Gary James' Interview With
Jim McCarty Of
Their name is one of the most recognized names in all of Rock 'n' Roll history, as well it should be. Hits like "For Your Love", "Over, Under, Sideways, Down", and "Heart Full Of Soul" helped established their name. Some of the most famous guitarists in the world passed through the band, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck. They are The Yardbirds.
We spoke with drummer Jim McCarty about his latest solo CD "Sitting On The Top Of Time" and the times and music of The Yardbirds.
Q - "Sitting On The Top Of Time". That's a pretty clever title.
A - (laughs)
Q - A lot of your contemporaries are probably not around anymore. So, what did you do right?
A - It's a good question. I suppose I didn't go too mad with the Rock star style of living. I kept pretty cool. I met with a few drugs along the way, but came back to normality after that. Didn't drink too much alcohol either. I actually did have some LSD a few times. It frightened me. It didn't do me any good at all. I would say I was fairly conservative about all that. I really concentrated on trying to look after myself, particularly now.
Q - You say "I put a lot of importance and spent a lot of time making sure the lyrics are all positive; quite different from the '60s self-destructive thing."
A - Right.
Q - "I kept trying to remain positive, which was difficult in these strange times." Well, you're right about it being difficult to remain positive in these strange times. When I think of the 1960s, I would say there were more songs with the word "love" in it than any other decade. So, what groups and songs are you talking about that were pushing the self-destructive thing?
A - I can't think of particular songs. I just think there was an element around of revolutionary spirit. I think a lot of what we were concentrating on, a lot of the bands anyway, was breaking down all those old barriers and breaking down the closed barriers, breaking down the way things were and really it was sort of a revolutionary spirit I think. Of course some people did self-destruct. I agree with you. There were a lot of songs with "love" in.
Q - More so than today.
A - Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. I wouldn't say they were destructive songs, but I suppose they were about love being the main thing. I guess that's the way I see that.
Q - Even The Beatles sang "All You Need Is Love".
A - Yeah, but still had a bit of the revolutionary spirit going on. I suppose the whole Flower Power thing was based around love, wasn't it? That was revolutionary spirit as well. Changing the way we were then and bringing much more love into the way we lived.
Q - Listening to your CD, there are times when your voice sounds like Roger Daltrey's. Did you get that?
A - That's a new one. That's good. That's a new one on me.
Q - What are people saying about the CD?
A - I haven't heard Roger Daltrey before. Somebody would say maybe Colin Blunstone (The Zombies), but not Roger. (laughs) Roger is quite a sort of Rock 'n' Roll singer, isn't he?
Q - Absolutely. One of the highest compliments you can give a singer.
A - Yeah, yeah. It's a great compliment.
Q - Is this your own record company that this CD is on?
A - No. It's someone I know. It's a small label in England. Easy Action they're called. They put out a lot of Retro stuff and they do an occasional new record. I've known the guy for a few years that has the record company. I thought it was nice to keep it fairly small and work along with someone I knew rather than getting lost in a big company.
Q - You've got instrumentals on this CD of yours and you have a flute being used in an instrumental. You don't hear that being used much any more.
A - Yeah. It's a lovely instrument. I've always really liked it. It's only really Ian Anderson (Jethro Tull) who has really used it in Rock 'n' Roll. I've known Ron Korb, the flute player, for awhile. We just had the idea to do it and I finally got it together by writing songs at home. I had sessions every time I did a Yardbirds tour of America. I'd go to Toronto where Ron lives and record this album. So it was all recorded in Canada.
Q - You've got a song on this CD called "The Outsider". Do you see yourself as an outsider?
A - Yeah, to an extent. I sort of have been outside the general lay of things, slightly different to people, slightly more sensitive. The song was really a lot to do with my life in France right now, and how similar, down where live, the feeling is very similar to the way things were when I was a kid in England.
Q - You're saying that the music scene in France is reminiscent of the British music scene of the early 1960s?
A - Well, not so much that. Not so much the music scene, but more the sort of the way the country is, the countryside. Maybe it's just my imagination. A certain simplicity in the country that's sort of missing in a lot of the other places and I don't really get it. It reminds me of when I was sort of about ten, when I used to walk in the countryside. It connects you with nature and all that. That's what the song's about in a way. But being an outsider? Yeah, I fell a little bit of an outsider.
Q - It's so strange you think of yourself as an outsider because there are people that think of you as an insider and would like to be the outsider you think you are.
A - (laughs) Yeah, I'm sure of it. It's interesting, isn't it?
Q - It is. You're one of those guys that was very fortunate.
A - I agree with you.
Q - Naturally, you didn't choose the time or place where you were born, but you were where it was all happening!
A - Yeah. Yeah. I fell very lucky and honored to be where I am.
Q - You say "We never thought that the music would go on and on like it has done." Are you talking about the music of The Yardbirds or the music of the '60s?
A - I think it was the music of The Yardbirds. It was really a personal thing. We thought that what we were doing at the time was gonna last maybe a couple of years. I remember I gave up a job I had at the London Stock Exchange. I said to my boss, "I've got this band I'm going to join. It seems to be taking off and doing really well. I'm going to have to give up my job. When the band stops in a couple of years time, can I have my job back?" (laughs) I never thought we were still going to be popular forty of fifty years on.
Q - Since you had that financial background, does that mean you looked after your money or were you ripped off like so many of the Pop groups of the day?
