THE WHO WAS INTO INSTRUMENT
destruction onstage, and found it giving
recognition and a musical peak to their
performances. Chief lick-maker of the Who
is Peter Townshend, whose influences have
included John Lee Hooker and Steve Cropper,
along with Jimi Hendrix and a bit of
the Yardbirds. He is acclaimed as the first
guitarist to stack amplifiers, and is also
among the first to use feedback creatively.
He is the epitome of stage presence with
his long, lean figure jumping seemingly
six feet in the air, and his windmilling arm
striking his guitar’s strings with the effect
of a lightning-clouded sky
How did you come to use Gibson SGs?
Well, it’s a bit of a disappointing story.
I got fed up with Fenders because they
were too clean, but I liked them because
they were tough. In my guitar-smashing
days, the Fender would last two or three
shows, and if I wanted to smash it up, it
took ten minutes. But they were fuzz-box
numbers—clean until you hit the fuzz box.
So I went to the music store, and said I
really need an alternative to this, and the
manager suggested the SG. I played it, and
it sang to me, and I’ve used SGs ever since.
The finest guitar I’ve ever owned, however,
is this 1958 Gretsch Chet Atkins that
Joe Walsh gave me. It’s the loudest guitar
I’ve ever had. It is so loud, man. I used
that guitar on every track of Who’s Next.
How much of your leads are improvisation?
Well, in the loose bits, it’s like off the
cuff. Sometimes, when an audience is
passive, we freak and say, “Get up off your
ass and do something!” But although they
sometimes aren’t openly freaking, there
can be definite strong vibes of “we’re here
to hear.” And when you walk on stage
and meet that, it makes you feel a bit
more of a musician than an acrobat. So
a lot of things come out that don’t ordinarily
But when you are actually playing a lead,
is it out of scales, chords, patterns, or what?
I started out as a rhythm player, and a
few of my lead licks are things I’ve basically
developed in recording sessions. I’ll never
be able to play the kind of leads I want. I
was happiest listening to Jimi Hendrix—
that, to me, was like heaven. For me, it was
probably a good thing that he died, because
it made me realize that I wasn’t going to
be at any more Jimi Hendrix concerts and
feel that bit of downfall. I was going to have
to try and do it for myself again
Is the music as important as the stage act?
I can’t separate the music and the act
anymore. My favorite quote I said in an
interview is “We never let the music get
in the way of our stage act.” In a lot of ways
that’s true, because “stage act” means that
we are committed to one another and the
audience, and “music” means we are committed
to the way we play—or committed
to our limitations. You
know, if there’s something
on the guitar
that I want to do, but
I can’t, I’m going to be
from Michael Brooks’
piece in the May 1972