A Conversation with Yardbirds Drummer Jim McCarty

Any list of the most important bands in rock history must start with the Beatles. The second band on that list must be the Yardbirds. Contemporaries of the Beatles, the Yardbirds began in 1963 and provided a launching point for Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page. As the band fell apart in 1968, under Page’s leadership they became The New Yardbirds, and eventually, Led Zeppelin. Rock & Roll Hall of Fame drummer and founder of the band Jim McCarty recently took some time to talk about the illustrious history of the Yardbirds and his new book, She Walks In Beauty.

Please press the PLAY icon below for the MisplacedStraws.com Conversation with Jim McCarty –

On She Walks In BeautyI did the first book (Nobody Told Me), which was sort of autobiographical, and everything was going very nicely until last year when I lost my wife to cancer. So I set out on this sort of a journey to try and see what happened to her because I didn’t know much about these things. I was always interested in paranormal stuff but not as much. Not as much when you’re faced with something like that, which was a big blow because she was quite lovely as well. So I decided to look into it, and I studied mediumship with some different mediums, particularly someone called Suzanne Giesemann who’s in the US. She was actually at one-time an officer in the US Navy, she decided to become a medium when she lost her stepdaughter. In fact, she was hit by lightning. So she became a medium, she studied it in England, and she started running some courses on Zoom, and I signed up for one. I got to learn the mechanics a bit, how to do it, how to communicate, which I’ve never done before, and I got some quite good results. I was pleased, and the fact that I could establish some sort of communication with my wife helped me a lot in the grieving process. Along the way, I think in one of the sessions, my wife suggested that I wrote a blog about my journey and my experiences, and that became a book. I thought about it and I got in touch with Dave Thompson, who wrote the other book with me, a very good rock & roll writer, and I didn’t think he’d be at all interested in something like this. He just jumped at it, he said, “Oh yeah, I love all that stuff. I’ll start straight away”. So we really got on with that, I’m very pleased with how it’s come out. :49

On if he had an interest in the paranormal back in his younger days – Well, I think so. A lot of it is actually written about in the book. Keith Relf, the singer, and myself, we were very close, and we used to talk about all that stuff, flying saucers, Atlantis, and all the interesting things in that sort of genre. Yes, we did “Happenings Ten Years Time Ago” and the lyrics are vaguely based on reincarnation. We were coming across things that we’d seen somewhere before, in other lives. I think (paranormal) was an outlet for relaxation and getting away from the road to the strenuous activity of touring all the time, it’s quite tiring, but we had lots of chats about all that stuff. 3:46

On if he sensed a difference when Eric Clapton replaced Top Topham in the Yardbirds – Oh, I think so, yes. Technically, he was still learning, but he did have something about him that sort of grabbed people’s attention. He was destined to be a big star really. We didn’t really know it at the time, and then he was just one of the team, but he had, I suppose it’s an attitude. He sort of had an attitude about him that was interesting, and he got noticed and he made sure we wore the right clothes, and I know he was very individual about how he looked. It was interesting, but playing somewhere like the Crawdaddy every week, and I noticed that usually, the girls would all come in front of the singer, they would be looking at Keith, but they started to congregate in front of him which was quite interesting to watch from the back. 5:35

On whether he knew Jeff Beck when he came in to replace Eric Clapton – No, I didn’t actually know Jeff at all, and I was quite surprised when he turned up for the, I say “audition”, but it was just, “come in and have a chat with us” at the old Marquee Club. He had really long hair, he had dirty, old, oil-stained clothes and jeans. Obviously, he’d been under a car because he loved cars. He gradually changed his image obviously, but in terms of playing, he was fantastic from square one. He is a great player, and I’d say he changed our sound because he took it from just being blues covers to something special, and all the feedback and the effects and his style, his variety of interests, it really gave birth to what the Yardbirds are famous for, I think. 7:12

