The Who Biography
The Who were not just another rock band. And Pete Townshend was never your run-of-the-mill guitar hero. Without Townshend, the terms 'power chord,' 'Marshall stack' and 'feedback' might never have entered the modern guitarist’s vocabulary.
"The Who were not just another rock band. And Pete Townshend was never your run-of-the-mill guitar hero. Without Townshend, the terms 'power chord,' 'Marshall stack' and 'feedback' might never have entered the modern guitarist’s vocabulary.
"Instrumentally speaking, the Who—rounded out by singer Roger Daltrey, drummer Keith Moon and bassist John Entwistle—were the first power trio, and Townshend defined what the electric guitar could do within that context. But he was never one to riff on mere notes. The guy riffs on ideas—ideas which have profoundly affected the way rock music is performed and presented. He increased rock’s vocabulary a hundredfold, dramatically expanding what can be said with a song, a show or an album." —Alan Di Perna
Read the following bios of Townshend, Daltrey, Entwistle and Moon, courtesy of TheWho.com.
Pete Townshend, The Who’s guitarist and principal songwriter, was born into a musical family in Chiswick, West London, on May 19, 1945. His father Cliff played the alto saxophone with the Squadronaires, the RAF dance band, and his mother Betty Dennis sang professionally. An aunt encouraged him to learn piano but after seeing the movie Rock Around The Clock in 1956 he became drawn to rock’n’roll, an interest his parents actively encouraged.
Having dallied briefly with the guitar, Pete’s first real instrument was the banjo which he played in a schoolboy trad jazz outfit called the Confederates. The group featured John Entwistle on trumpet but after John took up the bass guitar the two friends joined another schoolboy band, the Scorpions, with Pete on guitar.
Pete and John both attended Acton County School where another, slightly older, pupil Roger Daltrey had a group called the Detours. Roger invited John to join and around six months later the nucleus of the Who was in place when John persuaded Roger that Pete should join too. Meanwhile Pete had graduated to Ealing Art College, where he broadened his mind on a diet of radical performance art and American blues music, both of which would eventually inform the Detours as they worked their passage through the West London club and pub circuit.
With the arrival in 1964 of drummer Keith Moon and managers Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp, The Who were on their way, with Pete increasingly cast in the role of leader and spokesman. Pete soon found himself at the forefront of the British musical boom of the Sixties. As guitarist and composer of the band, he became the driving force behind one of the most powerful, inventive and articulate bodies of work in rock. From early classic three-minute singles like ‘My Generation’, ‘Substitute’ and ‘I Can See For Miles’, through to complete song cycles in the shape of Tommy, Lifehouse and Quadrophenia, Pete established himself as one of the most gifted and imaginative musicians working in the rock field.
Pete spent all of the Sixties and much of the Seventies concentrating his creative energies on the Who. In concert he became recognized as the most visual guitarist of his and future generations, careering around the stage, leaping into the air and spinning his arm across the strings in his trademark ‘windmill’ fashion. He developed a unique guitar style, a cross between rhythm and lead which veered from furiously strummed chord patterns and crunching power chords to chromatic scales and delicate arpeggios. On top of this he frequently smashed his guitar into smithereens at the climax of a performance.
In 1967 Pete became a follower of the Indian avatar Meher Baba which inspired him to release three privately circulated devotional albums. These led him to compile Who Came First (1972), the first of a series of non-Who albums, beginning with Rough Mix (1977), a collaboration with fellow Baba devotee Ronnie Lane, and followed by the solo albums Empty Glass (1980), All The Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes (1982), White City: A Novel (1985), The Iron Man, an adaptation of Ted Hughes’ children’s story (1988), and Psychoderelict (1993).
In 1984, with the Who temporarily disbanded, he led an ad-hoc group called Deep End which released a live album in 1986, and he has also issued a series of albums called Scoop which feature Pete’s demos for Who songs, solo material and miscellaneous unrealized projects.
