10 Musicians Who Survived Fire And Electrical Accidents On Stage presents a look back at some life-threatening accidents that happened to performers while in the line of duty. For musicians when things go wrong, they can go horribly wrong – especially with high voltage and pyrotechnics. Live performances throughout music history have led to some seriously dangerous situations. Remember the old saying “the show must go on,” well musicians, like Angus Young of AC/DC and Christian Andreu of Gojira, refused to let these incidents hold them back. They’ve kept playing even when amps were smoldering, and pyro was raining down, proving that the rockstar life is not for the faint of heart.
Here, we’ll take a look at ten artists who’ve survived scorching accidents and lived to rock another day. Including a first-hand account from Michael Kelly Smith, original guitarist and co-founder of Cinderella and Britny Fox.
# 10 – Angus Young – AC/DC
Our Angus Young story is the openly one of our ten in which the accident happened in the studio rather than the stage. Still, it’s a story that needs to be included. For decades, Angus Young has been the lightning rod of AC/DC’s mega rock hits. Capturing his fiery riffs was always a high-voltage process, but he was truly charged while tracking Let There Be Rock at Alberts Studio in Sydney Australia (January 1977). As Young launched into the killer solo for the title track, disaster struck – his amp blew, causing a haze of smoke and sparks.
Another guitarist may have stopped, cursed, and called for a replacement amp. But not Young. With the determined spirit of a true rocker, he kept playing, his fingers relentlessly moving across the fretboard even as the amp smoldered and as his brother co-producer George Young encouraged him to keep at it When you’re recording live with little time to spare, every minute counts. And for Young, nothing could stand in the way of capturing an energetic performance – not even an exploding amp.
Let There Be Rock co-producer, George Young was not going to stop a killer performance for a technical reason like amps melting! It was a testament to the team’s dedication and determination to create something truly special – even if it meant pushing through unexpected technical difficulties. The resulting album was a masterpiece – a raw, electrifying testimony to the power of rock and roll that still resonates with fans to this day. It’s a reminder that, when it comes to making great music, there are no shortcuts – only hard work, talent, and an unbreakable spirit. We salute you!
# 9 – B.B. King
B.B. King wasn’t just any blues musician – he was a virtuoso whose classic tone and one-of-a-kind style set him apart from the rest. King’s love for his guitar went beyond the music. B.B. King’s love for his guitar was so fierce that he was willing to risk his life to save it. In the winter of 1949, B.B. King was playing at a drafty dance hall in Twist, Arkansas when disaster struck. Back then, a kerosene-filled garbage can heated the room. But one night it was knocked over, and the resulting blaze spread out quickly from the dance floor. Sadly, two people lost their lives in the fire.
When B.B. King left the burning club, he realized he forgot his guitar! By this time, the fire was gaining momentum, nonetheless, B.B. King bravely ran back into the building to rescue it. He picked up his guitar and escaped while the wooden structure blazed around him. B.B. King’s brush with death had a silver lining. Later, he learned that the woman who had sparked the fight that knocked over the garbage drum was named Lucille. He hadn’t met her, but in gentlemanly fashion–and in honor of his own guitar’s close call–B.B. King decided to name all his guitars Lucille from then on.
Over time, several versions of B.B. King’s “Lucille” guitar took slightly different names, like the “Super Lucille.” No matter what they were called, they were all imbued with the same soulful spirit that made B.B. King a cherished talent.
# 8 – Gene Simmons
Gene Simmons, the “God of Thunder” and bassist for the legendary rock band Kiss, is known for his fearless approach to performing elaborate and often dangerous shows. However, Gene Simmons probably didn’t intend to set his hair on fire during a performance. During the song “Firehouse,” Gene Simmons would spew kerosene onto a flaming torch, creating a signature moment that left audiences in awe. On New Year’s Eve in 1973 at The Academy of Music in New York City, Simmons got a little too close to the flame and his wild black hair caught fire.
Despite the danger, Gene Simmons played it cool and even turned the mishap into part of the act. After unleashing the burst of fire from his mouth, then basking in the roar of the crowd, he smelled something burning – and that something was his hair! But the audience kept clamoring for more.
Gene Simmons couldn’t have predicted this showstopper. Apparently, prior to the gig, wanting to have even wilder-looking hair, he used a whole lotta hairspray. Of course, that made the situation more dangerous. Fortunately, a member of his team was quick to extinguish the flames and wrapped his head in a wet towel. The crowd went ballistic over the incident.
History would repeat itself. Especially since Kiss has been touring for decades, it wasn’t the first or last time that Gene Simmons‘ hair caught on fire during a performance. But for the fans, it was all part of the thrill of seeing Kiss in concert.
# 7 – Michael Kelly Smith – Britny Fox
For a budding ’80s glam rocker, there are few things more devastating than a pyrotechnic accident. Unfortunately, Michael Kelly Smith, the co-founder of Cinderella and Britny Fox learned this lesson the hard way. He recently checked in with classicrockhistory.com and shared his blazing story.
