The Store For Music [Release date: 09.11.18]
And so to the endlessly recycled ‘Eric Clapton And The Yardbirds with Sonny Boy Williams’ (Williamson) and a few tracks from Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck.
This material will always hold some interest for the student of British blues-into-rock and psychedelia, plus of course the real deal in the shape of Aleck “Rice” Miller aka Sonny Boy Williamson, (actually the second blues man to operate under the moniker of Sonny Boy Williamson).
What we get in this re-issue is alternating tracks between blues/r&b and the band’s own evolving style. It’s a precarious and interesting if not slightly confusing balance especially as the opening cut is the harpsichord driven ‘For Your Love’.
Sonny Boy makes a belated, but telling appearance with live cuts from The Crawdaddy Club on CD 2. And the meeting of Clapton’s young whippersnappers with the gnarled blues Chicago blues veteran works well, as the band are reverential leaving plenty of space for Sonny Boy to do his stuff.
Given the sequencing, it’s no surprise when the tracks jump back from ‘For Your Love’ to the band’s version of Sonny Boy’s ‘Good Morning Little Girl’. Their high pitched harmonies and bags of exuberance serve up a sharp contrast between enthusiastic r&b and their own burgeoning ‘Rave Up’ style on the crescendo laden ‘Shape of Things.’ It’s a melange of Clapton’s psychedelic tones, faux horns and studio wizardry, while Graham Gouldman’s ‘Evil Hearted You’ is drowned in treble,
Jimmy Page announces his presence with a slow building, but telling intro to ‘Draggin My Tail’, on a languid blues instrumental.
‘I Ain’t Got You’ is bread and butter R&B fare and ‘A Certain Girl’ is full of distorted volume, while the Giorgio Gomelsky penned ‘Got To Hurry’ is dutiful rather than inspirational though Clapton does tease out some intense licks.
The wild audience reaction to the band’s individual introductions on the ‘Live at the Marquee’ session, gives us an idea of just how popular they was at the time. And they set about a standard r&b set with gusto, with ‘Smokestack Lightning’ receiving yelps of recognition from the crowd as the band tear into a raucous version full of rudimentary harp, piercing guitar and a characteristic tension breaking crescendo, which eclipses the later version on CD2.
There’s a high tempo ‘Good Morning Little School Girl’, a cover of ’5 Long Years’ – on which Clapton fills out the gaps eloquently – and a frantic ‘I’m a Man’ to keep the ravers happy.
CD2 opens with the jumping r&b of ‘Baby What’s Wrong’, before we’re back in the parallel universe of Graham Gouldman’s ‘Mr.Your A Better Man Than I’ complete with buzz guitar.
Jimmy Page adds an all too short hi-octane instrumental rocker ‘The Choker’ and there’s a lovely Bo Diddley feel to ’Honey In Your Hips’, complete with handclaps, while Jim McCarty holds down the bottom-end.
It’s presumably Clapton on the stinging blues attack of ‘West Coast Idea’ and the band use buzz guitar and lots of echo on ‘I Wish You Would’, suggesting they were ready to break out with their own style even on a blues cover.
Jimmy Page is in his element with a high volume piercing tone on ‘Freight Train’, and Jeff Beck makes the most of an Elmore James style intro and buzz guitar on the self titled ‘Jeff’s Blues’.
We finally get The Yardbirds and Sonny Boy Williamson together at The Crawdaddy on ‘Bye Bye Bird’, complete with the latter’s harsh toned harp, a lived in voice and the added value of working the dynamics of the song.
The band make a good fist of ‘Take It Easy Baby’ and Sonny Boy’s vocal is delivered with gravitas and conviction, while his lyrical harp playing fills the track with that timeless Chicago sound.
‘Pontiac Blues’ overcomes a tentative intro leading into a train time rhythm, before he phrases passionately, blows hard and bends some notes on ‘Twenty Three Hours Too Long’.
The clap-along ‘River Rhine’ feels like a filler and Sonny Boy rounds things off with a rapped-out version of Robert Lockwood’s ‘Mister Downchild’, which is a low key affair compared to some of the earlier highlights.
Best regarded as a historic document of The Yardbirds shift from blues to psychedelia and beyond, this liaison with Sonny Boy reminds us of the way their original bluesy material kick started rock/blues and ultimately led to metal. ***
Review by Pete Feenstra
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