Brian May Narrowly Avoids Hydraulic Death – Real-Life ‘Spinal Tap’ Stories
Those fancy stage setups designed for your favorite big-time rock stars are pretty cool, but they can also be incredibly dangerous. Just ask Paul Rodgers.
During his years with Bad Company and Free, Rodgers has played for plenty of crowds, but his closest brush with stage disaster came during his time as frontman for Queen. He recently shared the sordid tale with Ultimate Classic Rock as part of our ongoing series of real-life ‘Spinal Tap’ stories in honor of the classic mockumentary’s 30th anniversary.
Recalled Rodgers, “I remember touring with Queen, we used to do the song ‘Bad Company’ and we would have the piano under the stage, and it would be lifted through smoke on a hydraulic up to stage level. So when you’re down and ready to go, you’re standing by the piano and you’re looking up and all you can see are the laser lights and smoke and a bit of the audience there.”
It’s a disorienting way to take the stage, as well as one that’s fraught with a certain amount of peril. “They’d ask you to keep your elbows and arms in, because the hydraulic will snap them off if you’re not careful,” explained Rodgers. “So as it’s coming up, I start to play for atmosphere. I’m starting to play and all of a sudden I look up, and there’s a guitarist on the end of the piano as we were rising up.”
That guitarist, of course, was Queen’s own Brian May. “It’s Brian, who has fallen down and he’s kept his guitar up and kept it in tune and everything, because a guitarist will always fall in a manner that he doesn’t knock his guitar out of tune, no matter what he breaks, leg-wise or arm-wise, right? So there he was and they had to hit an emergency stop. Because we couldn’t go up — it would trim your knees off if you were hanging over the edge of it.”
As happens so often at these moments, it was members of the crew who saved the day. “The roadies had to jump down into the pit on top of the piano, pull him up, pop him back up on stage and then we continued,” continued Rodgers. “But I’m thinking, ‘What should I do? Should I keep playing?’ I decided to keep playing. But he was a trooper, I have to say. He didn’t miss a beat or anything. It wasn’t funny at the time — it was scary, actually.”
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