James McCarty, English musician and drummer with the legendary Yardbirds chats with Kevin Cooper about playing behind Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page finding and remixing the Yardbirds ’68 album, his autobiography No One Told Me and his latest album Walking In The Wild Land.

James McCarty is an English musician, best known as being the drummer and founding member of the legendary Yardbirds. Jim has also performed with Renaissance, Together, Shoot, Illusion and the Yardbirds reunion band Box Of Frogs, the British invasion All-Stars and Pilgrim, as well as under his own name as the Jim McCarty band. Since 1992 he has been playing with the reformed Yardbirds.

The original Yardbirds were known for starting the careers of three of rock’s most famous guitarists, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck.

McCarty recently launched his third solo album and is currently finalising his autobiography titled No One Told Me. The album features his songs and vocals in wonderful psychedelic and folk rock style.

Whilst busy rehearsing for the official launch of his latest album at The Patch in Twickenham on Thursday 5th April, Jim McCarty took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.

Jim good morning, how are you today?

I’m good thank you Kevin, how are you doing?

I’m very well thank you and before we move on can I just thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.

That’s okay, it’s not a problem.

And how is life treating you?

I have to say that at this moment in time things are good. I’m not too busy at the moment but much of my time has been spent getting the book together and of course, the latest album was released earlier this month. It’s great to finally see it out there as I have been working on it for the past couple of years.

Well I have been playing the album, Walking In The Wild Land, for the past few weeks now and I have to say that I think that it is a fantastic piece of work.

Do you really, well thank you so much for that.

You have, as you have said, been working on it for a couple of years. Now that it is out there are you happy with it?

(Laughter) yes I am. I am pleased with it because it has been so well produced. This is now my third solo album and up until now I hadn’t really used proper producers. With this album I have been working closely with George Koller who is actually a bass player based in Toronto, and Terry Brown who is a real bone fide producer (laughter). Terry is English but lives over in Toronto and in the past he has worked on a lot of Rush albums and he is a really great guy.

I have to say that for me, there are three standout tracks on the album, they are Changing Times, Charmed and Dancing Leaves. I personally think that they are three fantastic tracks.

That’s great, thank you. At my age I always forget what’s on there (laughter). I will play one in the studio and suddenly think ‘oh yes I remember that one’ (laughter). Being honest with you I have to say that I like those tracks too.

The album was released on the 9th March; when was it finished and when did you put it to bed so to speak?

The album was actually finished towards the end of last year.

So will you now have to relearn the tracks on the album ready for when you play them live?

(Laughter) sort of. Whenever you take some time off and you then have to go back to your most recent work, it can, at times, be really hard particularly when it comes to learning the lyrics (laughter). Being a drummer by trade I am really not used to singing so for me to actually remember all of the lyrics is quite an achievement (laughter). However, I have done it before and I can usually keep it together as long as I don’t have a drink (laughter).

You are officially launching the album at The Patch in Twickenham on Thursday 5th April. Will you be playing the album in its entirety?

No I won’t. I am sharing the evening with Judy Dyble who I don’t actually know. This might sound funny but I only know her from Facebook (laughter). You could say that Judy and I have a relationship on Facebook (laughter). She really is such a nice person and has a great pedigree, she being the founding member and vocalist with the legendary Fairport Convention. I thought that if we did something together then it world work because of our styles of music. Having said that I will be playing the majority of the new songs.

You mention Judy so I have to ask you, were you or are you a fan of Fairport Convention?

(Laughter) I wasn’t crazy about them but in a way I liked them and what they were trying to do. However, I am not quite as folky as that (laughter). Fairport did get quite folky but I love the song that she does, I Talk To The Wind; I really do think that’s great. I love the King Crimson side of it all.

Is there any chance of the two of you recording together?

Well we will just have to wait and see how it goes won’t we (laughter). That could actually be a very nice idea.

You mentioned earlier that you have been busy so I have to ask, Yardbirds ’68 where the hell did you find it (laughter)?

(Hysterical laughter) well I have to be honest with you and say that is a very long story (laughter). Some years ago, in fact ten years ago, I was contacted about this by Jimmy (Page) and his manager Peter Mensch asking me if I had a copy of the Yardbirds ’68 album which had been recorded at The Anderson Theatre in New York City back in 1968. For some reason they both thought that I had the master tapes of the recording. I told them that I didn’t have the tapes and that I had no idea as to where they would be. We searched around for where they could be and eventually we all agreed that they would most probably be stored somewhere at either Sony or Epic Records.

