Remembering Yardbirds' Keith Relf

05/14/2012
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(Gibson) On this day 1976, Keith Relf, former lead singer for The Yardbirds, was electrocuted while tuning a guitar which was not properly grounded. He was 33. The accident happened in his West London home where he was found by his eight-year-old son, still holding the plugged-in electric guitar. Gibson takes a look back:

When the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducted '60s greats The Yardbirds in 1992 they made the following statement: "In addition to their six Top 40 songs, the Yardbirds will be remembered as having produced the top three English blues-based guitarists of the '60s: Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page."

True enough, but that sentiment did overshadow the contribution of the band's founder, lead singer and exceptional harmonica player Keith Relf, who sadly passed away in tragic circumstances on this very day in 1976.

The story starts at the Crawdaddy pub in Richmond, just outside London, in 1963. When The Rolling Stones left their residency there for bigger and better things, the club needed a replacement another young blues band fronted by Keith Relf alongside Top Topham (very quickly replaced by Eric Clapton), Chris Dreja, Paul Samwell-Smith and Jim McCarty. Originally called the Metropolitan Blues Quartet, the band had wisely changed their name to The Yardbirds (after Charlie "Yardbird" Parker).

With Clapton on board, the band issued Five Live Yardbirds in December 1964 with a bunch of hardcore American blues, but broke through into the U.K. charts the next year with the poppy "For Your Love" (written by Graham Gouldman, later of 10CC). After that commercial success, Clapton left to be replaced by another gifted young guitarist Jeff Beck, and the hits continued with "Heart Full of Soul," "I'm a Man" and "Shapes of Things."

When original bass player Samwell-Smith left in the summer of 1966, another guitar player joined, one Jimmy Page who played on the band's last hit record, "Happenings 10 Years Time Ago." Beck left next, in 1966. When Relf and McCarty decided to leave Page and the boys behind to play folksy acoustic music, The Yardbirds transformed into something even more powerful: Led Zeppelin.

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Copyright Gibson.com - Excerpted here with permission.

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