Early on, Smith’s journey to Cinderella began with a band called Telepath. When they needed a second guitarist, and after many auditions, Smith insisted on Tom Keifer even though the rest of the band were reluctant to hire Keifer. A strong bond was formed between the two, which later led to the formation of Cinderella. However, despite his role in founding the band, Smith was derailed from Cinderella by the record company. Instead of sulking, he formed Britny Fox, which had great success. The band had many top 10 videos on MTV, and toured worldwide with the likes of Poison, Ratt, Joan Jett, Bon Jovi and Alice Cooper.
Before his success with Britny Fox, Smith suffered a horrific accident while playing with the band Telepath. A story that is a true testament to overcoming life’s setbacks. In the fall of 1979 at the Penalty Box club in Wildwood, New Jersey, Smith sustained severe burns in a stage accident. Unfortunately, three flashpots were triggered at the wrong time while he was soloing at the front of the stage. Tom Keifer was farther back on the stage and didn’t get harmed.
The result was a nightmare – extreme burns to his face, hair, torso, right arm, and hand. But Smith refused to give up on his dream, and with resilience, he fought his way back to the stage.
Smith remembers with a twinge: “I felt intense heat from the flame. I was aware of the reality of what was happening but was also in disbelief; realizing that my hair was on fire, I knew it was bad. I immediately threw off my Flying V– I was told later that it literally “flew” twenty feet before landing on the other side of the stage! The pain was immeasurable.”
Somehow, he navigated his way backstage while in a state of disbelief. He made it to a sink and remembers dousing himself with cold water. Thankfully, someone had called for an ambulance. He spent two weeks in the hospital, the first four days in the ICU, then recovered at home.
“My hair eventually grew back and was near shoulder length by the beginning of Cinderella,” said Smith. “After a few months, I started playing gigs again with the band. But it took closer to a year before I was fully healed. Luckily, I had minimal scarring, but my Flying V still has burn marks on it. As much as I wanted hair like Scott Gorham of Thin Lizzy, I looked more like Steve Marriott of Humble Pie (RIP). Overall, it could have been a lot worse.”
# 6 – Jimi Hendrix
On March 31, 1967, Jimi Hendrix set the music world ablaze – quite literally. At London’s Finsbury Park Astoria, Hendrix and his band, The Experience, kicked off the first performance on the Walker Brothers tour. It was a night that no one in attendance would ever forget. While closing their set with “Fire,” Jimi Hendrix put down his guitar as Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding continued playing. Then, Jim Hendrix’s manager, Chas Chandler, doused the Stratocaster with lighter fluid, and watched as the guitar virtuoso knelt beside it, flicked a match, and after a few tries, set it ablaze.
The flames soared higher than anyone expected, burning Jim Hendrix’s hands and shocking the entire audience. But in true guitar god fashion, Jimi Hendrix was able to finish the set with another guitar, leaving the crowd gasping in amazement at his brazen act of showmanship. Later on, Jimi Hendrix was treated for his injuries at the hospital, but his hands lived to play on. And a few months later, at the Monterey Pop Festival, he recreated the wild bit – this time without getting burned – and stole the show in the process.
Jim Hendrix’s scorched 1965 Fender Stratocaster was sold for more than $400,000 at auction in 2008, which is evidence of the enduring power of his music and the legacy of his daring stage feats.
# 5 – Michael Clifford – 5 Seconds of Summer
When you’re a pop-rock guitarist like 5 Seconds of Summer’s Michael Clifford, every show is a chance to shine – and maybe even light up the stage. At a huge concert at London’s Wembley Arena on June 12, 2015, Clifford’s performance ambitions got the best of him.
Clifford suffered injuries from a pyrotechnics accident when his t-shirt and hair caught fire. The popular Aussie band was jamming on their hit “She’s So Perfect” when the accident occurred. Clifford lost in the moment, sauntered too close to the pyro display, and the flames left him with facial burns that were later visible to fans all over the world.
Even as he took to social media, bandaged and resembling The Phantom of the Opera, Clifford reassured fans of his well-being, proving that nothing could dim his passion for music. The incident hampered the show, but it couldn’t stop Clifford’s indomitable spirit. After a few days off, he was able to perform their third and final show in London. He rallied with his bandmates by his side who praised him for being a trooper proving that he was a true rock and roll survivor.
# 4 – Michael Jackson
The King of Pop was known for his dazzling dance moves, chart-topping hits, and larger-than-life persona – but no one could have predicted the shocking event that would leave him dancing on fire.
In 1984, Michael Jackson signed a groundbreaking deal with Pepsi, which included an elaborate, high-energy commercial performance. The event was meant to be the ultimate showcase of Jackson’s talents, a pop culture extravaganza that would take the world by storm. At the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles on January 27, 1984, thousands of fans were invited to simulate a live concert experience. Along with the thrill of seeing Jacko’s performance, they also witnessed a slice of pop history.