Peter then told me that the live album was his favourite album of all time and so part of his current deal with Jimmy included a clause that he released that live album. After that it all went quiet for another ten years until I received a phone call from Jimmy saying “by the way I have found the master tapes for the live show in 1968, I had them all the time and I have remixed it all” (laughter). I have no idea where he found them but he quite obviously didn’t know that he had them. So we all got together, we listened to the album and I have to say that Jimmy had done a great job remixing them. It really did sound very good. Looking back I don’t remember it being that good (laughter). However, hearing them afresh it was really good to hear. I thought ‘wow this is great, it really does have to go out there’.

Spending time working on the album with Jimmy and Chris (Dreja), did it bring back happy memories?

Yes it was very nice actually getting back together. Chris and I didn’t do that much. Chris is not very well now; he has suffered a few strokes so he is unable to play nowadays, so he is not quite what he was. He is not fit enough to travel around the country but he was very into the project and it was a lot of fun, the three of us going through a lot of very old photos (laughter). The whole project was a mission for Jimmy, a new mission you could say because he really doesn’t want to play that much. Everyone keeps asking him to go back out on the road to which he replies “oh no I’ve got too much to do” (laughter). He really does love finding these old recordings and putting them out again but there are a lot of people who simply don’t agree with him. They want to see him play but he really does enjoy hunting down these old recordings.

Jimmy can track down long lost Led Zeppelin album tracks over in Russia but he couldn’t find the master tapes which were under his nose at home (laughter).

(Laughter) I know, who knows, perhaps they were under his bed. I find it all very funny (laughter).

Reading the fans reviews of the album, they absolutely love it.

Yes they do which is really nice for us. The Yardbirds first album was also a live one; it was recorded live at the Marquee Club in London back in 1964. It now looks like the latest live album will be our last album which really is a nice ending to all of our material.

Were you happy with what Jimmy had done with it?

Oh yes, I really liked what he had done. Being honest with you I have to say that I don’t quite fully understand all of his decisions but I have to say that the album really did sound very good.

Are there any more hidden gems anywhere?

(Laughter) well I don’t know. Sometimes these things just seem to pop out of the woodwork but it would be nice if there was something out there which was half decent with both Jimmy and Jeff (Beck) on but unfortunately I don’t think there is.

You will just have to spend the day in Jimmy’s garage having a sort through his boxes (laughter).

(Laughter) that’s right, we will all have to do that.

It’s good that you have mentioned Jeff because I was going to ask you, what was it like playing behind Jimmy (Page) Jeff (Beck) and Eric (Clapton)?

(Laughter) well to be honest, I never thought of it as me playing behind three fantastic guitarists, I always thought of it as me playing behind three massive egos (laughter). At that age the egos really were at the forefront. That’s what made it really difficult for us, especially travelling around the country being stuck together all of the time. The egos were bashing against each other all of the time. It’s not so bad now whenever you get back together and see each other briefly, but when you are twenty-one years old stuck in the back of a van somewhere it can be quite difficult. Plus what you have to remember is that we were all very different from each other. We all had very different personalities.

I recently read a quote that said ‘the bands that stay together the longest are the bands that travel separately’.

Yes that’s right, I recently noticed that with The (Rolling) Stones, they all have their own bus after the shows. They don’t even go back to the hotel together (laughter). I personally can’t understand it. It’s very odd; they don’t exactly hang-out together now do they.

Nowadays they seem to start a band, all school friends and then eighteen months down the road they all want to kill each other (laughter).

(Laughter) yes they do, they really do. We were never actually that bad. I don’t think that any of us actually really hated each other. We never came to actual physical blows or anything like that (laughter). However, it was one of the reasons that the group broke up in the end, because it was all so intense. There was never any time to get away from each other. There was no record company or recording royalties to keep us together those days. The music business today is all about a very different thing. Everyone wants to be a star overnight.

Taking all of that on-board, were they good times? Was it a nice place to be at that moment in time?

It was fantastic. At times it was like a rollercoaster ride, some of the times were great whilst some of them were bloody awful. Having said that I wouldn’t has missed it for the world. It was fantastic to have that sort of life and not have to go and work in an office and commute to London every day.

Back in 1969 you were quoted as having said “we have had enough of heavy rock”. Is that really how you felt at that moment in time; you had had enough of it?

I have to say that yes, I think so, but to be fair it was a temporary thing. Everything seemed to be on top of us every single night. Every night of the week we would be playing somewhere else, playing that same repertoire, and it was a difficult cycle to get out of. The people really did want to hear those songs which made it difficult for us to be able to create anything new that people would accept. Therefore it was almost impossible for us to make it feel fresh. It is always easy to look back and think that perhaps we could have gone in different directions and maybe have become a Pink Floyd type of band or something like that. But at the time it was simply far too much to take on board. We just had to split.

You mention the fact that the band could have changed direction. Didn’t you do just that when you and the late Keith Relf formed Renaissance in 1969.

Yes we did and being honest Keith and I went totally the other extreme really and I have to say that it was quite nice for a while. The whole concept and sound of the band was based around the keyboards playing in an early version of progressive rock kind of style. But it was fun because it was fresh, and both Keith and I really did enjoy it.

