The Yardbirds released a song in 1966 called “Happenings 10 Years Ago.” It was a psychedelic rocker with a transcendental vibe, featuring Jimmy Page on lead guitar.
“That song was about reincarnation,” Jim McCarty, original drummer for the Yardbirds, recently told me.
Well, you might say the spirit, soul and sound of the Yardbirds was reincarnated Thursday night before a big, boisterous and rocking crowd in the Savannah Center.
McCarty was the lone original band member but the rest of the crew — guitarist Johnny A, bassist Kenny Aaronson, singer/blues harpist/percussionist Myke Scavone, and guitarist/singer John Idan – provided a remarkable, energetic performance that captured the essence of the Yardbirds.
And that’s saying something because at various times, Rock Hall of Famers Eric Clapton (Cream), Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin) all played lead guitar with the Yardbirds.
Still, on Thursday, when the current Yardbirds ripped into a three-song medley of “For Your Love,” “Happenings 10 Years Ago” and a thunderously pulsating “Dazed and Confused,” it was like tripping out to the best of ‘60s’ rock.
Johnny A (Antonopoulos) may not be Clapton/Beck/Page, but the guy can hold own with just about any other axe man. He did everything but burn his guitar on such Yardbirds’ classics as “Over Under Sideways Down,” “Smokestack Lightning” and “Shapes of Things.”
And then there bass man Kenny Aaronson, who has played with Bob Dylan and Billy Idol. Aaronson fit right in with the blues rock style of the Yardbirds, hammering away hot bass lines, while other times extending the sound to capture the blues.
Lead singer John Idan helped out on guitar but supplied the soulful, gritty vocals on such classics as “Heart Full of Soul” “For Your Love” and the socially relevant “You’re A Better Man Than I,” which is just as timely today as it was back in the ‘60s.
Myke Scavone, wore some cool looking shades, and played bongos, while helping out with singing.
The original Yardbirds came from England and featured McCarty along with the late Keith Relf on vocals, rhythm guitarist Chris Dreja, bassist Paul Samwell-Smith, and lead guitarist Top Topham. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992.
“I’m the only Brit left,” McCarty said from the stage. “All these guys are Americans. But they love the Yardbirds and they can play.”
That was evident throughout the night. The band opened with “Heart Full of Soul,” and followed that with some bluesy numbers that included “Muddy Water” and “Ain’t Got You.”
Eric Clapton was the first guitarist with the Yardbirds and he was dedicated to the blues. He left after believing the band was becoming to pop and Jeff Beck came along.
It was Beck’s creativity and improvisation that played the key role in a string of hits for the Yardbirds.
“Jeff Beck and the Yardbirds were willing to experiment with all kinds of sounds,” said Villager Gary Davis, a guitarist with local bands. “Beck would break the rules and so did the band. They would do a song, and then break into the middle of it and do what was then called a rave up. Beck would go off and improvise. It worked.”
What made Thursday’s concert so unique was that the veteran musicians who make up the current Yardbirds follow the same creative pattern.
“It was really authentic,” Davis said. “I thought they were improvising on stage. Johnny A nailed those licks on lead guitar.”
Davis, like many baby boomers, is a Yardbird expert. “I grew up with this music and I’ll never forget it,” he said. “When I was a kid, we had a band called New Castle Five, and we played all the Yardbirds’ hits.”
Denise Deshong is 47 and never really knew about the Yardbirds. “But I read about them and had to come to see them tonight,” she said. “They were amazing. Now I know what all the fuss was about.”
The encore, “I’m A Man,” summed up this exhilarating concert. That song combined rock, blues and frantic raving in an explosive mix of music and emotion. The audience was standing, clapping and singing. The crunching guitars echoed throughout Savannah Center and Jim McCarty was pounding the drums like it was 1965 all over again.
That time is long gone, but the Yardbirds proved Thursday their music is alive, well and vibrant as ever.