Bee History: Shocking night for Keith Richards

Mick Jagger screams out the lyrics as the Rolling Stones perform at Memorial Auditorium on July 27, 1966.
Mick Jagger screams out the lyrics as the Rolling Stones perform at Memorial Auditorium on July 27, 1966. Sacramento Bee Staff Photo

The Sacramento Bee is celebrating its 160th anniversary this year. This story is part of our ongoing coverage.

Keith Richards, 73, has been delivered to death’s door, by his own estimation, “a dozen or so times,” reports The Bee’s Joe Davidson in a May 7, 2013, story about the Rolling Stones’ “50 and Counting” tour.

Davidson recounts one of Richards’ closest calls, which came at Sacramento’s Memorial Auditorium on Dec. 3, 1965. On that Friday night, Richards was nearly electrocuted when playing a then-new release titled “The Last Time.”

Here’s an excerpt from the story:

The accident, which has become something of a local legend over the decades, occurred just as the Stones’ popularity was soaring, not long after an appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” The Stones first performed in Sacramento in 1964, twice the following year and in July 1966, all at Memorial Auditorium.

The night that Richards was electrocuted, concert promotional posters read: “The Fabulous Rolling Stones Show.” Tickets ranged from $2.75 to $4.75.

Local bluesman Mick Martin attended the concert, then a star-struck 17-year-old senior at West Sacramento’s James Marshall High School.

A former music critic for the Sacramento Union, Martin recounted the scene that prompted Richards to tell the New York Times while promoting his 2010 memoir “Life” that “my most spectacular (moment) was in Sacramento.”

The Stones were four songs into their second show of the day in front of a reported crowd of 5,000 fans, many of them shrieking teenage girls.

Richards, dressed in brown pants and a white sweater, grazed the neck of his guitar against an ungrounded microphone stand. In a flash of blue sparks, Richards went down. The loud electrical crack left concert promoter Jeff Hughson wondering if it was a gunshot, saying later: “Oh no! Someone shot Keith!”

But Richards had been shocked, not shot, and the electrical surge fried his guitar strings.

Richards was rushed to a city emergency room.

According to the guitarist, a physician suggested that the rubber soles of Richards’ new Hush Puppies suede boots saved the musician’s life.

Richards recovered and the Stones took the stage the next night in San Jose.

Imaginations soar with airplanes

Like most of America, Sacramento was gaga over aviation during the first part of the 20th century.

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An aerial view of the the Sacramento Executive Airport, which was dedicated in April 1930. Erharat Krause The Sacramento Bee

A plane called the Black Demon had wowed a State Fair crowd in 1910 by flying at a speed of more than a mile a minute, and by the mid-1920s, planes were being used to deliver mail and passengers from point to point.

But they needed a place to land. On April 12, 1930, The Bee reported the dedication of a new municipal airport on Freeport Road:

With ideal flying weather and thousands of people already thronging the field for the Sacramento Municipal Airport dedication ceremony, officials anticipated a two-day crowd of 100,000 spectators.

... Fifty commercial ships had already landed on the field early today, and more were arriving every few minutes. Army officials were unable to estimate how many ships would be here during the two days, but it is anticipated there will be more than 100.

Now known as Executive Airport, the field was supplanted in what is now Sacramento International Airport, which opened on Oct. 21, 1967.

From The Bee archives

Cartoon Corner

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Editorial cartoon by Jack Ohman on Dec. 16, 2015 Jack Ohman The Sacramento Bee