Was it always going to be a career in music for you?

What can I say, I was always mad on the drums (laughter). From an early age I was in the Boys Brigade and I played the military snare drum. I always loved drumming. From there it went to rock and roll; I loved hearing the drums on the rock and roll records such as Buddy Holly and The Everly Brothers, but I never really expected to have a career in music. At one point I was actually studying to be an Actuary, for the insurance premium people. I was always very mathematical and maybe that was part of the drumming (laughter).

Bringing you right up to date, what can you tell me about your new autobiography?

(Laughter) what can I tell you, let me see. You won’t be able to find out much about it on the internet because it is due out sometime in April, and we have taken the decision not to really put any details out there, as yet. Sorry (laughter).

So being cheeky, do you have a title for the book as yet?

Yes I have and it’s called ‘No One Told Me’ (laughter). That refers to the fact that no one told me what this life in the music business was going to be like. It’s also a play on the old joke which refers to door men, when you say to them “I have to bring this into the venue now” and the guy looks at you and says “no one told me” (laughter). It’s all a bit of a cliché. I have tried to make it as funny as I can without losing the points that I am trying to get across. Being honest with you, it is almost finished, we are just deciding what photographs are going to go into the book now.

And what time period does it cover?

The book covers my whole life, whilst obviously concentrating on The Yardbirds period. It also tells you where I went to school, where I grew up and what I have been up to since. It is the whole gambit really.

Was this something that you wanted to do or something which you felt that you had to do?

To be honest I think that it was a combination. It has been fun to do and I had thought about doing it for a long time now. It has taken me a few years to get all of the information contained within the book together.

And just how easy was it for you to recollect as I can’t remember what I did yesterday (laughter).

(Hysterical laughter) I know exactly what you mean but the thing is, whenever I do interviews like I am speaking to you now, people ask me about things and that is what keeps my memory alive really. So every time that we do a Yardbirds tour I am the guy that people want to talk to. I seem to remember all of these things so I just thought that I might as well put them all in a book.

It’s funny you should say that because every time I interview an artist who played at Live Aid I always ask them what can they remember about the day. They all reply with the same response “we can’t remember anything, it’s only by doing interviews that things slowly start coming back to us”.

Yes, I know exactly what they mean, it’s funny isn’t it. I have got to thank people like you really for interviewing me and helping to keep my memories alive and well (laughter). Live Aid wasn’t that long ago by comparison; I’m having to conjure up things that happened way back in 1963 (laughter).

If I had to pin you down to just one, what would you say has been the highlight of your career so far?

(Laughter) you can’t pin me down to just the one as there have been quite a few. Getting inducted into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 1992 has to be one of them. That was great to suddenly be honoured like that. I have loved making the new album, it just seems to get better and better in a subtle way. To still have people like you telling me that you love the songs is a real highlight. I love singing, even though I am a drummer; I love singing, I love voices, and I love writing songs.

What about the low points, have there been any?

Yes there have. I went through a really bad spot back in the 1960s when I was messing around with LSD which unfortunately messed up my mind for a while. I got myself into a depressive state for a while and I have to say that wasn’t very nice.

On the subject of memories, what was the first record that you bought?

(Laughter) I have actually got a paragraph or two about this in the book. The first record that I ever bought was either Bad Penny Blues by Humphrey Lyttelton or Born Too Late by The Poni-Tails.

Who did you first see performing live in concert?

You will laugh at this but the first time that I ever saw a band playing live was in a local house. I was about fifteen at the time and there were some people saying that there was a band playing around the corner in a front room (laughter). At that time I had never been up-close to a band so I made my way into the front room and they were playing covers of The Shadows and The Ventures and they were really loud but great (laughter). I had never seen a band like that before, up-close, loud and in your face. It was fantastic.

What was the last song or piece of music that made you cry?

Oh dear, I don’t think that music has ever made me cry. If it has it would have been a classical piece, a Debussy piece or something like that. I have always loved the Fauré Requiem by Debussy.

After the album launch and once the autobiography is out there, what next for Jim McCarty?

(Laughter) that’s a good question isn’t it. At this moment in time I’m not quite sure, I think that I will wait and see just what percolates in my brain.

Are you writing every day?

I am one of those people who can be writing every day. I always have lots of ideas going round in my head, lots of structured tunes mainly. However, after all of these years there is a sort of regimentation to it all now (laughter). I don’t let myself get into it all of the time. However, I do have periods of time where I think ‘oh I will work on some stuff now’ and I will do that for a few weeks. It is far more disciplined nowadays.

On that note Jim let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me today. It’s been delightful.

Okay Kevin thanks for speaking to me today. You take care and I hope to see you later. Bye for now.