The Day Ex-Yardbirds Singer Keith Relf Electrocuted Himself with a Guitar
If there’s any consolation in the tragic death of Keith Relf, it is that rhe former Yardbirds frontman died doing what he loved: making music. The 33-year-old was playing an ungrounded guitar in his basement when he was electrocuted on May 14, 1976.
Relf had been out of the spotlight ever since the Yardbirds had flown their separate ways in 1968, leaving only guitarist Jimmy Page to lead the New Yardbirds, who would become Led Zeppelin. The blond frontman had been central to the band’s ’60s success, having founded the band, co-written many of the Yardbirds' hits and contributed wily harmonica (not to mention his powerful howl). But rock ’n’ roll history relegated him to the shadows behind the Yardbirds’ incredible guitarists, including Page, Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton.
While those guitar gods all became bigger stars after parting with the Yardbirds, Relf struggled to gain much recognition for his subsequent musical exploits. Still, he remained involved in the recording industry. After the band broke up, Relf and Yardbirds drummer Jim McCarty teamed up for the folksy duo Together. Next, they formed progressive rock band Renaissance -- although the outfit would have greater success with other lineups. Relf spent a lot of time producing other bands’ recordings in the ’70s, but found time to begin Armageddon, another prog rock group, in 1974.
Although Relf remained musically active in the late ’60s and ’70s, he was not always in good health. He had chronic asthma, which had nearly killed him on a few occasions, as well as emphysema. But on the fateful day that took his life, it was something entirely different.
While practicing guitar in his cellar, he stood on a gas pipe. Because the guitar was ungrounded, the electrical current resulted in a severe shock to his body. Reportedly, his electrocuted body was found by his eight-year-old son. Because the Relf family remained so private about his death, a rumor began to grow that the singer had been a victim of death by misadventure, foolishly playing an electric guitar in the bathroom.
In spite of being outlived and out-shined by his former bandmates, Relf is remembered as the one of the indelible voices of the British Invasion. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with the Yardbirds in 1992.
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