Five Live Yardbirds is the live debut album by English rock band the Yardbirds. It features the group’s interpretations of ten American blues and rhythm and blues songs, including their most popular live number, Howlin’ Wolf’s “Smokestack Lightning”. The album contains some of the earliest recordings with guitarist Eric Clapton.
Recorded at the Marquee Club in London on 20 March 1964, it was released in the United Kingdom by Columbia Records nine months later. Despite several favourable retrospective reviews, the album did not reach the UK album charts. It was not issued in the United States; however, four songs were included on the Yardbirds’ second American album, Having a Rave Up.
In October 1963, the Yardbirds took over the Rolling Stones’ position at the Crawdaddy Club and had signed a management contract with club owner Giorgio Gomelsky. After touring with Sonny Boy Williamson II, the band signed a contract with Columbia Records. In 1964, they recorded two singles, “I Wish You Would” and “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl”. These had limited success and Gomelsky was able to persuade Columbia to release a live album as the Yardbirds’ debut album.
The Yardbirds were a popular live attraction at music clubs. Much of their reputation was built on their use of a “rave up” musical arrangement, an instrumental interlude that builds to a climax. Clapton credits the rave up to bassist Paul Samwell-Smith and explains: “While most other bands were playing three-minute songs, we were taking three-minute numbers and stretching them out to five or six minutes, during which time the audience would go crazy”. In was at such performances that Clapton often broke a guitar string. While he was putting on a new one, the audience would slowly clap their hands (slow handclapping). This led manager Gomelsky to nickname him “Eric ‘Slowhand’ Clapton”.
Five Live Yardbirds was recorded at the Marquee Club in London. Yardbirds’ biographer Gregg Russo describes the conditions and equipment for recording at the club was less than ideal, they were able to capitalise on their greater popularity there than at the Crawdaddy.
He adds: The recording date for the album has been previously listed as Tuesday, March 10, 1964, but Gomelsky distinctly remembers the show taking place at Wardour Street. On March 10, the club was still at Oxford Street, and combined with the fact that the Yardbirds played on Fridays at the Wardour Street location, the March 20, 1964 recording date seems much more likely.
All of the songs that appear on Five Live Yardbirds were written by American blues and rhythm and blues artists and several of the original recordings appeared on the American record charts. The band’s early material reflects the repertoires of the early British rhythm and blues groups, such as the Rolling Stones and the Animals. Clapton biographer David Bowling described the album as “a lot of straight electric blues, but at times they come close to a rock sound.” Their version of Chuck Berry’s “Too Much Monkey Business”, which is the album opener, is the most rock-oriented song on the album.
18th May 1964: British rock group the Yardbirds, (left to right) lead guitarist Eric Clapton, bassist Paul Samwell-Smith, singer Keith Relf, drummer Jim McCarty, and rhythm guitarist Christopher Dreja performing on a backyard patio for British playwright Lord Willis and his daughter Sally. (Photo by Daily Express)
Several songs feature extended instrumental improvisation. Bo Diddley’s “Here ‘Tis” and the Isley Brothers’ “Respectable” are high-energy tunes, which represent the use of double-time feature of the rave up for the entire songs. AllMusic critic Matthew Greenwald describes “Here ‘Tis” as “driven by a furious “Bo Diddley” beat and rhythm … Clapton’s interplay with bassist Paul Samwell-Smith is one of the great moments in the band’s recorded history” The instrumental spotlight was also shared with singer and blues harmonica player Keith Relf. Clapton and Relf trading riffs is one of the highlights of “Smokestack Lightning”. The Howlin’ Wolf song was the Yardbirds’ most popular live number and a regular in their sets. Performances of the song could last up to 30 minutes. Howlin’ Wolf reportedly referred to the group’s 5:35 album version as “the definitive version of his song”.
The slow blues standard, “Five Long Years”, features extended guitar soloing by Clapton in a style he further developed with John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers. Clapton and Samwell-Smith share the lead vocals on “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl”, which is based on the version by the American R&B duo Don and Bob. Bo Diddley’s “I’m a Man” (which became a hit when the Yardbirds later recorded it with Jeff Beck) and songs by Slim Harpo and John Lee Hooker round out the album.
Five Live Yardbirds was released before critical rock music journalism became popular. However, Clapton biographer Christopher Sandford notes “When Five Live Yardbirds was released that winter, to generally favourable reviews (‘Raucous interplay … great guitar …feral energy of the ensemble’) it, too, failed to materially benefit the group.” The album did not appear in the British record charts and subsequently was not issued in the US.
Later, several critics have also given the album favourable reviews. AllMusic’s Eder gave the album four and a half out of five stars and describes it as “Five Live Yardbirds was the first important—indeed, essential—live album to come out of the 1960s British rock & roll boom. In terms of the performance captured and the recording quality, it was also the best such live record of the entire middle of the decade”. In a separate review for AllMusic, Rick Clark noted “Smokestack Lightning” [and other songs] were open-ended improvisations that helped lay the groundwork for groups like Cream and the Jimi Hendrix Experience.” Bowling calls the material “raw and powerful” and Russo adds it is “a completely faithful reproduction” of the group’s early shows. “Ultimate Classic Rock” ranked the album in the “Top 100 Live Albums, and called it an “explosive document of a British blues band fueling a decidedly American music with power, fireworks and amped-up resourcefulness. (by wikipedia)
Eric “Slowhand” Clapton (lead guitar, co-lead vocals on 03.)
Chris Dreja (guitar)
Jim McCarty (drums)
Keith Relf (vocals, harmonica, maracas)
Paul “Sam” Samwell-Smith (bass, vocals on 03.)
01. Too Much Monkey Business (Berry) 3.49
02. I Got Love If You Want It (Moore a.k.a. Slim Harpo) 2.37
03. Smokestack Lightnin’ (Burnett) 5.35
04. Good Morning Little Schoolgirl (Demarais) 2.41
05. Respectable (K.Isley/R.Isley(R.Isley) 5.30
06. Five Long Years (Boyd) 5.16
07. Pretty Girl (McDaniel) 3.02
08. Louise (Hooker) 3.41
09. I’m A Man (McDaniel) 4.30
10. Here ‘Tis (McDaniel) 5.09
11. You Can’t Judge A Book By Looking At The Cover (Dixon) 2.56
12. Let It Rock (Berry) 2.17
13. I Wish I Would (Arnold) 5.54
14. Who Do You Love (McDaniel) 5.07
15. Honey In Your Hips (Relf) 2.28
16. A Certain Girl (Neville) 2.17
17. Got To Hurry (Rasputin2.48
18. I Ain´t Got You (Carter) 1.59
19. Good Morning Little Schoolgirl (Single) (Demarais)