Revisiting Jimmy Page’s First Gig With the Yardbirds
Jimmy Page had already turned down the Yardbirds … twice. The first time was in 1964, when Yardbirds manager Giorgio Gomelsky had asked Page to temporarily replace guitarist Eric Clapton because he was going on holiday. Page, who was friends with Clapton, refused out of loyalty to his friend, who was not looking to leave the band yet.
The second occasion came in 1965, when Clapton did want to leave the band to pursue more pure blues music. At that point, Page was enjoying his work as a studio musician too much to join the Yardbirds. He also had concerns about the British blues-rockers’ rigorous touring schedule, which he thought might affect his health. So instead he suggested another friend, Jeff Beck, to fill Clapton’s shoes.
One more year meant one more change in the Yardbirds’ lineup. This time, it was bass player Paul Samwell-Smith, who was done with touring (and with singer Keith Relf’s antics). Page, who often attended Yarbirds shows because of his friendship with Beck, was backstage at a gig in Oxford when Samwell-Smith declared his immediate intentions to leave the band.
“Jeff had brought me to the gig in his car, and on the way back I told him I'd sit in for a few months until they got things sorted out,” Page explained to Trouser Press in a 1977 interview. “Beck had often said to me, ‘It would be really great if you could join the band.’ But I just didn't think it was a possibility in any way. In addition, since I'd turned the offer down a couple of times already, I didn't know how the rest of them would feel about me joining.”
Seeing as they were stuck, the Yardbirds didn’t seem to have a problem with Page coming aboard. For his part, Page was (finally) excited to join the band. He had grown tired of playing as a studio guy, especially when he had to contribute to muzak recordings. “[Yardbirds Drummer] Jim McCarty says I was so desperate to get out of the studio that I'd have played drums,” Page later told Rolling Stone.
Instead, for the short term, Page would play bass. On June 21, 1966, at London’s Marquee Club, the Yardbirds took the stage for the first time with Page as a member. After that, rhythm guitarist Chris Dreja learned the bass guitar and Page played second guitar to his buddy Beck.
Sadly, the Page-Beck lineup was short-lived, with only a few recordings featuring their twin guitar style (including “Stroll On” and the psychedelic “Happening Ten Years Time Ago”). Beck was booted from the band later in 1966. Page remained the band’s lead guitarist until the Yardbirds took on new members and morphed into Led Zeppelin a couple of years later.