In Conversation With…
Drummer for Yardbirds
Box of Frogs
By: Joseph Suto
The Yardbirds were one of the pioneers for playing the type of music they played. With such diversity that featured not only blues but also included jazz, folk, rock, pop, and raga to name a few, they were an inspiration to many bands who are still relevant today. During the 1960s the band at various stages featured such guitars greats as Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and James Patrick Page. Solidifying the foundation of the band were drummer Jim McCarty, bassist Paul Samwell-Smith, multi-instramentalist Chris Dreja and singer Keith Relf.
McCarty will be bringing the current version of the band to town on Friday March 22. We had the fantastic opportunity to talk with McCarty recently as he discussed many interesting things. Check out our interview with him below.
RSC: On March 22 you will be in town playing the Tralf. What can fans expect from this version of the Yardbirds?
Jim McCarty: It’s a very well performed electrifying set. It has all the hits and all the blues numbers we used to do, a strong repertoire and very good musicians. I’m always pleased to be able to have such a good band to play with.
RSC: This lineup is a little different this time around. Who will you be bringing with you this time?
JM: We got a guy named Geoffrey Townsend on lead guitar, I’ve never played with him before. I know he can play but I’ve never actually met him. The bass player is a great player called Kenny Aaronson he’s played with Billy Idol, The New York Dolls, Bob Dylan, lots of great bands. The singer is John Idan who’s the singer on the Birdland album which was released in 2003. He’s been in and out of the band for a while. Harmonica is Myke Scavone from a Jersey band the Dough Boys and he’s very good. We’re all pretty good together. The guys are very faithful to the old sound.
RSC: The Yardbirds have always had an extremely talented guitarist. I can’t think of many bands that have ever had a threesome quite like Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page. How is it you guys always managed to find such great guitarists?
JM: I don’t know. It’s funny because those three English guys they were all born fairly close to each other just outside London. We used to Back in the old days there were a lot of great musicians’ guitar wise.
RSC: What was the live music scene like when you first started out?
JM: We were definitely a live band. There were a lot of gigs in those days. The London area where we came from there was probably three times as many venues as there are now. There were lots of live bands particularly when the blues music got discovered in London. You’d have bands like the Kinks, The Pretty Things and the Rolling Stones obviously. You had to play well in order to get a following.
RSC: Like many artists in the 60s you started out doing covers. At what point did you decide to write your own songs?
JM: We did covers but we tried to make them different particularly when Jeff Beck came into the band. He used different techniques and sounds to make the sound different. We were always encouraged to write songs by our manager Giorgio Gomelsky. He used to say you got so much time hanging around with waiting and traveling, and said why don’t you get together and write songs. It was sort of a natural progression. We were a good team together. Particularly singer Keith Relf, the bass player Paul Samwell-Smith and myself we were good friends and worked well together. We had a good chemistry for writing songs.
RSC: Do you still stay in touch with any past members of the Yardbirds?
JM: Yeah quite a few Paul and Chris mainly. I haven’t spoken to Jeff in a while. Jimmy Page we had an old album that was remixed recently came out Yardbirds 68’ and that came out a couple of years ago. We got together with Jimmy and went through how we were going to present it. He was very enthusiastic about getting that album out. He had very fond memories of the Yardbirds.
RSC: What made you get the band back together in 1995?
JM: We were inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992. We had lots of people get in touch saying why don’t you get the Yardbirds back together. It was an agency from North of England that contacted me and Chris who represented the Animals. He said why don’t you reform the Yardbirds? He said you can get some other musicians and he’d be the agent. We tried it out as an experiment and sort of kept going.
RSC: What keeps you going?
JM: We have lots of breaks. I only do it on occasion. I did a book last year called “Nobody Told Me” which was released in April which I like to promote. I do my own solo recordings which I like to sell on the road as well. I love to play the old repertoire, it still stands up and it’s a good band. I enjoy coming to America for some reason I always love it in the States.
RSC: Do you have a favorite Yardbirds album?
JM: Yeah, the one that became known as Roger the Engineer that was probably my favorite because that was the only real recording album we did in the studio. We wrote all the songs and had a lot of fun doing that one. It was a nice time for the Yardbirds 1966 with Jeff Beck, Paul Samwell-Smith, Chris, Keith and myself. We had a nice line-up and it was good fun doing it.
RSC: You did a side project called Box of Frogs. How did that come together?
JM: That came around because we had some ideas about writing more songs Paul, Chris and myself. We had to get a band together for the anniversary of the Marquee Club. We recorded more songs. We gradually got it together it was sort of a slow burner. It was going to be an EP first of all and then we wrote more songs and it became a full-blown album. We had fun doing that. It was a shame we never actually got it together to play it live. Which I think would have helped a lot.
Special thanks to Jim for his time as well as John Lappen.