Still Alive and Kicking: A Conversation with Jim McCarty of the Yardbirds

 The Yardbirds. Yes, the very same seminal 60’s rock outfit that helped to spawn the careers of not one, not two, but three of the most legendary guitar players in history – Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page. While they may have had their differences, whether it is breaking up and reforming again and again, and swapping players in and out of the lineup and so on – they are still alive and kicking, and back on tour believe it or not, a tour which kicks off at the Tralf in Buffalo, NY.

Even though there might be a number of new faces within their ranks, the Yardbirds music is still highly recognizable, music you’ll want to experience for yourself in a live setting, which is why I took the time to sit down with longtime original Yardbird drummer Jim McCarthy in order to find out pretty much anything and everything about the impending tour.

Get eXposed Music: I see that the new tour actually kicks off in Buffalo – that’s pretty cool.
Jim McCarthy: Yeah, we start there, but I don’t know whether that’s good or bad – we’ll probably be a bit loose (laughs).

GEM: So that leads me to ask about the newer members of the band – how are they fitting in and what exactly do they bring to the table?
McCarthy: Well they are fitting in very well. Ben King, the guitar player has been with us for about five or six years now – he played on Live at B.B. King’s – no relation (laughs), which was his first recording venture because he is only in his mid-twenties. He came from what they call the Contemporary Rock Academy, which is like a rock school down south of England in Surrey. He was recommended to us by our former lead singer John Idan, who used to work there sometimes. And Dave Smale the bass player, he joined us as well from the same play because Ben knew him. Then Andy (Mitchell – vocals) joined the band when we were looking for a new lead singer after Idan left. They are all great musicians and it’s a good time to tour because they are all in their mid-20’s, though Andy is a bit older. When we went back on tour with this new group, we decided to go back to the old format where the singer would play harmonica, though Andy did not know how to when he joined, but he was so keen that he taught himself. And know he plays very well.

GEM: I also saw that Chris (Dreja, guitar) isn’t going to be on tour with you guys. Can you tell me a little bit about that?         
McCarthy: Well we did a big tour of the States back in September, and I’m not sure, but maybe because of all of the time changes, travel and the number of dates we did, Chris took a bit ill. He actually had a couple of strokes on tour and ended up actually in UCLA, which is probably the best place he could have been – he was lucky actually. They kept him in for about a week or so and had a look at him for testing. He is now back at home recovering.

GEM: With everything the Yardbirds have done and everything this band has accomplished throughout the years, why did you make the decision to go back out on tour in 2012?
McCarthy: Well we have been doing a regular tour of the states, at least one every year. The people are very loyal to us because we have a good following in the states, and I love it. I think since we reformed in the early-90’s we have gotten better and better as a band. Now we have a very energetic band, a very young band full of great musicians and we have all of the energy we need for a proper Yardbirds set.

GEM: Do you plan on adding ore dates as you finish up this current mini-tour?
McCarthy:  No, we’ve decided to keep this run fairly short and I believe we are going to come back in April. I think sometimes it’s better for us to not do a long tour anyway.

GEM: Focusing on the Buffalo date, what kind of process is it to nail down a set list night in and night out given all of the material you have to choose from?
McCarthy: Well, we vary it a bit, but the main part of the set is the hits, but we tend to vary it, throwing things in and out of the repertoire. Lately we have been concentrating on more of the Little Games material, songs like “Drinking Muddy Water,” “Tinker Tailor Muddy Solider,” and “Little Games” itself, so we’ll definitely be playing those three. We tried “Glimpses” on the last tour but it seemed to be a little far out for the rest of the set (laughs).

GEM: You’re touring with Vanilla Fudge. How it comes to be that they would tour with you?  
McCarthy: I think it was just through the agency. It was thought that they would be a good band to team up with, since we’re both from the same time period and such. Also, they’ve got a good following up and down the east coast and in New York. And we’ve played with them a few times before – I know Carmine Appice (drums) and have known him for some time now.

GEM: What else does 2012 hold for the Yardbirds?      
McCarthy: There is always the possibility of a new studio recording, but the main focus of this year, after this tour is over, is myself and Ben are going to head to Providence, Rhode Island, because there is a guy there with a studio who shot a DVD of the last tour. We’re going to look at that and discuss it to see what we come out with. It will be interesting to see how it comes out, and from what we have seen, what we have heard, it’s quite good.

GEM: Anything else you’d like to add?
McCarthy: I’ve actually got a story about Buffalo. We played in Buffalo on Christmas Day back in 1966, with the Jeff Beck lineup. We played on Christmas night at a club called the Peppermint Stick. There were about six people there because it was Christmas night of all nights, and it was cold and snowing. Actually during the day some fans got in touch with us and asked around to their house for a Christmas lunch. It was very sweet of them. Now that I think of it we probably should have played some Christmas songs.