This Day in Music Spotlight: Guitarist Killed on Stage
May 3, 1972
Special thanks to ThisDayinMusic.com
Stone the Crows could have been one of the biggest British bands of the ’70s. They had powerhouse blues vocalist Maggie Bell, regarded by many as an equal of Janis Joplin. They had a manager with more than a few connections in the business (a certain Mr. Peter Grant, who also managed Led Zeppelin), and they had one of the finest young guitarists on the blues and rock scene, Les Harvey, younger brother of Scottish rock legend Alex Harvey.
Alex Harvey, of The Sensational Alex Harvey Band fame, played a key role in the development of the group that would morph into Stone the Crows. He put his younger guitar-whiz brother in touch with Maggie Bell and she joined his band, the Kinning Park Ramblers. When that band split, Bell and Harvey formed Power and toured Europe ‘s army bases extensively. Talking to Chris Welch for a Stone the Crows album reissue, Maggie Bell recalled meeting Les Harvey: “He had a group called the Kenning Park Ramblers. That was in the days when his older brother Alex was doing the Star Club in Hamburg. Leslie was just a youngster like myself and we used to go to all these far away, obscure gigs around Scotland. Anyway, we all went to Germany and earned enough to buy ourselves a reel-to-reel Revox tape recorder!”
Power were spotted by Led Zeppelin manager Peter Grant, who was particularly impressed with Harvey’s guitar playing and the chemistry he shared with Bell onstage.
"Led Zeppelin were just starting to happen,” said Bell. “Peter came up in a big limo with his partner, Richard Cole. Peter liked what he heard, but I found out later they didn't really know if I could sing. The band had been so loud they couldn't hear me at the gig. When I opened up my mouth in the studio that night they all [came] over and said ‘Fabulous voice!’”
When Peter Grant came on board, they changed their name to Stone the Crows. "Peter picked our new name. When he said: 'Cor blimey, stone the crows' we thought, ‘What a name!’” said Maggie Bell.
Stone the Crows toured the U.S. to promote their debut album, but it was the follow-up that really got the attention of the public and critics.
Their second album, Teenage Licks (1971), was their most successful record and pushed them into the big time of major venues and festivals in the U.K. With Maggie Bell winning praise and acclaim for her vocals and Les Harvey tipped as a future guitar great, the band were ready for superstardom, Zeppelin style.
But then on May 3, 1972, Stone the Crows were booked to play a show at The Top Rank Ballroom in Swansea. Tuning up, Les Harvey grabbed hold of a badly grounded microphone and was instantly electrocuted. Over 1000 fans were witness to the tragic event, as Harvey collapsed on stage. He died in hospital a short time later. Harvey was 27 years old.
Les Harvey’s death effectively ended Stone the Crows. Future Wings guitarist Jimmy McCullough did join briefly, but it wasn’t the same. As Bell recalled to Chris Welch:
“The band continued for a while, then we agreed it was the end of an era. Colin Allen, our drummer, was offered a job with Focus and Jimmy joined Wings.” Bassist James Dewar went on to have a successful career with Robin Trower.
Maggie Bell stayed with Peter Grant, who oversaw her first solo album, Queen of the Night. In 1974, she signed to Led Zeppelin’s Swan Song Records and Jimmy Page worked closely with Bell on her second solo album, Suicide Sal. With no real commercial success forthcoming, she joined a band, Midnight Flyer, releasing the occasional single while also singing and acting for TV. In 2006, Bell joined the British Blues Quintet alongside Brit blues icon Zoot Money, as well as former Stone the Crows drummer, Colin Allen.