A big fear of live performers is betrayal by one’s own equipment. A broken string, a busted amp – these are the kinds of things that can derail the momentum of a great live show. But what if the equipment almost kills you?
That’s exactly what happened early in Keith Richards’ career with the Rolling Stones. At the Sacramento Memorial Auditorium in California on December 3, 1965, Richards kicked into “The Last Time” when he approached the microphone to sing his part. He literally got an unexpected shock when the mic knocked him unconscious, nearly electrocuting him to death.
He called the painful accident his “most spectacular” moment in a 2010 New York Times in a recent interview.
The uncanny thing about the incident, though, is that Richards basically predicted it would happen. He was quoted in U.K. magazine Melody Maker just ten months earlier as saying “I’ll probably die of electric shock.”
Richards obviously didn’t die that day, but the Sacramento incident is just one of many times the man has cheated death. In fact, the shock may have given him superpowers – or made him immortal.
According to Keith Richards: The Biography, the shock happened because the mic was facing the wrong direction and Richards tried to smack it the right way with his guitar. His guitar strings were completely burned as a result.
Musician Mick Martin attended that very concert, and described the scene to the Sacramento Bee: “I saw the blue light. I literally saw Keith fly into the air backward. I thought he was dead. I was horrified. We all were. Silence fell over the crowd.”
This wasn’t even the first time a member of the Rolling Stones got an electric shock from the microphone. Back in March of that same year during a sound check in Denmark, Mick Jagger was holding two mics that sparked 220 volts of power that blew him back into Bill Wyman, who also got knocked out.
When people describe Rolling Stones concerts as “electrifying”, this isn’t what they mean.
It turns out these early scares were just bumps in the road on the way to a legendary career. It will take more than just a little electricity to take Keith Richards away from us.
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Karnbach, James and Carol Bernson. It’s Only Rock and Roll: The Ultimate Guide to the Rolling Stones. New York: Facts on File, 1997.
Bockris, Victor. Keith Richards: The Biography. United States: Da Capo Press, 2003.