As Michael Jackson belted out his hit “Billie Jean” in front of a packed audience, something went terribly wrong. A round of fireworks erupted, showering the performer with sparks and setting his hair ablaze. The ultimate showman didn’t even notice at first and kept dancing down the stairs as those around him assumed it was part of the show. Finally, people ran to his aid and put out the flames that had ignited his hair. But despite the shock and pain, Jackson refused to let the incident define him, but he would still face other trials and tribulations throughout his career.
Michael Jackson did not file suit against the soda company. However, he pushed for them to create a burn center in Culver City, CA. It was at the same hospital where he was treated for his serious burns. All this is a testament to his generosity and resilience and a reminder that even the most shocking moments can’t keep a true star down.
# 3 – James Hetfield – Metallica
Metallica’s ascent to rock stardom was in part propelled by their iconic album Ride the Lightning. However, their meteoric rise was derailed during their 1992 arena tour with Guns N’ Roses. In a tragic turn of events, the band’s lead singer and guitarist, James Hetfield, was engulfed in flames when a fire prop exploded during their performance of “Fade to Black.” The concert was held at Olympic Stadium in Montreal on August 8th, 1992. The incident left James Hetfield with second-degree burns on his face, arms, and hands, and left the band reeling from the unexpected calamity.
While the accident was a horrifying moment in rock history, the situation was compounded by Guns N’ Roses’ response. The band’s delayed appearance and shortened set left the sold-out crowd of 53,000 frustrated, ultimately leading to a riot that caused property damage and several injuries. It was a shocking and tragic turn of events that showcased the worst of the rock music scene.
The tour, once touted as a legendary collaboration, became a notorious example of what not to do in the music industry. Metallica refused to let this setback hold them back. Despite the challenges, they pushed forward and cemented their status as the kings of heavy metal. Their resilience in the face of adversity only served to strengthen their fan base and secure their place in rock history. “Fight Fire with Fire” for sure.
# 2 – Christian Andreu – Gojira
When it comes to heavy metal incidents, this one takes the cake. It’s a scene straight out of “Game of Thrones” and the stuff of heavy metal legend. Christian Andreu, the lead guitarist of France’s progressive metal band Gojira, narrowly escaped a life-altering injury during the Sonic Temple Festival in Columbus, Ohio on May 18th, 2018.
A breezy day turned disastrous when a ten-foot flaming pyro blew directly into Andreu’s face while the band was performing their song “Stranded.” The incident happened during their set at Mapfre Stadium (later called Historic Crew Stadium). A photographer managed to capture the moment of impact. The incident left Andreu with burns and skin damage, and his hair and eyebrows were singed.
Thankfully, Andreu managed to avoid more severe injuries by shutting his eyes just before the flames reached him. The show went on with the guitarist returning to complete the set! He powered through by taking frequent breaks to dab his face with water. After the concert, medical workers attended to him, and he experienced skin damage and peeling in the aftermath.
This mishap serves as a reminder of the dangers inherent in rock and heavy metal performances. It also highlights the steadfast nature of performers who, despite setbacks and obstacles, continue to push forward and give their all for their fans.
# 1 – Ace Frehley – Kiss
The real-life meaning behind the song “Shock Me”…
Kiss are known for their extravagant live shows, always providing the ultimate experience with innovative set designs and special effects. However, while on tour in support of their Rock And Roll Over album in 1976, a near-fatal production mishap would become the inspiration for their song “Shock Me.”
At Florida’s Lakeland Civic Center on December 12, 1976, Kiss made their usual spectacular entrance playing “Detroit Rock City” from atop their massive stage set. After the song, they descended down a staircase amid a haze of fog and smoke on their way to the stage. Ace Frehley (who’s a little unsteady on a good day) touched the metal railing to help support himself but inadvertently completed an electric circuit—one zap, and he was unable to move. He did manage to shake loose, but not right away, then fell to the stage floor.
After Frehley’s life flashed before his eyes, the show was immediately stopped and the guitarist was carried off stage. After resting for a bit backstage, he declined medical assistance and bravely returned to complete the show. As a result of the Spaceman’s terrifying near electrocution, Kiss quickly amended their stage setup ensuring that their performances were as safe as they were spectacular.
Despite the scare, inspiration struck and Frehley wrote “Shock Me,” a song off their Love Gun album. It would be the first time that Frehley sang lead vocals on a Kiss song, and it quickly became a fan favorite.
On With the Show
The stories of these musicians represent the passion, dedication, and resilience required to succeed in the music industry. They all persevered, some creating the most iconic songs in music history. Their journeys inspire us to pursue our passions with the same level of determination and fearlessness. Even in the face of adversity, there’s always a way to ignite your passion and live for the music.
10 Musicians Who Survived Fire And Electrical Accidents On Stage article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2023
Classicrockhistory.com claims ownership of all its original content and Intellectual property under United States Copyright laws and those of all other foreign countries. No one person, business, or organization is allowed to re-publish any of our original content anywhere on the web or in print without our permission. All photos used are either public domain creative commons photos or licensed officially from Shutterstock under license with ClassicRockHistory.com. All photo credits have been placed at end of the article.