At various times throughout the Nineties Pete toured North America with a solo band, initially performing Psychoderelict but, as the decade wore on, he presented shows that included his solo material as well as Who classics. Many such shows, including occasional concerts in the UK, have been done in aid of charities.
Long acknowledged as one of the most intelligent and articulate of rock performers, Pete has run his own book publishing company and worked as an editor at the literary house of Faber & Faber which in 1985 published Horse’s Neck, a collection of his short stories. Ever inquisitive about new ideas and technology, he has turned his attention to the Internet on which his regular and often frank journals and essays provide essential reading for fans. In many ways Pete can be regarded as an Internet pioneer, insofar as Lifehouse, the project that embraced the songs on the album Who’s Next, included ideas such as the ‘Grid’, a national communications network, and ‘experience suits’ where life programs were fed to individuals via the Grid. At the time most observers were unable to grasp these ‘science fiction’ ideas but with hindsight it’s clear that Pete’s concepts were not too far removed from the web and virtual reality that we know today. In 1970, the technology wasn’t available for the project to be realized and it took Pete almost 30 years to see it through. It was only fitting that when he did get to perform the Lifehouse music in its entirety it was available to a global audience via a webcast.
Pete has run successful websites and blogsites, takes a hands-on approach with this medium and, indeed, has been nominated for a number of awards. As well as his diary entries, he has often made available free mp3s of rare tracks and ‘work in progress’ materials, video diaries and ‘pdf’ downloads of short essays.
He has also made available for sale at www.eelpie.com exclusive material, such as his live ‘signature’ series of CDs as well as the standard back catalog. The site has also been used for charity auctions and in 2000 it raised in excess $250,000 for Oxfam’s relief effort in Mozambique when Pete auctioned off many of his personal effects. This site will soon be brought into this official Who site.
Townshend has ambitious plans for future artistic endeavors using the Internet. They include continuing to distribute free music and selling CDs and DVDs. But most important he is still looking at ways of using the Internet to present musico-dramatic works (musicals, light operas) with a degree of audience interactivity akin to that enjoyed at live concerts.
In the meantime Pete continues to write and perform with The Who, and 2006 saw the release of Endless Wire, the band’s first new album in 24 years. He is presently working on an autobiography due for publication in 2010.
If any one member of The Who can be said to be the group’s founding member it is singer Roger Daltrey, who was born in the West London suburb of Shepherd’s Bush on March 1, 1944. Roger first assembled the group that would become the Who in 1961 while at Acton County School, recruiting John Entwistle and subsequently agreeing to John’s proposal that Pete Townshend should join. In those days Roger, whose daytime job was in a sheet metal factory, even made the band’s guitars, and it was his energy and ambition that drove the group during their formative years. That same energy, coupled with his unwavering resolve, has sustained the group during periods of uncertainty ever since.
Roger’s earliest tastes in music ran to the blues and R&B which formed the setlist during their early years as the Detours, as well as Fifties rock’n’roll, which is reflected in his outstanding interpretations of such noted Who covers as ‘Summertime Blues’ and ‘Shakin’ All Over’. In surrendering his leadership of the band to Pete when the latter became the group’s songwriter, Roger became the mouthpiece for Pete’s lyrics and ideas. At the same time he contributed to the group’s sense of showmanship by developing his unique skill at twirling his microphone lead around like a lasso and, by the time of Tommy in 1969, becoming one of rock’s most iconic sex symbols with his golden curls, bare chest and fringed suede coats.
In this respect Roger became Tommy, the deaf dumb and blind boy of Pete’s imagination, and it was therefore only natural that he should assume the role in Ken Russell’s movie adaptation of the rock opera in 1975, for which he received a Golden Globe nomination. This in turn led Roger to develop a concurrent career as a film actor while continuing to sing with the Who. Other film credits over the years include Ken Russell’s Lizstomania, the title role in McVicar, Lightning Jack with Paul Hogan, Teen Agent, and numerous roles in TV dramas. Most recently he appeared in the US CBS TV show C.S.I. – which uses Who songs as theme music - as five separate, differently made-up characters, one of them a middle-aged African-American woman. Other US TV appearances include Lois & Clarke (Superman), Midnight Caller, William Tell, Sliders and Highlander as well as Leprechauns for Celtic Leprechaun Ltd and The Bill, the long running UK TV police drama. He has also narrated a series for the History Channel, undergoing extreme hardships similar to those faced by pioneering settlers in America and elsewhere.
