There are few images that more perfectly encapsulate the wildness and abandon of rock ‘n’ roll as Pete Townshend, in all his youthful, late ‘60s glory, smashing an electric guitar onstage at the climax of a Who show.
However, as Who frontman Roger Daltrey recently revealed, this act wasn’t quite as wild as it seemed. As Daltrey explained on Chris Evans’ How to Wow podcast, these guitars were carefully smashed and then glued back together in order to live to be smashed another day.
By way of example, he told a story about the Who coming to America to appear on the Murray the “K” show alongside Cream, Wilson Pickett and other acts, where they would play three to four sets a day.
“We would do our two hits, I Can’t Explain and My Generation, smash all the gear up and leave,” Daltrey recalled.
When Evans pointed out it sounded “quite costly to smash four lots of gear up a day,” Daltrey replied that it was “costly in glue because as fast as we were smashing it, we had four sets but as one got smashed it then got glued. And by the time we got to smash it again the glue got set.”
But, he continued, “They weren’t prop guitars. They were real guitars. We worked out very cleverly that very rarely did the neck break. As long as the neck didn’t break you could glue the body back. Even with holes in it, it didn’t matter. We could make it work.”
Later on in the conversation, talk turned to another onstage smasher of guitars, Jimi Hendrix, and the famous story of Townshend and Jimi flipping a coin backstage at the Monterey Pop Festival to determine who would perform first.
“Jimi was an absolutely amazing performer, but what people don’t realize is that a lot of Jimi’s showmanship, when he stated digging his guitar into the amps and the feedback and all that, most of that he copied from Townshend,” Daltrey said.
“So by the time we got to Monterey in ‘67, Pete’s going, ‘Well, that’s my whole show! And it was always a great finale.”
He continued, “You know, we didn’t really quite have confidence in the music. We were a pop band with these weird singles like I’m a Boy and Happy Jack and a mini-opera called A Quick One While He’s Away. It was insane, the stuff we were playing!
"So we thought, well, we’re gonna get slaughtered if he goes on before us. Because that’s our whole show, done. So Pete and Jimi flipped a coin and Pete won and we chose to go on first.
“But then, of course, Jimi came on and blew us all away anyway.”
Last week, Pete Townshend claimed he was asked by Michael Jackson to play on Thriller – but recommended Eddie Van Halen for the gig instead.