There is a widespread view that the Yardbirds did not get the recognition they rightfully earned. Despite being the starting point for the careers of three famous guitarists, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page (who played together for a short time), and Eric Clapton, the Yardbirds have been overlooked. Eric Clapton was particularly beloved by fans and was even referred to as “God” during his peak popularity.
The Yardbirds experienced challenges and difficulties, including accidents, illnesses, and conflicts, leading to a limited run as a band in the 60s, lasting only 10 years. Despite their successes, they had tough moments during that time.
Keith Relf struggled with health issues since his childhood
Keith Relf, the singer, songwriter, and harmonica player of the Yardbirds, was a talented musician but suffered from health problems throughout his life. According to rhythm guitarist Chris Dreja, Relf had a collapsed lung during the band’s first U.S. tour in 1964, despite being in his early twenties.
Top Topham was made to leave the band by his parents
Jim McCarty, the drummer for the Yardbirds, shared in an interview with Forbes that Topham’s parents pressured him to leave the band. Topham’s parents were concerned about his future and felt that the life of a rock musician was not secure enough for him. Despite his talent and success with the Yardbirds, Topham was forced to leave the band and pursue a more conventional career.
The solitude experienced by Eric Clapton during his time in the Yardbirds
Eric Clapton was quickly brought in to replace Anthony Topham as the guitarist for the Yardbirds. Despite being a talented musician, Clapton soon realized that he did not fit in with the rest of the group, as they did not share his passion for playing blues music. This caused tension between Clapton and the rest of the band, particularly with bassist Paul Samwell-Smith. Clapton’s close friend and roommate, Chris Dreja, noticed how unhappy Clapton had become before he ultimately decided to leave the group in 1965. In a later interview, Clapton spoke about feeling lonely during that time in his life, saying that he felt like he was alone even though he was part of a crowd. He felt misunderstood and disconnected from the rest of the Yardbirds.
Jeff Beck fainted backstage during a show
Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page both joined the Yardbirds as lead guitarists after Eric Clapton left in 1966. Beck faced some serious health problems while touring in Marseille, including food poisoning and tonsillitis.
One night, he lost consciousness and fell down a flight of concrete stairs backstage, but was rushed to the hospital where it was revealed that he had fainted from his illnesses. Beck needed some time to recover before he could continue touring with the band.
Keith Relf battled with substance abuse throughout his life
As the Yardbirds rose to fame, Keith Relf found it increasingly difficult to cope with the pressure. He turned to alcohol and drugs as a form of relief, according to Chris Dreja. Relf became involved with dangerous substances, including LSD and possibly heroin. This substance abuse was damaging to his already fragile health and worsened his already sensitive and insecure personality, causing him to become more depressed. According to Dreja, after several intense years on the road, Relf became overwhelmed and began to self-destruct.
Jeff Beck was terminated from the Yardbirds
During the Yardbirds’ hectic touring schedule, Jeff Beck struggled to keep up and eventually had a breakdown, causing him to smash his guitar and head for LA. This was the final straw for his bandmates, who had grown tired of his negative attitude, and they made the decision to let him go from the group. Despite not intending to leave the band, Beck was devastated to learn that he had been fired and was feeling low, as he had lost his girlfriend and was feeling overwhelmed by the success of other musicians like Jimi Hendrix.
Their success began to dwindle
Before Jeff Beck’s departure, the Yardbirds started to experience a decline in their commercial success, which they never fully recovered from. According to “Led Zeppelin: The Biography” by Bob Spitz, their last noteworthy single “Happenings Ten Years Time Ago” did not reach the Top 40, marking the start of their downfall. Despite attempts to turn things around, their 1967 album “Little Games” received even more criticism, with former band member Jeff Beck himself stating that it was not good. To compensate for their lack of successful singles, the band continued touring extensively, particularly in the U.S. However, they had a hard time keeping up with the changing music scene as new acts like Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, and The Who revolutionized rock music. In the U.K., they were largely forgotten because of these newer acts.
Producer Mickie Most was the culprit of the band’s decline
The Yardbirds’ decline was also caused by their producer, Mickie Most, who was not able to help the band achieve success. Although Most was a skilled producer and had worked with many successful artists, he was not able to deliver the same results for the Yardbirds. Despite his best efforts, the band’s sales continued to decline, and they struggled to stay relevant in a rapidly evolving music scene. The failure of Most to help the band revive its success played a significant role in the band’s eventual downfall.
The Yardbirds disbanded
The Yardbirds disbanded as a result of several internal and external factors. The declining sales, Jeff Beck’s departure, Keith Relf’s substance abuse, and the rise of other successful rock acts made it difficult for the group to maintain their popularity. Despite their efforts to keep the band going, they eventually decided to go their separate ways. The Yardbirds’ final concert was on July 7, 1968, in Luton, England.
The death of Keith Relf
The death of Keith Relf was a tragic event for the Yardbirds. The lead singer, who struggled with substance abuse, passed away at the young age of 33 in 1976. According to AllMusic, Relf was electrocuted while playing his guitar in his basement studio, which had not been properly grounded. His death was a huge loss not only for the Yardbirds but also for the music world as a whole. Despite their numerous personnel changes, the Yardbirds remained a popular band, and their music continues to be celebrated today, many years after their breakup.
Often overshadowed by other more famous bands
Despite the Yardbirds being a successful and influential band, they were often overshadowed by other more famous bands in the music industry. With the rise of acts like Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, and The Who, the Yardbirds found it increasingly difficult to remain relevant and continue their success. They continued to tour heavily, especially in the U.S., but their lack of chart-topping singles and declining popularity led to them becoming forgotten in the U.K. amidst the new revolutionary sound of these other rock stars.
Jeff Beck passed away unexpectedly due to meningitis
On January 10, 2023, the music world was saddened by the sudden death of Jeff Beck, a former member of the Yardbirds, who passed away due to bacterial meningitis. Despite the illness being brief, it rapidly worsened, leading to Beck’s death. According to a source close to Beck, several family members and close friends, including Johnny Depp, were able to visit him before his passing. Depp and Beck had a close friendship and had toured together in 2022 to promote their album “18.” The source stated that Depp is still processing Beck’s death and is devastated by the news.