The New Yardbirds started one of the greatest bands of all time. The What?
TheYardbirds formed in the south-west London suburbs in 1963. Keith Relf and Paul Samwell-Smith were originally in a band named the Metropolitan Blues Quartet. After being joined by Chris Dreja, Jim McCarty and Top Topham in late May, they performed at Kingston Art School in late May 1963 as a backup band for Cyril Davies. Following a couple of gigs in September 1963 as the Blue-Sounds, they decided to change their name to The Yardbirds, both an expression for hobos hanging around rail yards waiting for a train and a reference to the jazz saxophonist Charlie "Yardbird" Parker.
They had a string of hits during the mid-1960s, including "For Your Love", "Heart Full of Soul" and "Over Under Sideways Down". The group launched the careers of guitarists Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck.
Clapton left The Yardbirds on March 1965, Jimmy Page joined the band in 1966 to play bass guitar after the original bassist, Paul Samwell-Smith, left the group. Shortly after, Jimmy Page switched from bass to second lead guitar, creating a dual-lead guitar line up with Jeff Beck.
Following the departure of Jeff Beck from the group in October 1966, The Yardbirds, tired from constant touring and recording, were beginning to wind down. Jimmy Page wanted to form a supergroup with himself and Jeff Beck on guitars, and The Who's rhythm section - drummer Keith Moon and bassist John Entwistle. Vocalists Donovan, Steve Winwood and Steve Marriott were also considered for the project. The group never formed, although Jimmy Page, Beck and Moon did record a song together in 1966, "Beck's Bolero", which is featured on Beck's 1968 album, Truth. The recording session also included bassist-keyboardist John Paul Jones, who told Jimmy Page that he would be interested in collaborating with him on future projects.
The Yardbirds played their final gig in July 1968. However, they were still committed to performing several concerts in Scandinavia, so drummer Jim McCarty and vocalist Keith Relf authorised Jimmy Page and bassist Chris Dreja to use The Yardbirds name to fulfil the band's obligations. Page and Dreja began putting a new line-up together. Page's first choice for lead singer, Terry Reid, declined the offer, but suggested Robert Plant, a Black Country singer he knew. Plant eventually accepted the position, recommending a drummer, John Bonham from nearby Redditch. When Dreja opted out of the project to become a photographer, John Paul Jones, at the suggestion of his wife, contacted Jimmy Page about the vacant position. Being familiar with Jones' credentials, Page agreed to bring in Jones as the final piece.
The group played together on record the first time on the final day of sessions for the P. J. Proby album, Three Week Hero. Proby recalled, "Come the last day we found we had some studio time, so I just asked the band to play while I just came up with the words. ..." The album's track "Jim's Blues", with Plant on harmonica, was the first studio track to feature all four future members of Led Zeppelin.
The band completed the Scandinavian tour as The New Yardbirds but Page wanted to gig it a new name. One account of the band's naming, which has become almost legendary, has it that Keith Moon and John Entwistle suggested that a possible supergroup containing themselves, Jimmy Page, and Jeff Beck would go down like a lead zeppelin, a term Entwistle used to describe a bad gig. The group deliberately dropped the 'a' in Lead at the suggestion of their manager, Peter Grant, to prevent "thick Americans" from pronouncing it as "leed", and Led Zeppelin was born.
Peter Grant also secured an advance deal of $200,000 from Atlantic Records in November 1968, then the biggest deal of its kind for a new band. Atlantic was a label known for its catalogue of blues, soul and jazz artists, but in the late-1960s it began to take an interest in progressive British rock acts, and signed Led Zeppelin without having ever seen them, largely on the recommendation of singer Dusty Springfield. With their first album not yet released, Led Zeppelin made their live debut at the University of Surrey, Guildford on October 15, 1968. This was followed by a U.S. concert debut on December 26, 1968 (when promoter Barry Fey added them onto a bill in Denver, Colorado) before moving on to the west coast for dates in Los Angeles, San Francisco and other cities.