgotten groups of rock history. Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame in 1992, they are remembered today not so much for their music as for being the training ground for three of the great rock guitarists in history. Eric Clapton (May 1963-March 1965), Jeff Beck (March 1965-June 1966) and Jimmy Page (April 1966-July 1968) each learned their craft as the lead guitarist of the Yardbirds.
As if that wasn’t historically significant enough, the tail end of the band’s golden era was equally as noteworthy. When the Yardbirds broke up in July 1968, Page and bassist Chris Dreja decided to form the New Yardbirds in order to fulfill some concert commitments. Singer Terry Reid turned them down but recommended Robert Plant, who brought along drummer John Bonham. Then, in one of the worst voluntary decisions in rock history, Chris Dreja decided not to participate in the new group, became a photographer and was replaced by bassist John Paul Jones. The New Yardbirds decided to look for a new name. Any idea what they settled on*?
Meanwhile, back in 1964… Blueswailing July ’64 features the Eric Clapton edition of the Yardbirds. The group is led by singer/harmonica player Keith Relf, who would die by electrocution playing the guitar at home in 1976. Relf was a wonderful blues/rock vocalist and one of the better rock harmonica players. The interplay of Relf’s harmonica with Clapton’s guitar playing is the highlight of this CD, which is unfortunately only half an hour long.
In fact, it is similar to the LP Five Alive Yardbirds and probably comes from the same concert tour. The main problem is that it was recorded in 1964, probably on a simple tape recorder, and is limited in sound. Three old rock/blues standards form the meat of the set — “Too Much Monkey Business,” “Smokestack Lightning” and “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl” – and all feature a young Clapton learning his craft. The highlight of this disc is the song “I’m So Respectable,” which features the wonderful harmonica-guitar interplay mentioned above.
Make no mistake, while the main interest here may be centered upon Clapton, the leader and focus of the Yardbirds at this point in their history is Relf and here, at least, he shines. Still, it is 1964. The sound is very raw, not a surprise given that the Yardbirds never develop a very sophisticated sound, but here it’s too weak to give a true testament to the band’s concert sound.
As such, it’s interesting for a listen and for its historical value, but it’s not something you’ll return to very often unless you’re a huge Yardbirds or Clapton fan. Me, I’ll stick with the albums.