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OTD: Eric Clapton Leaves the Yardbirds, Leaving the Door Open for Jeff Beck

By Hannah Wigandt,

2023-03-14

On March 13, 1965, Eric Clapton made one of the most famous decisions in classic rock history: to leave The Yardbirds. He felt the group was leaving their blues roots behind. Clapton didn’t want to be in a pop band.

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Eric Clapton and The Yardbirds | GAB Archive/ Getty Images

Eric Clapton left The Yardbirds on March 13, 1965

Clapton was only 18 years old when he joined The Yardbirds in 1963. The group had just become the house band for London’s Crawdaddy Club. Clapton’s heart was in the blues. In George Harrison: Living in the Material World , Clapton said he was a sort of blues missionary at the time.

The Yardbirds was Clapton’s first professional band. However, within two years, Clapton recognized they were heading down a path he didn’t want to follow. Their third single, “For Your Love,” was too pop for Clapton. He decided to leave before they released the song.

Drummer Jim McCarty said (per Ultimate Classic Rock ) that Clapton didn’t like The Yardbirds’ direction. However, everything revolved around hit singles at the time. They had to produce hits to “keep up.” The band even tried different things, but they never sounded great coming from an English recording studio.

While The Yardbirds tried different things, Clapton fell into a deep blues hole. McCarty calls Clapton “a very dedicated player, always very enthusiastic about playing the blues.”

However, there was another reason for Clapton’s exit.

Clapton also left The Yardbirds because he wasn’t cut out as a team player

McCarty thinks that Clapton would’ve left The Yardbirds regardless. He said Clapton left the band because he wasn’t cut out as a team player . He didn’t fit in.

“I think he was destined to be his own guy,” the drummer said. “He didn’t really hit it off with the rest of the entourage. He was sitting on one end of the van when we were traveling, with the rest of us all together. So it was difficult for us to work anyway, with someone like that in the group. We wanted someone who was going to join in.”

Later, Clapton recognized that he was a lone wolf.

Related

Eric Clapton Said Listening to Jeff Beck Play Guitar Gave Him Many Wake-up Calls

The guitarist’s exit caused a domino effect

Clapton’s exit from The Yardbirds is more complicated than any other musician’s. History writes that the event “might warrant little more than a historical footnote.” It started a domino effect and one of the most complicated games of “musical chairs” in British blues rock.

As he exited the band, Clapton recommended Jimmy Page. However, Page declined. So, The Yardbirds got Jeff Beck. He was the group’s lead guitarist during their most successful and influential period. In 1966, Page agreed to join the group, becoming the second lead guitarist with Beck for a brief period before the group fired Beck that same year. Page was the final lead guitarist for The Yardbirds, who eventually disbanded in 1968 .

Clapton’s departure was mutually beneficial to everyone involved. The Yardbirds experimented more without Clapton. Meanwhile, Clapton pursued the blues even more faithfully and eventually started Cream. Beck rose to fame in The Yardbirds and used the group as a jumping-off point for The Jeff Beck Group. Shortly after The Yardbirds disbanded, Page joined Led Zeppelin.

So, everything worked out in the end. If Clapton hadn’t left The Yardbirds, none of the musicians involved would’ve made any of the great music they did as a result of Clapton’s departure.

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