Keith Relf

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Keith Relf
Relf in 1966
Relf in 1966
Background information
Birth nameWilliam Keith Relf
Born(1943-03-22)22 March 1943
Richmond, England
Died12 May 1976(1976-05-12) (aged 33)
Hounslow, London, England
  • Musician
  • singer
  • songwriter
  • Vocals
  • guitar
  • harmonica
  • bass
Years active1956–1976
Formerly of

William Keith Relf (22 March 1943 – 12 May 1976) was an English musician, best known as the lead vocalist and harmonica player for rock band the Yardbirds. He then formed the band Renaissance with his sister Jane Relf, the Yardbirds ex-drummer Jim McCarty and ex-The Nashville Teens keyboardist John Hawken.

Early life[edit]

Relf was born in the Richmond Institution on 22 March 1943 to Mary Elsie Relf (née Vickers) and William Arthur Percy Relf. Keith had a sister Jane. His father was a builder, while his mother stayed at home.[1]

Musical career[edit]

Relf started playing in bands around the summer of 1956 as a singer, guitarist, and harmonica player.[2]

Relf co-wrote many of the original Yardbirds songs ("Shapes of Things", "I Ain't Done Wrong", "Over Under Sideways Down", "Happenings Ten Years Time Ago"), later showing a leaning towards acoustic/folk music as the sixties unfolded ("Only the Black Rose").[3] He also sang an early version of "Dazed and Confused" in live Yardbirds concerts, after hearing musician Jake Holmes perform the song, which was later recorded by the band's successor group Led Zeppelin.[4]

His debut solo single, "Mr. Zero", peaked at No. 50 in the UK Singles Chart in May 1966.[5]

After the Yardbirds broke up in July 1968, Relf formed the acoustic duo Together, with fellow Yardbird Jim McCarty, followed immediately by Renaissance (which also featured his sister Jane Relf).[6] After leaving Renaissance in 1970, he started producing other artists: Steamhammer, folk rock band Hunter Muskett, the acoustic world music group Amber, psychedelic band Saturnalia,[7] and blues rock band Medicine Head (with whom he also played bass guitar).[8] In 1974, he formed progressive/rock group Armageddon. Their self-titled debut, Armageddon, was recorded in England and released in the United States on A&M Records. The album's original liner notes used the term "supergroup"; their personnel (besides Relf) included drummer Bobby Caldwell (previously a member of Captain Beyond and Johnny Winter's band), guitarist Martin Pugh (from Steamhammer, The Rod Stewart Album, and later of 7th Order),[9] and bassist Louis Cennamo (also formerly of Renaissance and Steamhammer).[10]

Personal life and death[edit]

In 1966, he married April Liversidge. They had two sons, Danny and Jason.[11]

Relf died in the basement of his home in 1976 at age 33 from electrocution while playing an ungrounded electric guitar. He had had several health problems throughout his life, including emphysema and asthma. He may have been taking the medications commonly used to treat those diseases at the time, and these may have contributed to his inability to survive the electric shock.[12][13]

At the time of his death, Relf may have been in the process of putting back together the original progressive rock band Renaissance line-up, which would eventually be called Illusion.[14] He was buried in Richmond Cemetery.[15]

Most sources mistakenly list 14 May, the day that many newspapers reported Relf's death, as the date of his death, but on the official death certificate, he was declared dead on 12 May at West Middlesex Hospital.[16]


Relf's posthumous 1992 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction with the Yardbirds was represented by his widow April, and sons Danny and Jason ("Jay").[17]

Solo singles discography[edit]

Most of Relf's recordings were released under the name of the group he was in at the time. However, an early attempt was made to establish him as a solo musician, and two singles came out under his own name in 1966.[18]

A-side written by Bob Lind
  • "Shapes in My Mind" / "Blue Sands" – UK Columbia DB8084 / US Epic 10110 (November 1966)
B-side is an instrumental credited to Relf, but actually performed by the Outsiders (not to be confused with the US band, the Outsiders, who performed "Time Won't Let Me"). The US single featured the same version as the UK single; US promotional copies (on red vinyl) featured a complete re-edit of the song.[citation needed]

A further single appeared in 1989:

  • "Together Now" / "All The Fallen Angels" – MCCM 89 002 (1989)
US release only. The A-side was originally recorded in 1968 by Together. The B-side was recorded on 2 May 1976, ten days before Relf's death.


  1. ^ French, David; Cooper, Alice (2020). Heart full of soul Keith Relf of the Yardbirds. McFarland. ISBN 978-1-4766-4046-4. OCLC 1156990166.
  2. ^ "Keith Relf Biography: Singer (1943–1976)". A&E Television Networks. 2 April 2014. Archived from the original on 15 March 2018.
  3. ^ Greg Prato. "Keith Relf - Biography - AllMusic". AllMusic. Retrieved 15 January 2015.
  4. ^ Morgan Young (9 August 2013). "On The Flip-Side: Tower Records Spotlight: Jake Holmes - Dazed and Confused". Retrieved 15 January 2015.
  5. ^ Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 458. ISBN 1-904994-10-5.
  6. ^ Elliot, Russell W. (10 November 2002). "The History of Renaissance". Northern Lights. Joe Lynn & Russ Elliot. Archived from the original on 3 February 2012.
  7. ^ Richie Unterberger. "Saturnalia - Biography - AllMusic". AllMusic. Retrieved 15 January 2015.
  8. ^ "Keith Relf". Retrieved 15 January 2015.
  9. ^ "7th Order Home Page". Retrieved 15 January 2015.
  10. ^ "Forgotten series: Armageddon featuring the Yardbirds' Keith Relf – Armageddon (1975) - Something Else!". Something Else!. May 2013. Retrieved 15 January 2015.
  11. ^ "International Relf Society: Let's Rock & Roll". 2 April 2002. Retrieved 28 June 2014.
  12. ^ Simmonds, Jeremy (2006). The Encyclopedia of Dead Rock Stars: Heroin, Handguns, and Ham Sandwiches. Chicago, Illinois, USA: Chicago Review Press, Incorporated. p. 88. ISBN 9781613744789.
  13. ^ Bittar (1991). "The arrhythmogenicity of theophylline. A multivariate analysis of clinical determinants". Chest. 99 (6): 1415–1420. doi:10.1378/chest.99.6.1415. PMID 2036824. Retrieved 4 December 2020.
  14. ^ "Remembering Keith Relf, and the Yardbirds". PopMatters. 24 March 2011. Retrieved 15 January 2015.
  15. ^ Beach, Darren (2013). London's Cemeteries. London: Metro Publications. pp. 216–219. ISBN 9781902910406.
  16. ^ French, David (1966–) (29 May 2020). Heart full of soul Keith Relf of the Yardbirds. Cooper, Alice, 1948-. Jefferson. ISBN 978-1-4766-4046-4. OCLC 1156990166.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link) CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link) CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  17. ^ "The Yardbirds". Retrieved 15 January 2015.
  18. ^ ""Golden Eggs" bootleg Interview '75". Retrieved 15 January 2015.

External links[edit]