Original Yardbirds guitarist Topham explains why he rejected Jimmy Page’s three invitations to become part of icons in the making

Top Topham

Three telegrams: Top Topham

Original Yardbirds guitarist Top Topham says Jimmy Page asked him three times to join the band which would become Led Zeppelin.

Topham, now 63, began playing with the influential Yardbirds at the age of 15, but left in 1963 and was replaced by Eric Clapton. Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page later played six-string for the band before it folded.

Page went on to form the New Yardbirds in 1968, which soon became Led Zep. And Topham, a respected blues player and a painter, confirms he was invited to play second guitar with the new outfit – but said no.

He tells Guitar International: “I was making my Ascension Heights album when I received three telegrams, which I still have, from Jimmy and his manager Peter Grant.

“They expressed an urgency for me to get in touch with them, saying, ‘Great news for you’. I called them from our local phone box – we didn’t have a phone in those days – and Jimmy said he wanted to reform the band under the name the New Yardbirds, and hit America, and asked if I would be interested.

“Wait for it… I said no. I was writing and playing on my own album at that time so it seemed like the right choice.”

Topham left the music scene for decades, only returning in his 40s – and although he says he’d have loved the chance to hit the big-time in his younger years, it’s unlikely he would have followed the heavy blues trail.

He says: “I saw the Yardbirds through the years with Jeff, with Jimmy and with both of them. They produced three or four really good records and wrote some interesting material, very beautiful songs. But I can’t say I loved the music particularly. If I’m honest, it wasn’t my kind of band. If I’d stayed I’d have been pushing, like Eric Clapton did, to keep the blues as the focus.

“I still never feel like I fulfilled what I could have fulfilled. I never felt my true voice was able to come through. But when I play now I’m completely myself and I have a very creative band. If I’d done music full-time I would have been affected by the commercialisation at some point – I’m not sure if I could have sustained quality, like Jeff Beck has. But I’ve always been fortunate enough to be creative, whether it was music or not.”

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