• Cream of The Crate: CD #22 - The Great Eric Clapton and the Yardbirds

      0 Not allowed! Not allowed!
      "If you hand me a guitar, I'll play the blues. That's the place I automatically go."(Eric Clapton)

      CD Box Set Cover

      This is number twenty two in the series of retro-reviews of Cd albums in my collection.

      The series is called,
      "Cream of The Crate (CD's)", and they represent CD albums that I believe are of significant musical value, either because of their rarity, because they represent the best of a style or styles of music or because there is something unique about the group or the music.

      With the review of CD #22 I find myself drawn toward a 3CD Set, that has so little going for it in terms of an accompanying booklet, that as a "set" of music it must, and does, have something Special.

      The set titled "The Great Eric Clapton and the Yardbirds" was bought out on the RED label (RED032) in 2000 and is a release by the Rajon Music Group. In fact it was a limited edition 3-CD set, and comes in a well made die-cut blue slip-in box with embossed gold labeling that looks the goods. However, there is no booklet, not even a folded insert and that, does take the edge of it being a quality production and really, there is no excuse for it and I cannot imagine the reasoning behind the omission of this important supplementary piece.

      So it is a reasonably recent release of the music of a music playing genius (who had his with flaws) and a group, which were idolised back in the 1960's. Eric Clapton is now in my mind, an absolute living legend.

      Born in March 1945, at the age of 16 he was busking and at 17 he was playing in small pubs with fellow blues enthusiast David Brock. Also at 17 he joined an early R&B group based around Surrey, called "The Roosters" until in 1963 he joined the well loved group, the Yardbirds. It was in the Yardbirds that he began to become not just appreciated, but to be worshiped for his guitar work.

      Clapton with the Roosters

      Clapton was initially pleased with the Yardbirds as their repertoire was almost entirely blues based. In 1965 the Yardbirds had their first hit with "For Your Love", which Clapton played on. However he was most upset at this change of direction into the more 'pop' side of music.

      Clapton then eagerly accepted an invitation and joined John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers in April 1965. There was a period when he left the Bluebreakers and joined some friends in a group called "The Glands", but again after a few months he left them to rejoin and have a second stint with the Bluesbreakers.

      This was the style of music he wanted and at this time he swapped his Fender Telly and Vox amp for a Les Paul and a Marshall amp. It wasn't long after that and largely due to his style of playing and the resulting sound, that he started being called "god" through the caption, "Clapton is God", which appeared on walls everywhere.

      He then was part of the formation of the magnificent three piece group, The Cream. With this move came a degree of contentment and some most excellent music, but the Cream had a "use by date", and he moved on. Certainly over the years he has always either moved directly back to the blues or certainly has integrated elements into his own music. However, for the purposes of this review I am staying with the period he was with the Yardbirds, particularly the earlier period when the group was a solid electric blues band.

      The earliest version of the band formed in the London suburbs in the early 1960s and were known as "The Metropolis Blues Quartet," but by 1963, the Yardbirds line-up had gelled with core members Keith Relf (vocals, harmonica), Chris Dreja (rhythm guitar), Paul Samwell-Smith (bass) and Jim McCarty (drums), in addition to lead guitarist Anthony "Top" Topham. When sixteen-year-old Topham was pressured by his parents to quit, Eric Clapton, stepped in. In regard to the name change, in late May 1963, they decided to change it and after a couple of gigs in September 1963 as the Blue-Sounds, they settled on the Yardbirds, which was both an expression for hobos hanging around rail yards waiting for a train and also a reference to the jazz saxophonist Charlie "Yardbird" Parker.

      Now it was about the time that Clapton joined the group that their big break came. The Rolling Stones had a residency at the famous Crawdaddy Club in Surrey, but their fame was growing and it was time for them to move on, and the Yardbirds got the gig. The Crawdady Club was being run by Giorgio Gomelski, and he became both the bands Manager, and their first Producer.

      Left to right - McCarty, Samwell-Smith, Clapton, Relf & Dreja

      So, to the music in this set. What this boxed set does provide is a most excellent selection of blues material from that fantastic period.

