Led Zeppelin is the band that Jimmy Page most well known for, but before he formed that band, he joined The Yardbirds — a band that also counted guitar gods Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck as members.
Clapton was the guitarist in their early years, but he was soon replaced by Beck, a longtime friend of Page’s. While Beck was playing with the Yardbirds, Page was a session guitarist, working on records by a diverse group of artists including Joe Cocker, The Who, Lulu and Tom Jones. But when he joined the Yardbirds, it wasn’t on guitar – he actually replaced their original bass player. He tells the story in this exclusive excerpt from the upcoming book, Light And Shade: Conversations With Jimmy Page, a collection of interviews with the six-string (and occasional four-string) legend, conducted by Guitar World Editorial Director Brad Tolinski.
“How I ended up actually joining the band is a pretty funny story. I went to see the Yardbirds play at this really stuffy student black-tie event at Cambridge University. The singer, Keith Relf, got quite inebriated and was being really punky. He was really staring down the establishment and put on a magnificent rock and roll performance. He was knocking things over and shouting obscenities at the audience. I really enjoyed myself, but the band’s bassist Paul Samwell-Smith was completely incensed with Keith and his increasingly erratic behavior on the road and decided that night to leave the group. The band had gigs coming up and they were sort of scratching their heads about who could replace Paul on such short notice. That’s when I volunteered my services. I was tired of the studio grind and I figured that eventually Jeff and I would get a chance to play guitar together.”
They did ultimately get that chance, when rhythm guitarist Chris Dreja switched to bass and Page returned to guitar. Unfortunately, the Beck/Page lineup didn’t last long, as Beck would soon be fired by the group (but you can hear both legends on at least one Yardbirds track, “Happenings Ten Years Time Ago”).
(The Yardbirds discography is a confusing one — but 2001’s Ultimate Yardbirds on Rhino Records is one collection that includes every lineup of the band and clearly denotes who plays on each track).
Light And Shade: Conversations With Jimmy Page will be available October 23, and will feature stories about The Yardbirds, Led Zeppelin and Page’s other groups: The Film, Coverdale/Page and Page/Plant.
— Brian Ives, CBS Local