I’ve read that Keith Relf was your inspiration for learning to play the acoustic guitar. Is that true?
Yes, it’s true. During the Yardbirds, Keith and me used to write songs together, then after I left the band I learned to play acoustic guitar. I learned all the chords and how to write songs on guitar. It’s really a magical thing working out a tune:creating something that wasn’t there before, putting the various chord progressions into it. It’s really fun!
Later, when I was in Illusion with Jane Relf (Keith Relf’s sister) I decided to sing alongside Jane, playing acoustic guitar, because Keith was going to be involved with that but he’d had his tragic, fatal accident at home, electrocuting himself. It was then that I became involved with writing songs. I really enjoyed that:the role of singer/songwriter. It became another side of me, another side of my nature.
Of the many venues that the Yardbirds performed at and continue to, what venue was your personal favorite, and why? Which venue was your least favorite, and why?
Cor, that’s a difficult one! Which venue was my favorite? Well, I’d have to say BB King’s in New York is a fantastic venue, though we did play there this last September and I’d have to say (laughing) it wasn’t quite as good as it has been in the past.
I’d say…some of the casinos have fantastic venues…I’m trying to think…you caught me off guard! There’s one casino I can think of but I can’t remember where it is…Harrah’s in Lake Tahoe! I think that’s a fantastic venue. You have a wonderful theatre there: fantastic stage, the equipment is always 100%, a great crew and great sound in there and…well, great accommodations but that’s by and by. All in a lovely place in a lovely setting. I suppose it’s quite hard for a casino to be in a beautiful place like that, but it has to be one of the best venues.
And the worst venues used to be the bad venues around London. There was one: a pub called “The Plough”. People used to call it “The Plug” (laughing). So that was a pretty bad, sort of an old & dirty venue with a cupboard for a dressing room! I’ve gone from one extreme to the other; it’s like heaven and hell, really! At Harrah’s it’s like this great big huge dressing room with all this food laid out, whereas you’d be lucky if you got a free half pint of beer at The Plough (we both start laughing), you know!
Could you tell the readers about the Yardbirds’ archives? Is there anything we haven’t heard yet?
Well, I would say that most of the stuff has been out already. The strangest thing about the Yardbirds is that we only actually recorded about four albums, if that. Probably four actual albums and some singles. Probably there are over a hundred albums out. So they’re all different compilations: outtakes and things like that. This is another one of them, this new box set. I would say this new box set more or less completes the picture. I don’t think there’s much left that hasn’t been released. There wasn’t a huge amount of material there to be released.
What is your opinion of the new Yardbirds’ compilation ‘Glimpses’?
It’s really a lot of outtakes and rarities. I would think it’s more for collectors. It hasn’t got any of the original masters as such on there. But it’s got some interesting things: things recorded in different places and radio shows and BBC stuff and all that. It’s a collector’s thing I think. Ha! I wouldn’t say it’s the greatest recorded album of the Yardbirds ever!
Can you tell the readers about the upcoming Yardbirds DVD?
We’re working on a Yardbirds DVD right now. We’d shot a few dates in September 2011 on the East coast tour with our original member Chris Dreja. We’re using the best performances from that, and we have a documentary to go with it too. Chris has been ill lately, and on that gig in September he had a series of strokes. He ended up in the UCLA Medical Center in California, then went home.
So, how is the Yardbirds reunion tour coming along?
Well, I wouldn’t say there was just one tour, we do come and go. We did quite a big tour last September. We have Chris Dreja from the original lineup, then there’s quite young guys:guys in their twenties. They’re very keen, very energetic, enthusiastic guys and players.
Can you tell our readers about the current lineup: how and where were the new members brought in?
The one who’s been with us the longest is Ben King, who plays the lead guitar. He’s been with us about six years. He came to us through what’s called a contemporary music academy in Southern England: Surrey. Ben was found by the singer who was with us until about three years ago: John Idan.
John Idan decided to leave us, after being with the band about ten years, to go solo. He discovered Ben because he was doing some part time work with this music academy. So he discovered Ben, and we were looking for a guitar player and Ben really does the job!
When John left about three years ago we needed a new lead singer and a new bass player because John had done both. We decided to go back to the original conformation of the band: a lead singer/harmonica player. We have Andy Mitchell now as our lead singer/harmonica player, who’s very much in the Keith Relf mold.
We have another guy from the same music academy as Ben King:Dave Smale. He plays bass and he’s a very good musician. So they’re all great players!
It must be gratifying to look out at your audience each night, and see what an amazing cross section of age groups the band attracts.
Yes it is exactly; it’s fantastic! What is very gratifying is to see young kids watching us, mouthing the words to the songs! They not only know the songs, they know the words! Especially in countries that don’t speak English; it’s quite funny.
How did it feel getting inducted into The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame?
It was great; really good! I’m in awe to be there with all these great people; inducted at the same time as Johnny Cash! He was/is one of my idols. When I was in school we used to play Johnny Cash songs in our school group. And Jimi Hendrix was inducted at that same time. Jimi wasn’t there of course, but the other two guys (bassist and backing vocalist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell) were, which was great. It was just great to be there with all these fantastic musicians, and meeting all the really fab people that were there too!