Roger has also cultivated a singing career outside of The Who, beginning in 1973 when he found himself on the BBC’s Top Of The Pops, the UK’s then premier chart TV show, promoting the single ‘Giving It All Away’ which reached number five in the UK charts. It was a track from his first solo album Daltrey, released that same year, which he followed up with the albums Ride A Rock Horse (1975), One Of The Boys (1977), the soundtrack to McVicar (1980), and After The Fire (1985).
Roger has appeared on stage away from the Who on many occasions, and his 1994 solo concert at New York’s Carnegie Hall, with The Juillard Orchestra, was the fastest selling event in the venue’s history. The following year he appeared on stage as The Tin Man in a production of The Wizard Of Oz at The Lincoln Centre, and in 1998 he starred as Scrooge in A Christmas Carol at Madison Square Garden. He has also performed with his friends The Chieftains, the traditional Irish band, and toured the world with the British Rock Symphony interpreting a variety of rock classics.
Since 2000 he has been a patron of the Teenage Cancer Trust, a charity that builds specialized wards for teenagers with cancer in the UK. That year Roger had the idea of setting up the first show at the Royal Albert Hall by ‘The Who & Friends’, with ticket sales and revenue from a DVD and CD raising over £1.2 million, and as a result Roger was given a Humanitarian Award in 2003 from Time magazine. The actual amount Roger has raised to date from the Albert Hall shows has meant that two new TCT units have been built. Donations to The Teenage Cancer Trust can be given through their website www.teencancer.org.In February 2005 Roger was awarded a CBE by the Queen at Buckingham Palace for his services to music and good causes.
Whatever extra-curricular activities have tempted Roger away from The Who, the group he began forming at a Shepherd’s Bush Youth Club at the age of 16 will always be his first love. Even more than his colleagues, it has been Roger who has done his best to keep The Who's flag flying during those periods when Pete felt the need to seek creative outlets elsewhere, and the respect he has earned from Who fans as a result is something he cherishes deeply.
This was never more apparent than when, in 1995, Roger took the trouble to generously assemble a band to appear at the first British Who Convention, organized by Who fans for Who fans, at Shepherd's Bush, the area of London where he was born which has become synonymous with the band. As the ad-hoc group, which included John Entwistle and Pete Townshend's brother Simon, left the stage, Roger gazed over the sea of faces. “Thank you,” he said, genuinely moved by the occasion. “You've given us a wonderful life.”
John Entwistle, The Who’s original bass player, was born in London on October 9, 1944, and his natural talent as a musician formed the backbone to many of the Who’s most memorable recordings. He was nicknamed “The Ox”, as well as “Thunderfingers” - because his digits became a blur across the four-string fretboard – and in a poll at the end of the 20th Century was voted ‘Bassist of the Millennium’ in Musician magazine.
Born into a musical family in Chiswick, West London, John was a formally trained musician who played the French horn in the Middlesex Youth Orchestra. He became a fan of Duane Eddy, the US guitarist whose hit singles featured a guitar played in a low register. As a teenager he abandoned his trumpet for a home-made bass guitar, and played in school groups The Confederates and The Scorpions with his friend Pete Townshend. In 1961, he was approached to join fellow Acton County Grammar school pupil Roger Daltrey’s group, The Detours. Six months later, John persuaded Roger to let Townshend join, and in 1964 they became The Who.
John contributed to The Who’s distinctive sound by cultivating a lead style of bass, underpinning Pete’s more rhythmic style of guitar playing with inventive runs in a higher register than most bass players, while at the same time keeping the group’s timing rigid during Keith’s volatile thrashings.