      Music Selection

      So we have forty tracks including the two singles "I Wish You Would" and "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl" but it was their 3rd single that eventually drove Clapton out of the group - that being the Graham Gould (10cc) composition, For Your Love. What becomes quite apparent is that the producers of this CD have highlighted that it is Eric Clapton & the Yardbirds, but there are a number of commercial tracks, the best known one's cut after Clapton left, and we find either Jimmy Page or Jeff Beck playing guitar.

      There appears to be no rhyme or reason for the track order.

      CD #1 - Track Listing

      I'm going to stick to the tracks that Clapton played on, eSpecially the blues based material, of which there is much to choose from. As both singles "I Wish You Would" and "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl" are on CD #1 it seemed to make sense to feature these. (Come back baby) I Wish You Would, was written and performed by Billie Boy Arnold, who happens to be a favourite of mine, and Arnolds' version is certainly the yard measure for the many versions recorded by many artists. When the Yardbirds recorded and released this version it flopped.

      This was both surprising and yet, understandable. It was their debut single and released in 1964 it would have been a hit IF the buying audience was the same audience that loved the group live. It wasn't! The track is a 'Chicago Blues Classic' and it is so obvious why the Yardies chose it, as it has a good uptempo beat, plenty of room for wailing harmonica. Unfortunately as well played as the harp is, it takes all the focus and there is little of Clapton's brilliance shining through.
      Early in the morning about the break of day
      That's when my baby went away
      Crying and pleading won't do you no good
      Come back baby I wish you would

      I Wish You Would

      Good Morning Little Schoolgirl is another "Chicago Blues Classic". Written and recorded prior to WWII by Sonny Boy Williamson II, it is another blues track that was to end up in the repertoire of almost all blues based bands, worldwide so it is no surprise that the blues crazy Clapton would want it on their play list as it did for many greats such as John Lee Hooker, Lightnin' Hopkins, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Muddy Waters and Doctor Ross.

      It's a fantastic uptempo electric blues piece and while it did not reach any giddy heights, it was appreciated more by the public and rose to #44 on the British charts, staying there for 4 weeks. The Yardbirds certainly put more of a 'stamp' on this track than they did with I Wish You Would. It is set at a faster pace than most other versions and while it retains elements of blues, it is certainly delivered in a more conventional 'pop' delivery style. What is pleasing is that there are some delightful guitar pieces from Clapton, and to be honest, I think Keith Relfs delivery is better on this track than that first release.

      Listening to this track does give you some idea of the music that was flooding across Britain as the Yardbirds, along with the Animals, Stones and Pretty Things all were going hell bent in the clubs and pubs taking the American Blues tracks, and massaging and shaping them into what would be called the "British Sound".

      Good Morning Little Schoolgirl

      CD #2- Track Listing

      Track # 9 is Smokestack Lightning which was recorded by and made famous by, Howling Wolf. That the group would choose this track to put on their play list is of no surprise. It is a fantastic track and has been covered by so many groups, too many to list. "Smokestack Lightning" received a Grammy Hall of Fame Award in 1999 honoring its lasting historical significance and was #291 in Rolling Stones list of the "500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

      The song takes the form of "a propulsive, one-chord vamp, nominally in E major but with the flatted blue notes that make it sound like E minor", but this very basic structure hides the the true success of the track, the energy that it creates and the success of it can often be measured in terms of the vocal delivery. Relf is a little under-powered to truly do the song justice, but the harp playing is good, the bass/drum combo is very good and while Clapton is somewhat in the background it is an excellent example of British based blues.

      Smokestack Lightning

      Boom Boom is yet another blues classic covered by the Yardies. Originally recorded by John Lee Hooker it was originally recorded at an amazing 168 beats per minute, which is quite a driving pace for a blues track. It was only released a couple of years before Clapton joined the Yardbirds (1962 in fact), so it would have been almost on their lips when they were putting their playlist together. A great live performance track, it was unlikely to ever have been released as a single given the Animals did that in 1964 and had a modest hit from their effort.

      Yet in all honesty, the version by the Yardbirds is pretty superior to the Animals with maybe the exception of Eric Burden's delivery being better, however, I do think Keith Relf made a damn fine effort on this one, and his harp playing excels again. Clapton is a bit more forward in this track and breaks out with some classic Clapton licks and his sound? It's like liquid silver.
      Boom, boom, boom, boom
      I'm gonna shoot you right down
      Right off your feet
      Take you home with me
      Put you in my house
      Boom, boom, boom, boom

      Boom Boom

      CD #3- Track Listing

      Track #1 - Honey In Your Hips is one fantastic track by the Yardies. It was released in the Netherlands and Germany on a single, along with Boom Boom, but released after Clapton had left the Yardbirds. Written by Keith Relf it does suggest that if Clapton was still wanting to be steeped in the Blues, that maybe Relf was looking for a way out.

