Listen to "Somebody," a song I wrote for Aerosmith's first album: It's all from the Yardbirds. They were the shit to us, out of all the British bands in the Sixties. The Yardbirds were a bit of a mystery. They had an eclecticism — the Gregorian chant-ness of the vocals, the melodic diversity, the way they used guitar feedback. I loved that weirdness.
In the Sixties, I was in a band called Chain Reaction. We got to know the Yardbirds because they played at Staples High School in Westport, Connecticut, in 1966. We had a friend, Henry Smith, who had been our manager for a while, and he had gone to school there. He called me and said, "Steven, the Yardbirds are playing here, and you can open up." It was the lineup with Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page, who was playing bass on that tour. We waited all day for them to arrive. I grabbed their amps, they grabbed ours. We carried each other's gear in, because back then, that's what you did. Hence began the rumor that I was a roadie for the Yardbirds.
They did "Shapes of Things," "Beck's Boogie," among other songs. I was in such awe. They played like no other band. They weren't concerned with clothes or looks or hit singles. Their thing was "What do we do with these sounds?" They did things with harmonics — minor thirds and fifths — that created this ethereal, monstrous sound.
You hear it in every song — the way they could take the blues and turn it into a pop song like "For Your Love," then something psychedelic like "Shapes of Things," which has that weird middle. You can hear the click when Beck hits his fuzz box. Page, in the end, was the one who took those ideas all the way with Led Zeppelin. The two shows I remember where I just sat with my mouth open was that Yardbirds show, and Led Zeppelin at the Boston Tea Party in 1969.
As a singer, the thing I got out of the Yardbirds was that you don't have to have a great voice. It's all about attitude. He was a white boy who pushed it to the max. And he was a great harmonica player. You never heard Jagger hanging out on a single note the way Keith Relf could.
The shame is, I know how great the Yardbirds were. But I don't think everyone else knows it. The Yardbirds' music is a gold mine waiting to be stumbled upon. Aerosmith did, because we grew up in that era. The riff in "Walk This Way" is just us trying to explore the blues in the Yardbirds model. What the Yardbirds did is something you don't hear in today's blue-plate-special, cookie-cutter music. Everything is so canned and sliced up now. This was back when a band was a band. You had all those personalities, and they were all truly playing together. And I don't hear that today. The day of those bands, that wild stepping out, is gone.