The Who’s third single, ‘My Generation’, featured a prominent bass solo by Entwistle, the first of its kind on a rock record, but unlike his colleagues John remained virtually motionless on stage, quietly observing – and underpinning - the reckless styles of Pete and Keith and Roger’s up-front approach.
While Pete emerged as The Who’s songwriter-in-chief, John began making distinctive, macabre contributions to The Who’s catalog, beginning with ‘Whisky Man’ and the imperishable ‘Boris The Spider’ on the A Quick One album in 1966, continuing with ‘Doctor, Doctor’ and ‘Someone’s Coming’ (1967), ‘Silas Stingy’ (from 1967’s The Who Sell Out), ‘Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde’ (1968), ‘Heaven And Hell’ with which The Who opened their formidable live shows between 1968 and 1970. John wrote ‘Cousin Kevin’ and ‘Fiddle About’ for The Who’s 1969 magnum opus Tommy because Pete specifically requested John to write “nasty songs” that he felt uncomfortable with. ‘My Wife’, John’s hilarious rocker about marital strife from 1971’s Who’s Next, also became a popular stage number.
When The Who’s success enabled the other members of the group to move out of London, John remained true to his West London roots. He married his childhood sweetheart Alison Wise in 1967 and bought a large semi-detached home in Acton, filling it with all sorts of extraordinary artifacts, ranging from suits of armor to a tarantula spider. His eccentricity and taste for the bizarre was to remain with him throughout his life, and when he finally moved out of the city to Stowe-on-the-Wold in Gloucestershire in 1975, his 17-bedroom mansion Quarwood resembled a major museum. It also housed one of the largest guitar collections belonging to any rock musician.
John’s impressive musicianship continued apace and his work on ‘The Real Me’ (from Quadrophenia) and ‘Dreaming From The Waist’ (from 1975’s The Who By Numbers) was particularly memorable. In the meantime, John sought an outlet for his backlog of songs, and in 1971 became the first member to release a solo album, Smash Your Head Against The Wall, which earned him a cult following in the US for fans of his brand of black humor. Other solo studio albums followed: Whistle Rymes (1972), Rigor Mortis Sets In (1973), Mad Dog (1975), Too Late The Hero (1981) and The Rock (1996). John also compiled a Who leftovers collection Odds & Sods in 1974 and with The Who resting in 1975, went out on the road with his own band, Ox. He also fronted the John Entwistle Band on US club tours during the 1990s, and appeared with former Beatle Ringo Starr’s All Starr Band, in 1995. A talented artist, John held exhibitions of his paintings, many of them featuring The Who, on a regular basis.
By the end of the millennium, a stripped down version of The Who – consisting of Pete, Roger, John, keyboard player John ‘Rabbit’ Bundrick, and Ringo Starr’s son, Zak Starkey (who had drummed in John’s studio band) – were touring again, amply demonstrating to original fans and a new generation of musicians just how they had established their original credentials. On these later tours John would perform an extraordinary bass solo on ‘5.15’.
John died from a heart attack on June 27, 2002, in Las Vegas on the eve of an American Who tour which carried on with a hastily recruited Pino Palladino playing bass.
Keith Moon, The Who’s celebrated original drummer, was born in Wembley on August 23, 1946, and is widely acclaimed as the greatest drummer in the history of rock. Brashly confident, he played quite differently to his peers, turning his massive kit into a lead instrument, and his up-front technique was crucial in establishing the Who’s passionate style. His playing ushered in an era wherein the drums became far more than simply a means of keeping the beat, and much of his recorded legacy from 1965–73 has a timeless quality that has never been repeated, let alone bettered. In this respect Keith Moon was to the drums what Jimi Hendrix was to the guitar – a complete original - and as such he was probably the most influential drummer the rock world has ever seen.