On evolving from a blues cover band to writing original songs – Yeah, so it was always quite a challenge to write a hit song for the band. “Happenings Ten Years Time Ago” was, I think it was a lot before it was time because I don’t think it was a top 20 hit, maybe number 40 or something, it wasn’t a great pop hit. It became a struggle because we were touring all the time and we didn’t have really time to put into it. Then eventually when we went with Micki Most I think we ran out of ideas as a band because we missed Paul Samwell-Smith and Jeff, they were great collaborators and they were part of the great lineup that played “Over, Under, Sideways, Down” and all that stuff. So I don’t think the chemistry was quite there, even though Keith and I still carried on writing when we could. 9:04

On watching the two-guitar lineup featuring Beck and Page – Well, it was interesting, It didn’t always work, to be honest, and sometimes it was quite difficult. It was quite a mess because they were playing over each other and stuff, but when they worked it out, when they had it all worked out and it all fired on cylinders, but I wouldn’t say it was like that every night. It was actually quite rare in a way because they were very competitive with each other, and they were totally different in personality. Jimmy would have it all worked out what he was gonna play and know what he was doing and very careful and Jeff would be the opposite. He’d be playing off the top of his head the whole time. It was different every night so you never knew what they were going to play, but when it clicked it was rather special… I think there are only three tracks with both of them on. I don’t think there are any live recordings. We did play the Fillmore, but I don’t think it was recorded. I don’t think there are any live recordings with those two in it, it would be quite interesting.11:04

On first hearing Led Zeppelin – I went around to Jimmy’s house and he played me the first album and I thought, “This is tremendous”. 50% of it was what we played but it was very well done. Very well recorded. Great production and, of course, great musicians. I thought, “This is really good, he’s done a great job”. Someone came to my house, probably about a year or so after Zeppelin was formed and they were doing a book about Jimmy. They had some photos, they showed me these photos of Zeppelin playing somewhere, and it was the biggest audience ever or something, like 40,000 people and I thought, “This never happened for us, what have we done?” 13:50

On his partnership with Keith Relf in both Yardbirds and Renaissance – Well, he was a sensitive guy, he was a spiritual guy. We really clicked on that level, we could talk about loads of things for ages, he was a very gentle guy. Unfortunately, I think we both had the same problem, we both lacked confidence. He didn’t realize how good he was. Maybe he was a little bit before his time, if we kept going, he might have achieved that. It was a bit of a shame. He was a lovely, lovely person. We really did link up well, we went very deep, not always was it the result of drugs either. 15:36

On why Eric Clapton was the only living Yardbirds member not to take part in Box of Frogs or the band’s 1992 Rock Hall Induction – Good question. I don’t really remember. I don’t know whether he was approached. I did speak to him about playing, turning out for a Yardbirds show we were doing in honor of the Marquee, their 20th anniversary. We got together and we did a gig for a couple of nights. I did ask him, and he told me or he couldn’t come because he was packing his suitcase to go to the States. That’s what he said. That’s the only time I’m aware that anyone ever spoke to him, but it wasn’t about the Box of Frogs but the similar time period anyway…I think Eric was always someone that went through big changes in style and in his character. Maybe he didn’t really wanna look back on that time period, I don’t know. He probably comes and goes and probably thinks, “Oh, it would be nice to have a jam with those guys”, and then the next day it’s, “Oh no, I don’t wanna go there”. I don’t really know, I’m not really in contact with him. If we saw each other it would be great, we’d be all over each other probably. 18:33

On if he took part in the 50th anniversary of Rennaisance shows – They did a reunion concert in Philadephia, they asked me to join them. So I played a couple of nights and I played in New York at Town Hall. They wanted to join in on the song “Islands” which I co-wrote. I played on “Ashes Are Burning” as well. It was lovely, it was great. They had it really worked out well with great musicians. and they had an orchestra. It was well done. 22:35

On if he sees one last reunion show with all living Yardbirds – Yes, it would be great. I’ve no reason not to think about it. It would be fabulous if that ever happened, I don’t know how it would happen. I have spent some time trying to do that in the past, but it’s very difficult, and I’d rather let someone else get all that together. 23:50

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