02/15/2013 12:01 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Making Tracks : A Conversation with The Yardbirds' Jim McCarty, Plus Anti-Flag and Brad Mackeson Video Exclusives


A Conversation with Jim McCarty

Mike Ragogna: Hi Jim, how are you?

Jim McCarty: Oh, good thanks, Mike.

MR: Let's talk about your new Yardbirds double-disc DVD, Making Tracks. What went into this project?

JM: Well, it's been a long story because we've been re-formed since back around '96. We've had different lineups, and it seemed like the lineups kept getting younger and younger. We had a fan of ours, Bruce Macomber, who used to turn up and bring a camera with him, and then bring a crew with him. The year before, in '10, he said, "Can I film a gig?" He came to a show that we did, he filmed a show, and we looked at it afterwards and some of it was alright, but overall, the show wasn't really that good. So we decided that the only way to get a DVD was to do a few shows. He was prepared to sort of put up the money and provide the crew. The following year, when we were actually doing Making Tracks, he appeared on about four or five shows, and we filmed them all and edited them all together. In the meantime, we did a bunch of backstage interviews and little runs of traveling and talking to make it a bit more interesting.

MR: How is it feeling after performing all these years?

JM: Oh, it's been great. I mean, it's not like we suddenly started to play again, so we had been playing. Ben King, the guitar player, has been with us a bit longer, but the other two guys came in, I think, in '09. Since that time, they've been giving a lot of energy. They're very enthusiastic and they've got all the energy that The Yardbirds needed, really, to put over the incredible repertoire.

MR: When you're playing some of these songs, does it take you back?

JM: Well, yes. Funny enough, they never really sound the same. There's always an element of spontaneity and improvisation going on in these old blues songs. There's lots of space for improvisation, so they're always different. It's interesting to see how the young guys put their improvisations in, which is quite different from the older guys. They are very faithful--particularly the guitar player--to the old style.

MR: These young guys seem to be continuing what has become a tradition for The Yardbirds, to have different lineups and be a constantly evolving band. Would you say that's right?

JM: Yeah, I would say that. I suppose with the young guys, we're evolving in a different way--it's not quite the same as the old band, but it's different. It's sort of evolving energetically. It's interesting, those songs still stand up--"Five Long Years," "Drinking Muddy Water"...

MR: Do you think that's a reason why The Yardbirds are still so relevant?

JM: Yeah, I think it comes down to the repertoire. Also, we've had a ton of help. We've had a lot of famous musicians who have started off playing our songs. I hear about someone else every day. Tom Petty was a big Yardbirds fan, and I think he even plays a Yardbirds song in his repertoire. There are so many famous fans, and they seem to keep our legacy going by mentioning us on their radio shows and playing the old songs. I don't know, it's a mystery to me that these old songs still seem to sound good.

MR: Over the years, did you have any idea The Yardbirds would still become so iconic?

JM: [laughs] No. It was a total accident, like most great things in music. We had no idea we'd even be going for more than a few years when we started in the '60s. The fact that all these songs have gone on, and our legacy sort of grown and grown, is a little bit of a mystery. I guess we're a real name.

MR: It seems The Yardbirds also built its legacy by being a cradle for great talent such as Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page.

JM: That's right. We've had some great players, more particularly, lead guitar players. I think we started on a very high level, and we had to maintain that. It's the same today. We can't really go out and play with people who aren't up to it.

MR: That's right, you have a legacy to maintain!

JM: [laughs] Exactly.

MR: Speaking of the legacy, how is Chris Dreja doing?

JM: He's doing okay. He's not playing. I don't know whether he'll be able to play again, to be honest. On the tour where we did the DVD, after that was shot, he got very ill and had the strokes. Finally, after being in UCLA, he got sent home. He's been taking it easy ever since. He's okay, I mean he's not quite himself, but he can speak okay, he can drive a car and he can get around. To be honest, it's a bit odd for me to be the only original. To me, it sort of wavers on whether it's really authentic or not. With Chris, it was an authentic feeling, but it's more difficult for me to find that. So, I don't know how much longer we're going to carry on.

MR: On the other hand, perhaps this is another transition for a group that has flourished from its evolution. But getting back to the Making Tracks DVD, do you have any favorite moments?

JM: I think I liked the second DVD with the interviews, the jokey things and the stuff to show what it was like on the road. I like the quote from Dave Smale, the young bass player, when he said his mom was sixteen or something when The Yardbirds came out. [laughs].

MR: Speaking of young players, do you have any advice for new artists?

JM: I think it's very important to have people you like and can get along with in a band. That will help the longevity of the band. Other than that, just keep going. Don't give up.

MR: Anything else that we need to know about The Yardbirds that's coming up?

JM: There's nothing really planned at the moment. I'm sort of planning on doing some solo gigs on the East Coast and then in Canada.

MR: I don't imagine Jim McCarty will stop making music any time soon.

JM: No, I don't think so...I love it. I love writing, and I certainly love playing.

MR: Jim, thank you so much for your time today.

JM: Thank you, Mike. I'm glad we connected.

Transcribed by Ryan Gaffney

photo credit: Cory Morton


Punkers Anti-Flag teamed with Staages Music and Art For Amnesty to release their take on "Toast To Freedom," the song written by Larry Campbell and Carl Carlton to celebrate Amnesty International's 50th anniversary, that original release including scores of performers such as Marianne Faithful, Ewan McGregor, Carly Simon and Taj Mahal among others.

The title refers to the organization's 1961 founding that was based on two Portugese students' seven years prison sentence for raising their glasses in a toast to freedom at a bar in Lisbon. This particular version by Anti-Flag--now inspired by the imprisonment of the Russian feminist punk band Pussy Riot (Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina, and Yekaterina Samutsevich)--will go on sale on February 8 in Europe and in the United States and Canada on February 12 through iTunes and various DSPs. The net proceeds will go to benefit Amnesty International.

"Anti-Flag is beyond honored to be a part of the Toast to Freedom project," says Anti-Flag member Justin Sane. "As a band that always tries to find itself on the side of human rights, free speech, and equality, recording our version of this song is a continuation of that goal. From our home of Pittsburgh to a work camp prison in Russia, the work to level the worlds playing field continues. Amnesty International has the track record of real impact and change. The proof is in the lives they save."

Anti-Flag's video for "Toast To Freedom"

The Making Of "Toast To Freedom"

photo credit: Zia Khan

Brad Mackeson's "Love Is For Gamblers" from 1945

Nashville/Portland singer-songwriter Brad Mackeson's new project, 1945, was released on February 5th, and the album was inspired by the year that World War II ended in Europe. It also coincides with the year Brad's grandparents--his English grandmother and American, air force vet grandfather--met in London, loosely chronicling their story, taking 1945 beyond musical journalism and into the realm of semi-romantic biography.