There was nothing in Keith’s humble background to suggest the extraordinary turn of events his life would take. He became a surf music fan as a schoolboy, took early lessons on drums as a teenager and played with three local bands in his native Wembley in north west London, The Escorts, Mark Twain & the Strangers, and The Beachcombers, before joining The Who in the spring of 1964. Shortly after Keith’s recruitment, The Who became managed by Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp whose energy and ambition focused the group.
Moon announced his arrival in spectacular fashion on the Who’s first real single ‘I Can’t Explain’ (1965) on which his rifle-shot snare preempted Roger Daltrey’s leap into the chorus. Mostly, though, his foil was Pete Townshend with whom he developed an uncanny musical relationship, the product of which became one of The Who’s great trademarks: the chiming, bell-like, open-stringed power chord, cross cut against pounding drums and bass and allowed to feedback on itself and drone into a wall of electronic discord.
Moon’s drumming is outstanding throughout the group’s debut album My Generation and on several Sixties singles, most notably ‘Happy Jack’ (1966) and ‘I Can See For Miles’ (1967), but it is on the double album Tommy (1969) that his talents are best utilized. On Townshend’s celebrated rock opera he becomes an orchestra within himself, driving the band along with an intelligence and sureness of touch that defies analysis. On Who’s Next (1971) Moon is reined in somewhat but his playing on the bridge on ‘Behind Blue Eyes’ and throughout both ‘Bargain’ and ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ ranks with anything he ever did.
The Who’s greatest strength, though, was in concert and by the end of the Sixties they were justifiably billing themselves as "the most exciting rock band in the world". To this Moon contributed an almost superhuman energy, his hands and feet battering his kit into submission night after night, the relentless power of The Who in full flight spiraling out from his arms and legs.
Moon's kit was the biggest in rock, at one stage boasting at least 10 tom-toms, twin bass drums, twin timpani, snare, half-a-dozen cymbals and a gong. With this vast array of percussion at his command, he adopted a peculiar style wherein he pointed his sticks downwards and, as John Enwtistle once remarked: "He didn't play from left to right or right to left, he'd play forwards. I've never seen anyone play like that before or since." Keith was also a virtuoso showman, twiddling his drumsticks between his fingers and flamboyantly tossing them into the air and, occasionally, catching them when they fell. He developed an on-stage image as a wise-cracker and often ad-libbed comical asides between numbers, and like Pete he took an almost manic delight in wrecking his equipment at the close of a concert, especially in the group's early days.
At the same time Keith was rock’s wildest character in the Sixties and Seventies, an unapologetic freewheeling hedonist whose lifestyle became synonymous with the mad, carefree image of the rock star at large. He courted the press and became notorious as ‘Moon The Loon’, the incorrigible clown who respected no authority whatsoever and never knew the meaning of the word embarrassment. As the Who became massively popular worldwide, so Keith Moon became a celebrity, not just as a drummer, but as the mad jester to rock’s high court whose exploits included cross-dressing, elaborate practical jokes and a much-publicized episode when he and his great friend Vivian Stanshall of the Bonzo Dog Band visited a London beerkeller dressed in Nazi SS uniforms. Keith’s Chertsey home, Tara House, became the venue for many memorable parties, not least the 1971 launch of Who’s Next.
When The Who slowed down and Pete Townshend sought creative outlets elsewhere, Keith moved to California and took cameo roles in several movies, most notably in That’ll Be The Day (1973) and its sequel Stardust (1974), as the drummer in a fictitious rock band led by David Essex. He also completed a solo album, Two Sides Of The Moon (1975). He moved back to the UK in 1977 to play on Who Are You, his last recorded work with The Who.
Keith died on September 7, 1978, from an accidental overdose of the prescription drug Heminevrin, prescribed to combat alcoholism. He died in the same flat in Curzon Place in London’s Mayfair (belonging to Harry Nilsson) that Mama Cass had passed away in during 1974. On the eve of his death, Moon had been at a screening of The Buddy Holly Story during the Paul McCartney-sponsored, annual Buddy Holly week.
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