The Yardbirds are an English rock band, formed in London in 1963. The band's core lineup featured vocalist and harmonica player Keith Relf, drummer Jim McCarty, rhythm guitarist and later bassist Chris Dreja and bassist/producer Paul Samwell-Smith. The band is known for starting the careers of three of rock's most famous guitarists, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck, all of whom ranked in the top five of Rolling Stone magazine's list of 100 greatest guitarists. The band had a string of hits throughout the mid-1960s, including "For Your Love", "Heart Full of Soul", "Shapes of Things" and "Over Under Sideways Down".
Originally a blues-based band noted for their signature "rave-up" instrumental breaks, the Yardbirds broadened their range into pop, pioneering psychedelic rock and early hard rock; and contributed to many electric guitar innovations of the mid-1960s. Some rock critics and historians also cite their influence on the later punk rock, progressive rock and heavy metal trends. Following the band's split in 1968, Relf and McCarty formed Renaissance and guitarist Jimmy Page formed Led Zeppelin - the latter of which was initially intended as a direct successor to the Yardbirds.
The band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992. They were included at number 89 in Rolling Stone's list of the "100 Greatest Artists of All Time" and ranked number 37 on VH1's 100 Greatest Artists of Hard Rock.
The Yardbirds re-formed in the 1990s, featuring drummer Jim McCarty and rhythm guitarist Chris Dreja as the only original members. Dreja left the band in 2012, leaving McCarty as the sole original member of the band in the present lineup.
The band formed in the south-west London suburbs in 1963. Relf and Samwell-Smith were originally in a band named the Metropolitan Blues Quartet. After being joined by Dreja, McCarty and Top Topham, they performed at Kingston Art School in late May 1963 as a backup band for Cyril Davies. Following a couple of gigs in September 1963 as the Blue-Sounds, they changed their name to the Yardbirds. McCarty claims that Relf was the first to use the name; he may have got it from Jack Kerouac's novel On the Road, where it referred to rail yard hobos. He adds that Topham identified it as a nickname for jazz saxophonist Charlie "Yardbird" Parker.
The quintet achieved notice on the burgeoning British rhythm and blues scene when they took over as the house band at the Crawdaddy Club in Richmond, succeeding the Rolling Stones. Their repertoire drew from the Chicago blues of Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley, Sonny Boy Williamson II and Elmore James, including "Smokestack Lightning", "Good Morning Little School Girl", "Boom Boom", "I Wish You Would", "Rollin' and Tumblin'", "Got Love if You Want It" and "I'm a Man".
Original lead guitarist Topham left and was replaced by Eric Clapton in October 1963. Crawdaddy Club impresario Giorgio Gomelsky became the Yardbirds manager and first record producer. Under Gomelsky's guidance the Yardbirds toured Britain as the back-up band for blues legend Sonny Boy Williamson II in December 1963 and early 1964, recording live tracks on 8 December and other dates. The recordings would be released two years later during the height of the Yardbirds popularity on the album Sonny Boy Williamson and the Yardbirds.
After the tours with Williamson, the Yardbirds signed to EMI's Columbia label in February 1964, and recorded more live tracks on 20 March at the legendary Marquee Club in London. The resulting album of mostly American blues and R&B covers, Five Live Yardbirds, was released by Columbia nine months later, and it failed to enter the UK Albums Chart. Over time, Five Live gained stature as one of the few high-quality live recordings of the era and as a historical document of both the British rock and roll boom of the 1960s and Clapton's time in the band.
Along with John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, The Yardbirds were part of the British blues scene of the 1960s. As the blues rock genre developed, some acts like Chicken Shack were playing a louder and more aggressive style, while the Yardbirds emphasized instrumental textures and extended instrumental improvisations. They covered blues classics like Howlin' Wolf's Smokestack Lightning (1956) and Bo Diddley's I'm a Man (1955) which had a repetitive structure where instrumental solos were brief breaks between repetition of verses. The Yardbirds often extended these instrumental sections into "heavy jams".