A - Well yeah, we were (ripped off). We were lucky in some respects. Our publishing was always very healthy. I suppose maybe we were ripped off a little bit. We managed to do quite well with our publishing with respect to other people recording our songs. But we were ripped off in terms of our record royalties really. We lost a lot of the rights to our early tracks, which is a shame. But you never know, we might get them back one day.
Q - Is anybody in the band trying to get the rights back? It sounds like you are.
A - Well, it's sort of an ongoing thing. We keep coming up against brick walls, but you never know. Things do change radically sometimes, don't they? We really need people to see things our way and somebody actually has the rights to all our old recordings without paying us and that's not really very fair.
Q - Your songs or recordings are placed in say movies and you don't see any royalties?
A - Well, that's it, yeah. That's really our old catalog, but our new catalog is quite healthy. We had a song in a film last year, "Observe And Report" and one of our old songs was used by The Pussycat Dolls, which did quite well. (laughs) So, we did get things happening that are quite good for us.
Q - What do you remember about living in London in the mid-'60s? From where I'm sitting, you really were living in the center of the universe back then.
A - (laughs) It did seem to be very, very energetic and very creative. It all went so quickly, it was very difficult to remember it. It was a very fast life. You could go to a nightclub where all the bands went and see John Lennon and Keith Moon and have a drink with them and you'd be playing a lot of the time as well. You wouldn't have a great deal of time to relax. It was very, very fast. It was also a very exciting time with all the different fashions and all the different sounds you heard, all the different bands there were doing different things. It was a great time.
Q - Were these membership only clubs?
A - I can't really remember. I think you sort of got in if you were in a well known band.
Q - You couldn't just walk into one of those clubs from the street, could you?
A - Probably not. It was quite an exclusive place for bands.
Q - It sounds like everybody in one of these clubs knew everybody else. If you walked in and saw John Lennon, he would know you and obviously you would know him. And if somebody from The Animals was there, you'd know them and they would know you.
A - Yeah. There was a scene where everyone would know each other. That was the only time when you'd see other bands, because you'd be playing gigs otherwise. After the show, people would try to go to a club like that.
Q - When they were touring England?
A - Yeah. Yeah.
Q - I'd like to expand a little on what you said earlier. You said in your bio "It was all so fast. Everything was happening so quickly it was like a lifetime that we'd been in the band, but in fact it only lasted five years." So you were either in the studio or on the road, is that why you said that?
A - Yeah, that's it really. We'd be playing gigs almost every night and traveling wherever, up and down England or getting on a plane somewhere. Then we'd be doing a photographic session maybe during the day in a studio, so it was quite a fast life.
Q - As the drummer for The Yardbirds, you had a unique perspective that maybe your fellow band members did not have. You could look out and really see the audience. What did you notice about the audience reaction from the first time you went onstage and as time went on? Did you get the screaming girls that so many of the bands of the day got?
A - Now and then. It depended on the tour. They used to have a tour system set up where you would go around playing cinemas. You'd have maybe a half-dozen bands playing on the same show. They'd all be bands that had hits. It would often be a screaming crowd with that sort of thing. But usually, if we played a club, we played The Marquee Club in London quite a lot and the people would get quite excited and jump around. Maybe not scream, but they'd dance around and you know, go mad. (laughs) There was one place there called The Crawdaddy in Richmond we played and there were beams there and people used to jump on the beams and swing from them.
Q - That's a wild gig!
A - Wild, yeah.
Q - If they would've fallen down on one of you guys while you were playing...
A - (laughs) I don't know what would've happened then. The promoter at the club used to like that. He used to like to work the crowd up. He'd have someone who would wind the crowd up, get them more and more excited. It was great. They weren't drunk or anything. They were quite nice people. They'd just get really excited.
Q - Was that an eighteen and over crowd?
A - Yeah, probably eighteen and over. I wouldn't think there would be many people younger than that. Maybe a few fifteen year olds. Maybe eighteen year olds, early twenties.
Q - The Stones were at The Crawdaddy Club, weren't they?
A - Yeah. They were there before us. When they got too big for the club and they started having hits, they moved off. Our first manager Giorgio Gomelsky ran the club and he hired us to follow The Rolling Stones.
Q - Was it a good thing to have the guy who runs the club as your manager?
A - Well, it sort of developed like that. I think that's how we met him. I think he wanted to manage bands as well. He had a very close connection with them (The Stones) and Andrew Oldham sort of jumped in and signed them up to a contract. I think he was quite pleased to manage us 'cause he loved this band. He thought we were very similar, but that much different to succeed them in the club.
Q - What do you remember about being on that Beatles 1964 Christmas Show?
A - (laughs) Well, that's when there were some screams. Not some screams. The whole place would erupt in screaming when The Beatles played. I remember The Beatles were quite friendly with us. We were looking for a hit at the time and we asked them if they'd write us a song, or spoke to them about having a hit record. John Lennon did come in with a demo, with a record actually for us, a Chuck Jackson song. He suggested us doing it. It was called "Breaking Point". It was a good song, but it wasn't really quite for us. But it was very nice of him. Paul McCartney came into our dressing room and played us an early version of "Yesterday". He didn't have a lyric for it and called it "Scrambled Egg" at the time. But it was fun working with them. It was a good show. A lot of laughs.
Q - Too bad you couldn't have gotten Brian Epstein as your manager.
A - Yeah, yeah. That would've been good. It could've been good. I think we were the only band on the show that didn't have him as a manager. I think he managed all the other bands. There were mainly Northern groups that were on that show.
Q - He certainly had the name to make things happen.
A - Obviously The Beatles were a great success. I guess he was funding these other bands from the success of The Beatles at the time.