Thursday, April 22, 2021

More U.K. Obscurities On U.S. Labels: Yardbird Keith Goes Solo!


KEITH RELF-Mr. Zero/Knowing U.S. Epic 5-10044 1966

Yardbird Keith Relf surprised the music world when he issued his debut solo 45, "Mr. Zero" in May 1966 in the U.K. (Columbia DB 9720). It was issued a month later here in the United States where the band were steadily gaining ground as their career in the U.K. was slipping. When a band's lead singer issues a solo 45 it's usually a recipe for disaster for the group (something I like to call "The Keith West Syndrome"). Luckily it had no effect on the Yardbirds career as they carried on making records for another two years after this.

"Mr. Zero" is a Bob Lind track culled from his debut LP "Don't Be Concerned" (which contained his smash hit "The Elusive Butterfly"). Yardbird's bassist and budding producer/A&R man Paul Samwell-Smith came upon the number and thought it would suit Relf's voice, Yardbirds guitarist Jeff Beck apparently thought otherwise so it was decided by Smith and Yardbirds manager Simon Napier-Bell that the record would be better suited as a solo release by Relf. All of this made little difference as the record sank without a trace on both sides of the Atlantic (and was issued in Italy, Germany and France as well).

"Mr. Zero" is, on the whole, an unremarkable track. There's something about it that reminds me of Scott Walker doing a Jacques Brel tune, perhaps it's the waltz like melody and the subtle orchestration. It's a wonderful production but for me the song is just rather pedestrian. The arrangement differs little from Lind's original save for some of the orchestral embellishments.

German picture sleeve c/o

The real gem is the flip, a Keith Relf original called "Knowing", which might not have seemed all that out of place on the Yardbird's untitled second LP (aka "Roger The Engineer") if it were a bit more stripped down. It's a melancholy, light weight tune that actually sounds like it could have been on a Bob Lind LP! It's gentle acoustic guitar and woodwinds lend an almost pastoral feel to the track that also brings to mind early Harry Nilsson. 

Undeterred by the lack of chart success of "Mr. Zero" eight months later Columbia/Epic would release another Relf solo effort "Shapes In My Mind"/"Blue Sands"  with Napier-Bell at the controls, but that, as they say, is another story for another day. 

Both tracks have been collected on a host of Yardbirds compilations, most notably as a bonus track on a recent reissue of "Roger The Engineer".

Hear "Mr. Zero":

Hear "Knowing":

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