The Yardbirds' Chris Dreja

On this day in 1946, guitarist/bassist Chris Dreja was born in London. Dreja spent the majority of his musical career in the

Yardbirds, the influential '60s British rock group which, at various

times, included guitar greats Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page.

The Yardbirds formed in the early '60s as the Metropolitan Blues Quartet

in the London suburb of Kingston, Surrey. In addition to Dreja on

rhythm guitar, the early version of the band comprised singer Keith Relf, bassist Paul Samwell-Smith, drummer Jim McCarty and lead guitarist Anthony Topham, who soon was replaced by Clapton.

Naming themselves the Yardbirds, a moniker they found in a Jack Kerouac

book, the group cut its teeth on London's exploding R&B scene. The Yardbirds

became the house band at the famous Crawdaddy club, following the

Rolling Stones, who at one time were managed informally by

Yardbirds' manager Giorgio Gomelsky.

The Yardbirds' initial recordings were live albums -- one of which documented a performance with blues giant Sonny Boy Williamson. In 1964, they moved toward guitar rock that specialized in solos and heated instrumental exchanges. Clapton's mastery was showcased early on 1964's Five Live Yardbirds.

Though the Yardbirds loved American blues, they took frequent stabs at

pop/rock in an effort to widen their audience. After releasing a number

of R&B covers as singles, the band recorded "For Your Love," a tune by British pop/rock composer Graham Gouldman. The song,

which went top 10 in Britain and America, was characteristic of many

future Yardbird records, with its harmonic drone and erratic tempo

shifts.

The Yardbirds started to disagree over their direction, with Clapton

wanting to stick to blues. So he left in 1965 to join John Mayall's

Bluesbreakers. Beck replaced Clapton and his first record with the group

was "Heart Full of Soul," another Top 10 hit for them written by

Gouldman.

In 1966, the Yardbirds enjoyed a U.S. hit with a cover of the blues classic "I'm a Man," which included a signature exchange between Relf's harmonica and Beck's guitar. The latter's flashy style was also a main ingredient in "Shapes of Things," one of the first psychedelic-rock classics and a big hit in

the U.S. and the U.K.

Dreja soon moved to bass to replace a departing Samwell-Smith and Jimmy

Page joined as a second guitarist. Roger the Engineer (1966) was the only Yardbirds studio album featuring all original songs by the band. The LP was uneven, due to the band's penchant for alternating between ordinary

blues/rock songs, chant-like tunes and strange dance rhythms.

Beck and Page played together on only one Yardbirds' single, "Happenings

Ten Years Time Ago." The band also made an appearance in Michaelangelo Antonioni's classic film "Blow Up," playing a revamped take on "Train Kept-A-Rollin' ", titled "Stroll On." Beck then left to form the Jeff Beck Group.

Producer Mickey Most guided the Yardbirds, beginning in 1967, toward

more lightweight pop, often with unspectacular results on tunes such as "Ten Little Indians." They lost their stature in Britain but continued to draw crowds in America, where their concerts still featured guitar-based rock.

The Yardbirds' last single was "Goodnight Sweet Josephine," backed by

the psychedelic, Page-written "Think About It." They split in 1968, as Page continued his desire to be in a hard-rocking outfit by forming the "New Yardbirds," who evolved into Led Zeppelin.

Relf (who died from electrocution in 1976) and McCarty formed an early

version of the art-rock group Renaissance. Dreja initially stayed with Page but quickly decided to become a photographer, yielding the Zeppelin bass spot to John Paul Jones.

Dreja, McCarty and Samwell-Smith briefly united for a series of gigs in

1983 and eventually formed the Box of Frogs. In 1992, the Yardbirds were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

In 1997, WEA/Warner Bros. issued Live at the BBC, and last

month, Cleopatra Records released a Yardbirds collection called Masters.

Other birthdays: LaVern Baker, 69; Jesse Colin Young (Youngbloods), 54; Vince Martell

(Vanilla Fudge), 53; Paul Cowsill (Cowsills), 46; Ian Craig Marsh (Human League), 42; Scott Mercado (Candlebox), 34; and Jo (Fuzzbox), 30.