Formed originally as the Metropolitan Blues Quartet in 1962–63 in the London suburbs, and having emanated out of the atmosphere of Bohemianism fostered by the Kingston Art School, the Yardbirds first achieved notice on the burgeoning British blues scene (or "rhythm and blues", as the British music press alluded to it) when they took over as the house band at the Crawdaddy Club in Richmond— succeeding the Rolling Stones in September 1963, and flying in the face of London's 'serious music' 'trad jazz' club scene circuit in which the new 'R&B' groups got many of their first professional bookings.
With a repertoire drawn from the Delta-soaked Chicago blues titans Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson II and Elmore James, the Yardbirds began to build a following of their own in London before very long. Their inexperience and their less-than-stellar musicianship was obvious, but their commitment was just as powerful, as they hammered away at versions of such blues classics as "Smokestack Lightning", "Got Love If You Want It", "Here 'Tis", "Baby What's Wrong", "Good Morning Little School Girl", "Boom Boom", "I Wish You Would", "Done Somebody Wrong", "Rollin' and Tumblin'", and "I'm a Man".
September, 1963: The group play their first shows billed as the 'Yard-birds'.
They made their first significant lineup addition when singer/harmonica player Keith Relf, rhythm guitarist Chris Dreja, bassist Paul Samwell-Smith and drummer Jim McCarty, replaced original lead guitarist (Anthony) Top Topham with a very boyish-looking art student named Eric Clapton in October 1963. Clapton already knew what he was doing with his instrument; his solo turns, while far enough from the gripping little gems for which he became famous soon enough, already set him apart from most of his peers among the British blues clubbers. Between his sleek guitar playing and Keith Relf's improving harmonica style, the group could at least boast two attractive players that made listeners overlook their still-incomplete rhythmic attack. And, of critical importance, Crawdaddy Club impresario Giorgio Gomelsky—who had all but discovered the Rolling Stones but thought it beyond his range to become their manager—learned enough from his previous miss to become the Yardbirds' manager and, as it turned out, first producer.
Under Gomelsky's guidance, the Yardbirds got themselves signed to EMI's Columbia label in February, 1964; they set a precedent of a sort when their first album turned out to be a live album, Five Live Yardbirds, recorded at the legendary Marquee Club in London. The group was well enough reputed that none other than blues legend Sonny Boy Williamson II himself invited the group to tour England and Germany with him, a union that survives to this day on a live album memorable for Williamson's trouper-like adaptation of his deep troubadour style of blues to the Yardbirds' raw, unpolished rock version. ("Those English kids," Williamson said famously of the Yardbirds and other British blues groups like the Animals and the Stones, "want to play the blues so bad—and they play the blues so bad", though he had a personal affection for the Yardbirds' members and even thought of moving to England permanently, until the illness that resulted in his early death in 1965.)
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