Fifty years ago today, guitarist Eric Clapton quit the Yardbirds. It's one of the best things that ever happened, period.
Clapton, a self-declared blues purist, thought the band—which included singer Keith Relf, guitarist Chris Dreja, bassist Paul Samwell-Smith and drummer Jim McCarty—was getting too commercial (Um, didn't he later record a duet with Tina Turner and release the ridiculously commercial August,Pligrim and Reptile albums?).
And so, after playing on their most commercial song to date (and their first hit), "For Your Love," Clapton was gone.
This move was great for:
• The Yardbirds: Without Clapton, they were able to evolve, freely, into a successful, slightly harder-edged British Invasion band. The Clapton-free version of the band enjoyed a string of hits, including "Heart Full of Soul," "I'm a Man" and "Over Under Sideways Down." They also got a lot more creative and experimental, eventually evolving into the band that would eventually evolve into Led Zeppelin. So this move also worked out pretty well for Jimmy Page (who turned down the Yardbirds job when Clapton left; he suggested another young guitarist, Jeff Beck).
• Jeff Beck: Although he was getting noticed with his blues band, the Tridents, Beck's upward trajectory didn't start until he replaced Clapton in the Yardbirds in 1965. His brief solos were fuzz-drenched mini-masterpieces, making him a bona fide guitar god and giving him the nerve and justification to quit the band and go solo, eventually becoming the "guitarist's guitarist" he is today.
• Eric Clapton: After quitting the Yardbirds, Clapton joined—on two occasions in 1965—John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers, a serious blues band that had no aspirations of pop stardom. He also traded in his Telecaster/Vox tone for a magical sound created by playing a 1960 Les Paul through an incredibly loud, overdriven Marshall combo. Clapton, his Les Paul, his Marshall—and the other three members of the Bluesbreakers—recorded one of the most important guitar albums of all time, 1966's Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton. Clapton's god-like status grew in England, and he soon left the band to form Cream and—well, the rest is history, isn't it?
Below, watch the three guitarists named above as they perform Clapton's "Layla" in 1983. Besides Clapton, Page and Beck, we see Charlie Watts, Bill Wyman, Kenney Jones, Ray Cooper, Andy Fairweather-Low ... am I leaving out anyone?
Damian Fanelli is the online managing editor at Guitar WorldFollow him on Twitter. Or not.