Although they never sold as many records or made it quite as big as their friends in the Stones and the Who, the Yardbirds made every bit as lasting an impact on the music world. Even though this band originally made its mark during the Sixties, their influence would last well into the Seventies and beyond. It continues to be felt today. Most notably, the Yardbirds served as the launch pad for the careers of three of the best rock guitarists ever in Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page.
The Story Of The Yardbirds is a one-hour documentary chronicling the band's history in interviews with both lesser-known members like Chris Dreja, Paul Samwell Smith, and Jim McCarty as well as the more famous alumni like Clapton, Beck, and Page.
But what really makes this DVD a must-get are the rarely seen live performances. For starters, the extras include a 1967 German television broadcast (from a show called "Beat Beat Beat") where a young Jimmy Page is seen performing on songs like "Shapes Of Things," "Happenings Ten Years Time Ago," and "Over Under Sideways Down." For the finale of "I'm A Man," Page gives us a preview of the Led Zeppelin to come by whipping out his violin bow. Elsewhere in the film, Page is seen with the bow again on a pre-Zeppelin version of "Dazed And Confused."
Earlier on, there is also plenty of live footage with both Clapton ("I Wish You Would") and Beck ("Still I'm Sad," "Heart Full Of Soul," "Train Kept A Rollin'," and more). The Beck footage is especially fun to watch for everything from the Go-Go dancers behind him to Beck destroying his guitar Pete Townshend style during a scene from the film Blow-up (which Beck himself describes as "crap…we were supposed to be the Who").
The footage from Blow-up is also one of the two rare pieces of film where you get to see the version of the Yardbirds with both Beck and Page on guitar (the other is a version of "Happenings Ten Years Time Ago" from 1966). In an interview, Page describes how he originally joined the Yardbirds to fill the shoes of departing bassist Paul Samwell Smith, but ended up playing guitar anyway. In another interview, Beck explains that sharing the guitarists slot with Page was one of the reasons he ended up leaving ("I wanted to be it," he says).
The rest of the live footage, even though filmed in the grainy sort of black and white of the Sixties, is equally great stuff. In one such scene, lead vocalist Keith Relf looks eerily like Brian Jones while performing "Heart Full Of Soul." Relf would later die in a tragic accident in 1976.
Although most of the Yardbirds story is already well known to music fans, it's still interesting to hear it re-told here from the "birds mouth" so to speak. Band members recall, for example, how Eric Clapton left the band shortly after they released the single "For Your Love," saying that Clapton wanted to do blues covers rather than make hit records. There are also interviews with former producers like Mickie Most, and managers like Peter Grant (who would later famously manage Led Zeppelin). Other interesting tidbits include how Jeff Beck got the guitar to sound like a sitar for "Over Under Sideways Down."
This is great stuff all the way around, but be forewarned. It is probably only for diehard fans of rock history, of the band itself, or of the famous guitarists the Yardbirds produced. The live footage is often stunning, just for the fact that any of it actually survived. But the sound and picture aren't always great simply because they are so dated. Otherwise, The Story Of The Yardbirds comes highly recommended.