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Flashback: Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck Jam on ‘Layla’ in 1983

The guitar legends teamed up at the first A.R.M.S. charity concert, held 35 years ago today

A few years after he discovered he had multiple sclerosis, Small Faces and Faces bassist Ronnie Lane put together a charity concert that was a bit of a coup: He managed to unite the three most famous guitarists who played in the Yardbirds at different times onstage for the first time — Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page.

At the concert, which took place at London’s Royal Albert Hall on September 20th, 1983 and was dubbed A.R.M.S. – Action into Research for Multiple Sclerosis – they each played solo sets and then came out for a supergroup jam at the end on a couple of Clapton’s songs. Other musicians who joined the guitarists at the gig included Steve Winwood, Andy Fairweather Low, the Rolling Stones’ Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts, and the Faces’ Kenney Jones.

The highlight was a fiery version of “Layla,” which allowed each of the guitarists to stretch out at the end. Clapton took the first lead, playing wailing blues licks that mimic the original’s. Beck then steps in and plays a flashy, lyrical line that worms its way around the chords; Charlie Watts makes a typically stoic face. Then, when they go into the tune’s piano outro, the guitarists each take turns, going in and out of harmony with each other as they play around with the melody. It’s all over after about six and a half minutes.

“We’ve never been rivals — it was only the press that ever made it seem so,” Clapton told Rolling Stone at the time. “This has been a ball. I realize that you’ve got to go out and play and tour, and not just purely rely on video to reach the masses. Because video’s not happening, really, to me. A live concert is still magic and always will be. I mean, there’s no substitute for the real thing.”

The concert was also notable for getting Page focusing on his career again after the death of drummer John Bonham and the dissolution of Led Zeppelin. “That’s when I realized that, unlike Jeff or Eric, I didn’t have a solo career,” he told Rolling Stone in 2012. “The Death Wish II soundtrack [1982] was the only new music I had then. Apart from that, I had Zeppelin stuff. There was no point in getting someone else to sing ‘Stairway to Heaven.’ I just did it instrumentally.”

With the show a success, the guitarists planned a handful of U.S. A.R.M.S. dates, which featured Joe Cocker singing “With a Little Help From My Friends.” Former Free singer Paul Rodgers appeared at these shows in place of Winwood and he and Page later formed the Firm. Page also got a little help from his friends at the U.S. shows: Clapton and Beck came out for turns at solos during the end of “Stairway to Heaven.” At a show captured on film, he introduced the tune nonchalantly. “Well, I think you know this one,” he told the crowd. “It’s as much yours as it is ours. Please join.”

Page subsequently made two albums with the Firm in the mid Eighties and reunited off and on with his Led Zeppelin bandmates. Lane died of M.S. in 1997 at his home in Trinidad, Colorado. Clapton and Beck would later play together again on a run of dates in 2010.

In This Article: Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page

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