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Yardbirds revival is a guitarists' fest

January 05, 2003|Steve Hochman | Special to The Times

"Happenings Ten Years Time Ago" happened 36 years ago, when the Yardbirds stood at the peak of psychedelic blues rock and launched budding guitar gods Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page.

They're happening again -- although the company isn't quite that illustrious.

The first album under the Yardbirds name since 1967's "Little Games" is being finished, with plans for an April 22 release.

Although Beck, who guests on the new song "My Blind Life," is the only one of the three ax idols to appear on the new album, it showcases a parade of stellar guitarists influenced by the band.

Brian May, Slash, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Jeff "Skunk" Baxter and Steve Lukather take the role on new versions of such '60s Yardbirds hits as "For Your Love," "Shapes of Things" and "Over, Under, Sideways, Down." The Goo Goo Dolls' John Rzeznik provides lead vocals on "For Your Love."

The revival is being anchored by two founding members, rhythm guitarist and bassist Chris Dreja and drummer Jim McCarty. Guitarist Gypie Mayo and harmonica player Alan Glen, both members of rowdy '70s English pub-rock band Dr. Feelgood, are also on board, and young bassist John Idan takes the lead vocal slot (original singer Keith Relf died in 1976).

It comes at a time when the Yardbirds' influence can be felt in the emergence of the White Stripes, the Hives, the Strokes and other neo-garage rock acts, as well as "Little Steven's Underground Garage," the popular syndicated radio program devoted to the music with the E Street Band guitarist as host.

Dreja says the current interest in garage rock is merely the surfacing of a longtime subculture. "I guess I've been hearing the Yardbirds' sound for the last 37 years," he says. "It's surprising that these bands are into it right now, though I, for one, after the techno years, love to hear live music in the raw manner. I've been playing around and had my ear to the ground. This music never went away."

This venture was set in motion after the Yardbirds were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992. A European concert promoter contacted Dreja and McCarty about touring. The two, who had worked together in a band called Box of Frogs in the '80s, were up for it.

"The Yardbirds is difficult to put together," says Dreja, who spent most of his non-music years as a photographer. "It's not a drawing-board band where you can just say let's get a guitarist and a singer. But we felt we had the right musicians, played a few gigs and found ourselves enjoying it immensely. There were a few more personnel changes and we became a working band four years ago. Then you start doing that and you think it would be great to do an album with this band."

Vai, with his own Favored Nations Recordings label, provided a home for the project, with Ken Allardyce (Goo Goo Dolls, Green Day) producing. Dreja says that even with the passage of time, the songs' spirit remains.

"I think we were just as weird then as we are now," Dreja says. "Look at the lyrics and songs, and they are very eclectic. Maybe we were old then. The new material, though new songs, is instantly recognizable. You won't mistake the stamp."

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Stones don't roll, but Beatles fly

Producers of a DVD set of interviews and documentary programs on the history of the Rolling Stones have been sued by ABKCO, which controls the Rolling Stones' '60s catalog. The company claims that fans would expect to see ABKCO material and be disappointed when the set contained none.

But Passport Video, which specializes in such unauthorized rock histories, is going ahead with plans to release a similar Beatles set.

"The Beatles: The Long and Winding Road," due in stores March 18, is slated to be a five-disc package, with each disc devoted to a decade in the group's story. The Beatles presentation includes no material controlled by Apple, the group's official company, either in music or film clips.

But it does contain Beatles performances and anecdotes drawn from the band's television appearances.

In addition, it constructs an oral history through interviews with family, friends and associates including Julia Baird, John Lennon's sister; Billy Preston, who played keyboards on "Abbey Road" and "Let It Be"; Tony Sheridan, whom the Beatles backed on their first recordings in the early '60s; and members of the Quarry Men, Lennon's first band, which Paul McCartney joined.

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Small faces

Chuck Barris may or may not have been a CIA operative, as posited in the movie "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind," based on his book of the same name. But in addition to creating such shows as "The Dating Game," "The Newlywed Game" and "The Gong Show," he was definitely a composer and songwriter. That side is showcased on a soundtrack album for the film, due Jan. 14 from Domo Records.

Featured is the Barris-written "Palisades Park," a 1962 hit by Freddie Cannon, plus "The Game Show Confessions Remix" by Peter McEvilley incorporating music written by Barris for the three game shows.

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