A lot has been said, I know, on Keith and the band of which he was part. I have passed on to our Society Archive a lot of detail including extracts from The Virgin Encyclopedia of Sixties Music by Colin Larkin; 20th Century Rock & Roll: Progressive Rock by Jerry Lucky; Jeff Beck: Crazy Fingers by Annette Carson; Blues in Britain: The History 1950s to the Present by Bob Brunning 1995. Many of the extracts contain a wealth of information on Keith Relf and his sister, Jane Relf, including black & white pictures.
The Yardbirds Band was formed the London in 1963. Keith Relf was born 22 March 1943, Richmond, Surrey and was, tragically, fatally electrocuted 14 May 1976. He was vocals and harmonica for the group.
Chris Relf #029
Lets' Rock and Roll!
Who would you think was the most famous RELF? Well, much depends on how you define “most famous” of course, but it may surprise some of you to know that there is only one RELF in the Encyclopaedia Britanica – Keith Relf! No, not our Editor; lead singer of the Yardbirds.
Early members of The International Relf Society will recall a letter from a record collector, Julian Parker, which I reproduced in March 1992 Edition of The Wolfpack; since I had no response to my plea for further information on Keith Relf, that represented the sum total of our knowledge of him – until recently when I, idly playing with my database of RELF records, made a startling discovery. Keith Relf was actually William Keith Relf; no wonder we couldn’t trace his lineage. Unfortunately I have lost contact with Julian Parker but I do now have access (occasionally) to the Internet as an additional source of information. My research on the Net confirmed most of what Julian had earlier told us but I also learned something new – and I was able to use my own records to improve our knowledge of his lineage. So, for completeness, I will summarise below what we now know about our famous namesake.
William Keith Relf was born, probably in Richmond, Surrey on 22 March 1943, the eldest child and only son of William Arthur P Relf and his wife, Mary E Vickers. Born into the generation which used music to make their parents stand up and take notice, William Keith Relf played as a teenager in a number of local groups around Richmond and Kingston on Thames – the area which spawned several famous groups in the 1960’s. In addition to singing and playing the guitar he is also listed as a harpist in some early groups. He performed under the name Keith Relf.
In summer 1963, Keith Relf joined 4 others to form The Yardbirds – reputedly named in honour of the famous Jazz musician, Charlie Parker, known as “The Bird” (a shortened form of “Yardbird”) because he was said to “sound or look like a chicken”. In the original lineup, Keith Relf was lead singer and also played the harmonica; Tony (Top) Topham played lead guitar, Jim McCarty drums, Chris Deja rhythm guitar and vocals, and Paul Samwell Smith bass guitar.
In October 1963, Topham left and was replaced by Eric Clapton as lead guitarist. When the Rolling Stones moved on to greater things, The Yardbirds took over from them as resident group at the Crawdaddy Club in Richmond and gradually built up audiences which exceeded those enjoyed previously by the Stones. In March 1965, their record “For Your Love” reached No. 2 in the UK charts and No. 6 in the USA.
In March 1965, Eric Clapton left to concentrate on Blues music and was replaced by Jeff Beck as lead guitarist. With this line-up, The Yardbirds had most of their hits – several of which got into the Top Ten both in UK and USA. But it was their fourth line-up, when Paul Samwell Smith left to become a producer and was replaced by Jimmy Page on bass guitar in January 1966, which is regarded by aficionados (of which I am not one) as the greatest. With this lineup, Keith Relf appeared in the classic 60’s film “Blow Up” playing a song titled “Stroll On”. Unfortunately this lineup was also the shortest lived; in December 1966, Jeff Beck left to join Micky Most and was not replaced.
I’m not quite sure why, but in July 1968, The Yardbirds split up. Jimmy Page was joined by others under the same manager and formed The New Yardbirds who toured the USA for a while capitalising on the fame which Relf’s group had achieved. The story goes that Keith Moon – lead drummer of The Who – remarked backstage one night that their performance (which he had watched) had gone down “like a lead Zeppelin”; leaving out the “a”, the group changed it’s name immediately and were henceforth known as Led Zeppelin – one of the greatest bands of all time.
