Pete Townshend says he was planning to quit The Who before Keith Moon died

The Who performing live onstage
(Image credit: CA/Redferns via Getty)

Today (May 6), electric guitar icon Pete Townshend releases Somebody Saved Me – an Audible Original that finds The Who legend tracing the period of time between the death of drummer Keith Moon in 1978 and the passing of bass guitar player Jon Entwistle in 2002.

Now, in a Guitar World-exclusive excerpt lifted from the two-hour episode, the band’s founding member – and one of its longest-serving musicians – has revealed he came close to quitting the Who prior to Moon’s passing, and that he only decided to stay in an effort to honor Moon’s memory.

Speaking in Somebody Saved Me, Townshend recalled that his initial decision to leave the Who arose while the band were recording Who Are You in 1978, during which he began to question whether Moon – who was struggling with addiction issues at the time – was ever going to “cut it” again.

“I had decided to leave The Who,” the guitarist reflected. “I had decided when we did the Who Are You album. Keith played drums on a song called Music Must Change, and it was in 6/8 time. All he had to do was go, [sings simple melody], and he couldn’t do it.”

“I don’t know whether it was because it was so cheesy or jazzy – because Keith wasn’t very good at swing – but we sort of gave up,” he added. “We ended up using footsteps and tossing a coin on the ground, making a kind of soundscape out of it. That was the last track we finished on the album.”

According to Townshend, the alarming contrast between Moon’s compromised effort on Music Must Change and his “fantastic drums” on the song Who Are You – which were recorded only six months apart – led him to question the overall direction of the Who.

Townshend continued, “The album contained the track Who Are You, on which he played the most fantastic drums, which was only recorded about six months before. I went back and realized that Keith was just not going to cut it really, at all, ever again. We sort of lost him. I decided to quit.”

However, after Moon passed away, a renewed desire to honor Moon’s memory – while simultaneously exploring new sonic avenues with the Who’s new drummer, Kenney Jones –  ultimately encouraged Townshend to renege on his decision to leave.

“When [Moon] passed away,” Townshend said, “I did something very strange. I decided that I needed to go on in his memory, in a sense. I suppose the other thing was that I decided I was going to go on because there was an opportunity there to do something new. It was exciting.

“I really liked it,” he reflected on the new setup. “I don’t think Roger [Daltrey] did, which was a problem. I think Roger found it difficult. Recently Roger has said that he felt Keith was his primary connection in the band, musically speaking.

“[Moon] wasn’t a conventional drummer. He was an embellisher, a decorator, almost like an orchestral drummer, but he certainly wasn’t a Kenney Jones who laid down a really good beat.

“For me, it was exciting to be working with a drummer… I’d worked with Kenney a few times before. I really liked the way he played. I was very excited about what we had.”

When it drops, Somebody Saved Me will be the 27th installment of Audible’s Words + Music series, which has so far hosted Eddie Vedder, Tom Morello, Billie Joe Armstrong, Alice Cooper and more.

Somebody Saved Me is out today (May 6). For more information, visit Audible.

The Who are currently on the first leg of their North American tour running through May 29. The second leg starts October 2 and ends November 5. For more information visit The Who's official website.

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Matt Owen

Matt is a Staff Writer, writing for Guitar World, Guitarist and Total Guitar. He has a Masters in the guitar, a degree in history, and has spent the last 16 years playing everything from blues and jazz to indie and pop. When he’s not combining his passion for writing and music during his day job, Matt records for a number of UK-based bands and songwriters as a session musician.