An interview with legendary Yardbirds drummer/solo artist Jim McCarty
by Tina Hall
Jim McCarty in Highgate Park London
Jim McCarty is credited with helping found, and drumming for, two British rock band; Renaissance and The Yardbirds. The Yardbirds got their big break at the Crawdaddy Club in London when the Rolling Stones decided it was time to move on from their standing gig at the place. They later played the Beatles 1964 Christmas show. The Yardbirds as we all know boasted three of the most influential guitarists of all time, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page. The Yardbirds were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992.
In 1982 Jim formed Box of Frogs with early Yardbird companions Samwell Smith and Dreja. Making two albums, the first featured Jeff Beck and the second Jimmy Page. Somewhere in all that he also began his work as a solo artist. His latest offering “Sitting On The Top of Time” is as he calls it, “focusing on the Renaissance side” of his musical stylings. He worked hard to make sure the lyrics were all positive. Jim added, “I kept trying to remain positive, which was difficult in these strange times.” I recently had the chance to question him on what all of these things have been like.
Maximum Ink: When did you first become interested in music?
Jim McCarty: I’ve always been interested in music, since my grandmother had a stand up piano that I used to “mess around” on! The first magical moment was when I was about 16, and somebody took me round a local house where a live band was rehearsing in the sitting room. They played some Shadows songs, and I was completely blown away!
MI: What led you to become a drummer?
JM: I used to play the marching drum in the local Boys` Brigade - just rolls and things, and was so good I became the solo drummer, and when I played something all the other drummers played what I played! I later bought a small kit for about £10 which I earned washing up dishes in a Holiday Camp!
MI: When you started as musician did you think you’d be in bands that where such influential to the British Rock scene?
JM: I started playing in the rock band at school, playing in the interval at the school dances(everyone would then go mad!). When we put the Yardbirds together we were really playing for the fun of it. We,d just heard Black R and B music coming from the US and we were completely enthralled by it - Jimmy Reed, Bo Diddley, Howling Wolf etc, It was like nothing we`d heard before! Never thought we may be a legendary group - in fact I had to leave my job in the stockbrokers because the playing was so demanding - and asked my boss if I could have my job back when it all finished (presumably in a year`s time!).
MI: What was it like to fill the slot formerly filled by the Rolling Stones at the Crawdaddy Club? What was it like in those days?
JM: We used to go and see the Stones in the Richmond Crawdaddy club, and when we heard that they were leaving, we approached Giorgio Gomelsky, who ran the club, to come and audition us. He later told me that when he was coming up the stairs of the rehearsal room we were playing one of our “rave-ups”, a sort of crescendo where we all build up the sound and then drop it down again. He was so impressed that we were that different to the Stones, he wanted us straight away! As soon as we started at the club we were immediately accepted.
MI: What was the Beatles’ Christmas show like?
JM: We had heard stories about the Beatles coming to the Crawdaddy club, and it was a great honor to be on the bill for their Xmas show at Hammersmith in 1963. The rest of the bands were managed by Brian Epstein and I guess we were the only “local” band. It was all very exciting and we got to talk to the guys now and then. Of course when they played the place erupted into screaming and you could never hear the Beatles. John Lennon would deliberately play badly as nobody could hear - also announce the wrong song titles, such as “Hard Dave Clark” for” Hard Days Night”!
MI: What was it like to work with Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page?
JM: It`s quite interesting that Eric, Jeff and Jimmy all came from a small area in England (Surrey) and were brought up in a radius of about 20/30 miles. They were all quite different- Eric quite a conscientious perfectionist who was very much into fashion and style and presentation was very important to him, whereas Jeff would go on stage in his dirty overalls and muddy boots! He was also wild and spontaneous in his playing, and we never quite knew what may happen! Jimmy, on the other hand was always very “professional” and was eager to please - dating back to the days when he played sessions in the London studios. I think he became a bit wilder later on!
MI: You must have a ton of amusing stories? Are there any you’d care to share with our readers?
JM: A couple of funny stories off the top of my head - when Jeff joined us to replace Eric in 1965 our first show was a big concert at the Fairfied Hall, Croydon. When we were preparing in the afternoon, I was messing about with Giorgio, our old manager, who was about 10 yrs older than us and resembled a Fidel Castro figure from Russia! He lost his temper with me and started to chase me round the grand piano! Jeff wondered what he had got himself into!
Another story goes back to the Beatles Xmas show, when Paul came into our dressing room with an acoustic guitar and played us the tune to “Yesterday”. He had no lyrics for it at the time and sang “Scrambled Egg” instead of “Yesterday”!
MI: How do you think the music industry has changed most since those early days?
JM: Music Industry has changed for the better and for the worse: for the better in respect of better recording facilities, which are also much cheaper and convenient for band starting up, better ways of being heard (through digital mediums, networking sites (Facebook,Youtube). The downside is that a lot of artists don`t need to be able to play live. Recording is so sophisticated, most people can sound half-good! Also there`s not so much individuality now with bands; they can be quite homogeneous, but then again, what can a band do that hasn’t been done already?
MI: Do you prefer to work within bands or produce your own solo work?
JM: I prefer to work up songs on my own and then get input from good musicians - maybe quite a simple idea. “Near End of May” was a very
simple idea, and Ron Korb, whom I worked with, thought it was too simple to work! I wrote it out in it`s simplicity and in 5 minutes the Toronto musicians had an arrangement, then they recorded it first take! I was astounded!
MI: Can you tell us a little about Sitting On The Top of Time?
JM: As I already mentioned the Toronto musicians, “Sitting on the Top of Time” was recorded in a studio belonging to Donald Quan, the pianist, in the centre of Toronto. I decided to record the songs that I had written in France each time I went on a Yardbirds tour of the US, and could hop over to Toronto. I had known Ron Korb, the flute player for some time.and we had the idea of doing an album together when he came and stayed at my house in Provence on his way to Midem in 2005. We used musicians that he knew in Toronto that he had worked with before - they were all great!
MI: You said you are trying to stay positive in such strange times as these. What advice would you offer the rest of us in regards to that?
JM: I really think you can create your own reality by keeping a positive outlook, looking after yourself, and if possible, living in the present moment - and from the “Inside Out”!
MI: What would even those closest to you be surprised to learn about you?
JM: Funny question - but some people are shocked when they find out I’m claustrophobic! I don`t like lifts and the underground - metro!
MI: Is there any one moment in your career that stands out above all others over the years?
JM: There have been a few great moments that really stand out:- the Induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992, getting a number one record in the UK in 1965, also when I went into the studio in Toronto recently with a few rough ideas, eg “Shangri-La” which Donald Quan did a great job on arranging a bit like a Vangelis song, and it came out like the theme for a Chinese Warrior Movie!
MI: What advice would you offer the musicians of tomorrow?
JM: I was once doing a French adult class near my home in England some 30 years ago. I went for a beer with the tutor in the local pub. Things were not really happening for me in music at the time and I thought about giving it all up. The tutor gave me some great advice- “You can’t do that - you’ve got a talent!” That would be my answer as to good advice for musicians of tomorrow.
MI: What projects are you currently working on?
JM: Working very slowly on a new, more experimental CD - don`t know quite where it`s going yet; also maybe a Jim McCarty Anthology!
MI: How do you hope to be remembered when your time comes?
JM: Don`t know the answer here, other than to be thought of as a good creative musician.
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