"When I joined the Yardbirds all I kept hearing was... 'Eric wouldn't have done that'": For Jeff Beck, replacing Eric Clapton in the Yardbirds was a challenge, not least because Clapton wanted the band to fail

Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton, 1981
(Image credit: Michael Putland/Getty Images)

When Eric Clapton left the Yardbirds in 1965, dismayed that the band were moving away from their blues roots to a more pop-orientated sound, as signposted by their hit single For Your Love, the band knew instantly who they wanted as his replacement. They hadn't anticipated that Jimmy Page would turn turn them down, but in passing up the invitation, the young guitarist, by then a much-in-demand, high earning session man, was gracious enough to propose an alternative solution.

Jeff Beck remembered Page discreetly sounding him out about the position, without actually revealing that there was a vacancy in Keith Relf's band. As Beck remembered in a 2010 interview with Rolling Stone's David Fricke, he was hanging out at Page's house when his host played him Five Long Years from the Yardbirds 1964 album Five Live Yardbirds, and casually asked, 'Would you ever play in a band like that?' It wasn't long until Beck was officially approached, and signed up as Clapton's replacement. But Beck very quickly made it known to his new bandmates that he would be his own man.

"When I joined the Yardbirds," he told Fricke, during a joint interview with Clapton, “all I kept hearing was stories in the van: 'Eric wouldn’t have done this. Eric wouldn't have done that.' I went, Shut the fuck up. Eric isn’t in the band."

Though the two guitarists became good friends in later years, in their shared 2010 summit with Rolling Stone, Clapton was candid enough to confess that he wanted his old band to fail without him. He also suggested that, in replacing him, Beck became his enemy, which seemed to come as news to Beck, who was sitting beside him when he made the comment.

"I mean, there shouldn’t have been a replacement," Clapton continued. "That was why I left: I’ll leave, and the whole thing will collapse without me. In fact, they got better with Jeff and became more successful."

"To be absolutely honest, I wanted to be as critical of him as I could. It hurt me bad because I could see they were getting, with Jeff, at something beyond what I was capable of."

As the two men reeled back the years, Beck graciously suggested that in his tenure with the Yardbirds, he was merely "carrying the torch and doing OK." Beck would only last 20 months with the band before being shown the door, after which his old pal Jimmy Page would take the creative reins until the group fell apart.

Paul Brannigan
Contributing Editor, Louder

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Born in the North of Ireland, Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.