      The track is an uptempo blues track, but it certainly does make an attempt at being more a pop track. Relf's harp and Clapton's guitar certainly keep it within the Blues idiom, but the end was near.

      When I get out on the dancing floor
      There ain't no stopping for an hour or more
      I go rocking up and down and around and round
      I go reeling to the beat of that crazy sound
      I can't stop, I want to kiss your pretty lips
      'Cause I know, pretty babe, you got honey in your hips

      I can't stop my feet and I can't stop my hands
      When I hear the sound of a rock 'n' roll band
      Gotta rock, gotta roll, gonna jump and shout
      Nobody better come and turn me out
      I'm staying all night 'til I get my kicks
      'Cause you know, pretty babe, you got honey in your hips

      I want you and you want me
      We're gonna dance all night 'til we both feel free
      We'll shake and we'll shimmy right across the floor
      When it gets late, we'll dance out the door
      You better get ready with your pretty lips
      'Cause you know, pretty babe, you got honey in your hips

      Honey In Your Hips

      The final track pays homage to the playing of Clapton and the Yardbirds in those 'heady' blues days, but it also plays equal homage to the original blues masters, when the Yardbirds with Clapton were joined by none other than Sonny Boy Williamson II. The recording demonstrates the quality playing of the Yardies, all of them, and how when they have a true 'blues master' at the mic, they would pass any audition anywhere as a top blues band.

      The track is Take It Easy Baby, and they did, this is really relaxed, take it easy blues. It was recorded in England at the Crawdaddy Club in Richmond, Surrey on December 8, 1963.

      The question has often been asked, "Can White Men sing the blues?" - well on this track, Clapton shows a white man sure can play the blues!

      Take It Easy Baby

      If we listen to recent Eric Clapton, then we listen to this, his very early work we can only come to one conclusion. Clapton's first and foremost love is the blues! His guitar playing has vacillated from the pure unadulterated brilliance through to that of a smacked out addict only return like an excellently vintage wine! The legacy he is developing will see him remembered as a a gifted musician; guitar genius, composer and singer who overcame his 'demons'.

      This is a fine set of those early years, and whilst not by any means the only compilation of those early years, it is an excellent one, packed very nicely, yet not costing an arm or a leg when released.

      I checked around on Ebay and found some of the single disks for sale, but only one complete box, which was only $21.00 plus postage from the UK. Just keep the name in the back of your mind, because if you do come across the complete set, buy it!

      Video's - Once again YouTube came through with some very worthwhile clips of Clapton playing with the Yardbirds, and these very appropriately supplement the discussions above.

      For Your Love


      The Yardbirds's Early Years (featuring Eric Clapton)

      Cream of The Crate CD Reviews

      #1 - The Fugs: The Fugs First Album

      #2 - Robert Johnson: The Complete Recordings

      #3 - Bob Dylan: Biograph

      #4 - Robin Trower: Essential

      #5 - Sixties Down Under: Various Artists

      #6 - The Big Ol' Box Of New Orleans: Various Artists

      #7 - Hugh Masekela: African Breeze

      #8- The Last Poets: The Legend

      #9 - Sister Rosetta Tharpe: Down By The River Side

      #10 - Sixties Down Under (Volume 2): Various Artists

      #11 - The Beatles: On Air Live at the BBC Volume 2

      #12 - The Rolling Stones: Singles Collection The London Years

      #13 - Girl Groups Of The '60s: Various Artists

      #14 - The Byrds: There Is A Season

      #15 - Sixties Down Under (Volume 3): Various Artists

      #16 - The London Howling Wolf Sessions

      #17 - The Who: Thirty Years of Maximum R&B

      # 18 - Thomas Dolby: Hyperactive

      #19 - Love Is The Song We Sing: San Francisco Nuggets 1965 -1970

      #20 - Sixties Down Under (Volume 4): Various Artists

      #21 - 2nu: Ponderous