The Yardbirds are a legendary group not only due to their groundbreaking run of albums in the mid- to late-1960s, but also for the fact that three of the greatest guitarists of all time – who between them played a huge role in shaping rock guitar in the late '60s, early '70s, and beyond – came from their ranks.
Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and then Jimmy Page all, in succession, served as the band's lead electric guitar player, each leaving their own distinct mark on the group, and rock as a whole.
Though a two-guitar band for much of their history, there was no overlap – aside from a brief period in late 1966 where Page moved from bass guitar to six-string duties, alongside the soon-to-depart Jeff Beck – between the three legends.
In 1983 though, the trio would finally come together in remarkable fashion for the ARMS (Action into Research for Multiple Sclerosis) Charity concerts. Initially envisaged as a single show at London's Royal Albert Hall, the ARMS initiative soon expanded into a brief American tour, which ran from late November through early December of that year.
Each of the ARMS shows featured a remarkable assemblage of talent, with – to name just a few participants – Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts of the Rolling Stones, and Kenney Jones of the Faces and the Who, and (at select dates) Steve Winwood, Joe Cocker, and Ronnie Wood coming together at the behest of Small Faces/Faces bassist Ronnie Lane, who had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis a few years before.
The star attractions, though, were Clapton, Beck and Page, who – at every show – would each perform a brief solo set before joining forces for a set-closing jam.
Below, you can watch the trio – backed by the aforementioned all-star band – tackle Clapton's iconic Layla at New York City's Madison Square Garden in December 1983.
The video is a pleasing display of each guitarist's signature style, with Clapton – who, appropriately, takes the first solo – expressing the song's close-to-home emotional anguish through a series of biting bends and phrases, and Beck putting on a fleet-fingered and freewheelin' plectrum-free showcase.
Page – who's a little hard to hear at times, thanks to the sub-par mix – takes the wildest turn of the three, putting his whole body into some crazy bends, while taking up slide duties in the song's second half.
Though Page was a loose player even in his prime, it's hard not to hear his playing's sharper edges in the video, and others from the same tour. The ARMS shows, though, were a crucial step back into the limelight for Page after the most difficult period of his life.
Aside from a brief onstage cameo at a March 1981 Beck show at London's Hammersmith Odeon, he hadn't performed live since Led Zeppelin's final show with John Bonham in July 1980. Devastated by Bonham's death later that year, Page, by his own account, barely played guitar in the two years that followed.
Speaking to Guitar World in 1986, Page – who up to that point had only released the soundtrack to the film Death Wish II under his own name – revealed his uneasiness about returning to the stage for the ARMS shows.
When asked in the interview if he was nervous about the concerts, the Led Zeppelin icon said, "That’s an understatement. Of course I was. I was terrified but I wanted to do the whole thing."
"It was funny," Page went on, "because I said, 'Yeah, I’ll do it, I’ll do it, yeah, great!' but at the last moment I thought, 'Oh, God, what am I gonna do!'
"It’s the truth. It’s funny but it’s true because everyone else had notable solo careers. Like Steve Winwood, fuck, he’s had enough solo albums, and Eric, and Jeff [laughs]. But the fact was everyone was working so tightly together. Not for themselves but for the cause of it which was great.
"I’ll tell you," Page added, "I don’t think any promoter could get those three guitarists doing that. Do you know what I mean? But for the right reason they’re there."
In a 1985 Guitar World interview of his own, Beck also spoke highly of the experience, saying, "The whole thing was so un-starlike, nobody played the big star, and we just loved being on the road because A) it was a good cause and B) it was a short tour, a one-time special thing, so we just got in and enjoyed the hell out of it.
"I think it should have gone on for another month, but see, initially we didn't know how well it would be received. Because it was Jimmy, Eric and myself for Ronnie Lane, the whole thing seemed to really mean something. It was an amazing experience all over."