Preceding the pending release of The Yardbirds 50th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition of their classic 1966 album Roger The Engineer released on the Demon Music Group label, Gigslutz speaks to their drummer Jim McCarty to discuss his upbringing, the background to recording plus what he’s up to now:
Hi Jim, how has your 2020 and 2021 been so far?
This year and last year have been very tough for me, as I lost my wife to Cancer last June.
We were very close, and ever since have been learning methods to communicate with her, which has actually been going well. Going to be working with Dave Thompson on another book about it.
I’m really sorry to hear that sad news Jim, I hope the new year can bring you abit more happiness in the new year. We’re here to talk all things Yardbirds; can you expand a little on your upbringing and were you in bands before you joined The Yardbirds?
My parents were not very musical, but they would listen to BBC radio, and things like “Family Favourites” was always a good source of music- mostly classical. I didn’t get into drums until I joined the Boys Brigade as a teenager and was captivated by the snare drum.
Nobody influenced me, and I bought my first “drum kit” for £11 from an advert in the local paper. Then I was able to play US rock and roll with some guys at school, including Paul Samwell- Smith, who later became bass player in the Yardbirds. We had a band at school (Hampton Grammar) and played American rock stuff like Eddie Cochran, Elvis and Johnny Cash.
How did you join The Yardbirds?
I lost touch with Paul Samwell- Smith when I left school, but one day I met him by chance in a local pub. He invited me to come back to his house and he played me the recording of “Jimmy Reed live at the Carnegie Hall”. I was very impressed- I thought that this was rock music, but with a lot of raw emotion.
We heard more and more “R and B” music (Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, Muddy water etc) that was coming into the UK on an “underground” level. He started a group with Keith Relf, as singer and harmonica player called “the Metropolis Blues Quartet” and I saw them and was impressed with Keith. Keith was at Kingston Art School, as was Top Topham and Chris Dreja. These last two I met in a pub in Kingston, Surrey, and we decided to form a band.
After a very short time our two bands amalgamated to form the first line- up of the Yardbirds.
How did Jeff Beck join the band?
Eric (Clapton) was a huge blues fan and didn’t like “For Your Love”. The rest of us really liked it and we tried to get Jimmy Page for the band. He was busy as a session musician and recommended Jeff Beck. Jeff was great and suited the way the band wanted to go- making the “blues “more interesting
The build up to recording Roger the Engineer was in and around a period of some magnificent albums being released including Revolver by The Beatles, Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys and A Quick One by The Who. Were any albums of the period a direct influence on what The Yardbirds were doing?
I particularly liked all those albums you mentioned- but I don’t think we were influenced by those. It was actually the first time we had the opportunity to go in and make an album, as opposed to a single, which was deemed much more important in those days.
How did the band write the music that appeared on the album? Did you each have ideas for the individual songs or did you thrash out demos as a band, can you run through the process at this period of the band?
Around 50% of the songs recorded were those we played live, which were quite easy as they were already well rehearsed. We made some small adjustments here and there, mainly to the lyrics. The rest of the songs we made up more or less in the studio, having fun with them at the same time.
Quite interesting that we had a lot of percussive fun with the song “He’s Always There”, which was really the first song I ever wrote, and many years later it was sampled by the Pussycat Dolls for their big hit “When I Grow Up”.
Whenever we had a spare moment on the road, we would get out the percussion and “jam away” for half an hour or so!
How was the recording process of the album? Did it take long from recording the album to its physical release?
The album didn’t take long at all; I guess there were quite strict budget limits in those days. I can’t remember how long it took to come out. As I said before albums weren’t really that important in those days as far as the record companies were concerned; they usually consisted of a set of songs surrounding your latest single.
Why did you choose Advision Studios?
No idea why Advision- maybe Simon Napier Bell suggested it as he had worked there before on “What’s New Pussycat”.
Did Chris Dreja draw the picture of Roger out of the blue or was it a planned drawing?
Chris and I wanted to be involved with the cover, as we all wanted to contribute our “talents” to the project
Were you pleased with the reaction the album received when it was originally released in 1966?
Yes pleased with the reaction to the album when it got released, but as I said before there didn’t seem to so much interest in albums at that time.
How has it been looking back on the album for the reissue?
Looking back on it and hearing it again, I can understand why it became a bit of a classic. It does really encapsulate what the Yardbirds were all about- with the best line- up.
Do you still like the album? What do you think the albums legacy is?
I think the album really stands out now as a classic, sort of “underworked” and spontaneous. We certainly had a chemistry which worked at that particular time.
What are your favourite tracks from the new reissue?
My favourite tracks are probably the “Nazz” and “Jeff’s Boogie”
What are your plans for the rest of 2021?
I still like to write songs and play now and then. There is a Yardbirds line-up consisting of me plus four very fine US musicians. Hopefully back doing shows at the end of 2021.
Finally, what are you listening to on your turntable at present?
I still love to hear the old blues and soul songs of the early sixties, but since my wife died, I’ve played a lot of classical stuff- Debussy, Satie etc (I live in France!).
Roger The Engineer can be pre-ordered via the following link