Photos by Arnie Goodman
The Yardbirds originally formed in London in 1963 and launched the careers of guitarists Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck. After a breakup, the band reformed in 1992. The latest incarnation, with original drummer Jim McCarty, lead guitarist Johnny A (Peter Wolf, Bobby Whitlock), bassist Kenny Aaronson (Bob Dylan, Billy Idol), harpist/percussionist Myke Scavone (Ram Jam & Doughboys) and guitarist/singer John Idan, hit B.B. King’s Blues Club and rocked the blues through the roof.
Looking relaxed and fit, the quintet got the evening off to a running start with “Heart Full of Soul,” and proceeded directly into “Drinking Muddy Water,” their 1967 reinterpretation of a 1927 tune which has a long history of being rewritten, most famously by Muddy Waters, one of the band’s heavy influencers. The long instrumental interlude—notably from Myke Scavone’s aggressive harmonica—put the crowd on notice that it was in for a special evening. After a brief pause for applause, the band kicked right back into the jungle rhythms of “Please Don’t Tell Me ‘Bout The News.”
Much has been made about the contributions the Yardbirds made tomid-’60s electric guitar sounds (feedback, “fuzztone” distortion and improved amplification, etc.), but founder Jim McCarty’s incredible drumming cannot be overlooked. The pounding, driving, throbbing beat is so irresistible, I found my heart rate altering to keep time, while McCarty sat calmly at his kit, looking for all the world like a man enjoying a peaceful dinner.
Throughout the long set, the Yardbirds wasted no time, transitioning from the prescient “Mr. You’re a Better Man” to the classic sound of the very appropriate “New York City Blues” with hardly a pause. In two brief breaks in the action, John Idan and later Jim McCarty introduced the band, and twice McCarty paused to pay homage to American music. I had to laugh when, near the end of the concert, McCarty announced, “We’re going to play a medley of songs that made us famous,” and I thought “This whole concert has been a medley.” Little did I know that those three songs, “For Your Love,” “Happenings Ten Years Time Ago” and “Dazed and Confused” would each be full-blown versions, complete with awe-inspiring digressions thanks to Johnny A, Myke Scavone, Jim McCarty and Kenny Aaronson.
During “Smoke Stack Lightening” Johnny A got down on one knee as if being anointed by (or praying to) the blues. The triple threat of Johnny A, Aaronson and Scavone absolutely shined on this song, after which McCarty acknowledged Howlin’ Wolf, saying “Without Howlin’ Wolf, we would never have had our sound.” Well, Jim, without the Yardbirds many of the British Invasion bands and their American disciples, wouldn’t have had their sounds, either.
The last of two encore songs, “I’m A Man,” was nothing short of epic, with bass, guitar and harp wailing, while McCarty, smiling, pounded out that beat to drive the train home.