Nobody Told Me!

Nobody Told Me! My Life with The Yardbirds, Renaissance & Other Stories
By Jim McCarty with Dave Thompson

Jim McCarty, drummer and founding member of The Yardbirds, offers an engrossing account of his band’s tumultuous history and succession of legendary lead guitarists (Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page) in his new autobiography Nobody Told Me! Self-published and co-written with Dave Thompson (who since 1985 has ghosted over 100 tomes about everyone from Genesis to Joan Jett), the 306-page volume initially doesn’t look like much. However, thumbing through it randomly I chanced across McCarty’s four-page account of filming The Yardbirds’ scene in the movie Blow-Up (1966) and was instantly lost in his delightfully detailed narrative.

“We were on-set for at least three days, maybe more,” he recounts, “and we were on-screen for a grand total of two minutes and forty seconds. But those minutes are among the most exhilarating pieces of footage in ‘60s rock history.”

McCarty cites the oft-mentioned rumor that the filmmakers first sought The Who for Blow-Up because the nightclub sequence required the lead guitarist to smash his instrument, behavior for which The Yardbirds were not known. But significant portions of his memoir are devoted to detailing Jeff Beck’s fiery rages, verifying that they were ideal for the assignment.

“He had a temper,” McCarty writes, “particularly if technology didn’t work as he expected it to. Oh, the names he called his amps and pedals some nights!” In one jaw-dropping anecdote, Beck goes postal on the dashboard turntable installed in his Ford Zephyr. McCarty still has “nerve-wracking memories of the record player doing something wrong, causing Jeff to completely lose his rag and start banging on it ferociously while still driving at high speed.”

Fascinated by drums at an early age, McCarty had started performing in his teens with a school chum, Paul Samwell-Smith. “Sammy” played guitar (later bass) but was happier tinkering with electronics and ultimately found his niche as a producer. In 1962 Sammy suggested they visit a church hall in Richmond to see a new band that was supposedly quite good, which is how McCarty ended up walking into a Rolling Stones gig with no clue what to expect. His account of the event fills three of the book’s most compelling pages, from the description of the singer (“tall and gawky”) and the two guitarists (“one blonde enough to attract a handful of girls to his side of the stage, the other dark and runty-looking, the kind of kid you might cross the road to avoid”), to the music (“twisted, amplified, and warped beyond any hope of familiarity”). He concludes this with the exasperated declaration, “It was like seeing a band from Mars.”

McCarty details how blues purist Eric Clapton, disgusted by the notion of recording anything as pop-oriented as “For Your Love,” sat out The Yardbirds’ recording session for it, quit the band a week before the single (which became a massive hit) was released, and was in short order replaced by Beck. “Eric had balked at even stepping outside the blues for a moment,” he remembers. “Jeff looked ready to blow the blues out of the water and take every other genre with it.”

It was clearly the right choice. He credits Beck with saving the day at the “Heart Full of Soul” session. When the actual Indian sitar proved unusable, Beck was able to create the desired sound using a guitar and a Sola Sound tone box. Jimmy Page, not yet officially in The Yardbirds but hanging around the studio to lend an ear, purchased the discarded sitar from them and passed it along to George Harrison.

It was Beck who appended the now classic railroad whistle effect to their cover of the fuzztone anthem “The Train Kept A-Rollin’” at a session in Memphis, with Sun Records honcho Sam Phillips twiddling the knobs. “In the middle section, where my drums are impersonating a passing train,” McCarty writes, “Jeff threw in a bend riff that sounded exactly like a lonesome train whistle.” The song has been performed that way ever since by Aerosmith, Motörhead, and scores of others.

McCarty also delights in detailing how their classic “Still I’m Sad,” which he co-wrote, became the first Yardbirds song ever covered by another group. The Joe Loss Band performed it live on the BBC with Ross McManus (“famous today as Elvis Costello’s father”) contributing vocals to the performance.

He is wistful regarding the band’s split with manager Giorgio Gomelsky, who was awarded the full rights to everything they had recorded prior to April 1966. Gomelsky ultimately did great harm to their legacy by issuing Yardbirds “albums” compiled from those tracks, constantly reshuffled and repackaged under assorted titles. “The Hits of The YardbirdsThe Yardbirds’ StoryRemember The Yardbirds … I don’t know how many ‘new’ Yardbirds albums he arranged to release over the next fifty years – Giorgio passed away in 2016 – but there’s probably a couple of hundred.”

Not until Roger the Engineer did they create what McCarty considers a proper album – original material, not a compilation of singles or live concert clips – recorded during the brief magic segment of their history when both Beck and Page were aboard together. (Page would quickly emerge as the group’s leader and, two years and several lineup changes later, morph them into Led Zeppelin.) As a snapshot of the band “at the peak its abilities,” McCarty points to that record alone.

“For me personally,” he concludes, “the secret behind the continued legend of The Yardbirds was not what we did at the time. It was what we made possible for other people to accomplish. From the sound of the sitar to the use of uncontrolled feedback, we were at the forefront, if not the originators, of so many of the decade’s most significant musical advances… We didn’t push rock music forward. We sent it skewing in so many different directions that people still have trouble deciding what precisely The Yardbirds were.”

McCarty’s informative memoir should go a long way toward resolving that.