Chris Deja became a photographer. This left just Keith Relf and Jim McCarty – founder members of The Yardbirds. This pair formed the aptly named “Together” – a folk duo. Keith’s sister, Jane Relf, later joined the group on guitar and vocals; when John Hawken joined them on keyboards and Louis Cennamo on bass, they changed their name to Renaissance. Keith Relf left Renaissance in 1972 and, after briefly performing with a band called Medicine Head, joined Louis Cennamo and Martin Pugh in forming a heavy metal band called Armageddon. Based in Los Angeles, California, where they were joined by American drummer Bobby Caldwell, they only made one album – which reached No. 60 in the US charts – before Keith Relf died and the group broke up.
Rumours that Keith was electrocuted while playing his guitar in the bath were strongly denied by his family. The most likely scenario seems to be that he was rehearsing in the cellar of his house which had been converted into a studio, standing on an old gas pipe by the fireplace, when his guitar, which had not been earthed properly, developed an electrical fault and killed him. One source I have read says his body was discovered by his son, but I have found no trace of a marriage or any children. His death, which occurred on 14 May 1976, was registered in the Hounslow area – but I have been unable to discover exactly where his death occurred. Since his death was not registered until the September quarter, it may be that he died in the USA – or his registration may have been delayed by the Inquest.
His sister, Jane Relf, continued to sing with Renaissance after Keith left. She later joined Illusion and made several records in the 1970’s which got into the US and UK music charts, but I have no recent information about her. Keith’s father, William Arthur P Relf, died in 1984 and was registered during June of that year in the Hounslow area; I can find no death for his mother in my records and so it may be that she is still alive.
From my records, it seems probable that William Arthur P Relf was the only child of Percy Henry Relf who was born 3 April 1889 and whose death was also registered in the Hounslow area in April 1988. Percy was married (registered June quarter 1915 in Brentford) to Nellie C Holland whose death was probably registered in the September 1958 quarter at Ealing.
And that is as far as my records can take me without buying certificates from the PRO – something I refuse to do except for my own family. On the other hand, it would be nice to know more about the family tree of this “most famous” RELF. So, over to you. Can you add to our knowledge? If so, please drop me a line (email: BrianRelf@RelfSociety.org) or, better still, pass a short article on to our Editor so that we can all share it.
Brian Relf, Member #001
Well, it was at least a “Keith” Relf that made Encyclopaedia Britanica. – Keith Relf Editor
Keith Relf - AGAIN!
You were not the only one who read my article about Keith Relf, lead singer of the Yardbirds, in the April 2000 edition of The Wolfpack. In October, I received an email from Lisa Brooke who runs a website devoted to The Yardbirds. Lisa is a fifth generation Texan living in Dallas, but brought up in the wilds of northeast Texas, one of our favourite bits of this wonderful country, near where we stayed a couple of years ago, in a “a very small country town, only about 500 people, with one stop light, a post office and a cafe” and where she used to ride her horse to school! Anne and I were parked in our RV at San Antonio, Texas at the time, near where Lisa’s father lives, so we soon found we had much in common – including an interest in genealogy. A professed Anglophile, Lisa has English, Irish, Scottish, German and a “healthy sampling of Cherokee and Comanche” in her ancestry; I don’t suppose many of us can prove ancestry, as Lisa can, back to a Comanche chief.
Lisa tells me that Keith Relf was not a healthy man; he suffered from asthma, almost dying from it 3 times in his short life, and he also had emphysema. He died when he was playing an electric guitar which had not been earthed properly and accidentally stepped onto a (presumably metal) fireplace grate. His body was discovered by his young son, Danny.
Keith was married to April Liversidge (from South Africa) on 24 February 1966 in the Paddington Registry Office. They lived in Bayswater, then Sunbury on Thames and they had two sons Daniel (registered qtr Sep 1967 Richmond/THS) and Jason ( qtr Jun 1969 Richmond/THS). There is a photo of April and Danny at the Yardbirds induction to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame on Lisa’s website http://members.tripod.com/cathead9tx/id29.htm. There you will also find pictures of Keith and fellow members of The Yardbirds, and of his sister, Jane Relf, who later joined him in Together and Renaissance. Jane is thought to have married (I have no trace in my records) Ian Young with whom she had 2 children – one of whom is called Mathew – and to now be divorced. She is also believed to sing TV commercial jingles – probably in the USA. I hope that we might be able to make contact with Jane in due course.
I think we owe a debt to Lisa. If you are a fan of The Yardbirds, you might like to contact her by email: email@example.com; she would be glad to hear from you. And, of course, if you have any more information on Keith Relf – or his family – I would like to hear from you too: firstname.lastname@example.org
Brian R F Relf, Member No. #001