Universal - Volbeat's Michael Poulsen discusses the impact guitarist/producer Rob…
- Posted on Jun 7th 2010 4:00PM by Pat Pemberton
"I didn't realize in what high esteem the music had been held," bassist Chris Dreja tells Spinner. But when the band reformed in the '90s, Dreja says he learned how well-regarded the Yardbirds are thanks to the fans that have shown up for performances.
"That's what makes playing live worthwhile," he says, noting that Yardbirds fans tend to be students of the rock genre who have researched the Yardbirds' history. "They didn't just stop at Simon Cowell's latest 'Idol' pop."
When the Yardbirds split in 1968, Dreja quit rock and roll to become a professional photographer. Decades later, he agreed to do a few shows with the band. When asked why he returned, his answer was simple: "Boredom, really."
But the crowd turnouts were good, and the shows were well received.
"It just grew from there," he says. "People just kept asking us to come back."
The band didn't feature any of its famous guitarists, nor did it feature its lead singer, Keith Relf, who was electrocuted while playing guitar at his home in the mid-'70s. But original members Dreja and drummer Jim McCarty built a solid band that could continue the Yardbirds' raucous live reputation. A testament to their reputation, their 2003 album, 'Birdland,' featured noted guest guitarists like Slash, Jeff "Skunk" Baxter, Steve Vai and Brian May.
"There were other guitarists who were lining up," Dreja says, "But you have to stop somewhere."
That album included a song Dreja had written in honor of Relf, 'An Original Man (A Song for Keith).'
"Keith was a very sensitive, very great songwriter," Dreja says. Still, it was hard for Reif to stand out in a band noted for guitarists. "He was a little overshadowed at the time."
While the Yardbirds now tour with a younger lineup -- they released 'Yardbirds, Live at B.B. King's Blues Club' in 2007 -- Dreja knows the band's fame stems from the '60s, when it featured a succession of famous guitarists (Clapton was never in the band with Page or Beck; Page and Beck were only briefly in the band together).
"I think the Yardbirds have always had a good nose for guitar players," Dreja says.
The different styles of the guitarists -- Clapton with blues, Beck with distorted psychedelic rock and Page with hard rock -- added to the band's diversity.
"If you look at the 65 songs of the Yardbirds, they are so eclectically different," he says. "Everybody in the Yardbirds had a bunch of ideas. It was a pretty dynamic fusion between everybody."
Of the three guitarists, Dreja said, Beck had the biggest influence on the band, which was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992.
"We started out as a blues cover band," he says, noting that Beck's unique guitar sounds changed the band's direction. "It became very important that we do something for ourselves."
When Page was in the Yardbirds, Dreja said he was known as a great session player (clients included the Rolling Stones, the Who, the Kinks and Van Morrison) while Clapton was an acclaimed bluesman. While Clapton left the band when it veered away from blues, eventually, Dreja says, he relaxed his standards. "Eric Clapton's sound became much more attacking after he heard Hendrix," he says.
Dreja, who started out as the band's rhythm guitarist before moving to bass, is now back to playing guitar with the group. Having been in a band with three of the top-ranked guitarists of all time, Dreja knows a little about what makes a great guitarist -- and it's not just endless shredding: "It's originality and style and sound."