Guitar Aficionado

The Who’s 'Tommy' Gets the Bluegrass Treatment from the HillBenders

Hear "Pinball Wizard" from the HillBenders' bluegrass tribute.
Image placeholder title

Tommy, the Who’s 1969 rock opera, is a celebrated classic. Composed almost entirely by Who guitarist Pete Townshend, it was among the first “rock operas” and one of the most successful of all time.

Last year, some 46 years after the album’s original release, Missouri’s the HillBenders recast the album as a full-length bluegrass tribute. The project was the brainchild of SXSW co-founder and longtime musician/producer Louis Jay Meyers. Meyers had been looking for the right band to pull off this high-wire bluegrass approach for several decades and found what he was looking for in the HillBenders. Their members are Jim Rea, guitar/arranger; Nolan Lawrence, mandolin; Chad “Gravy Boat” Graves, Dobro; Mark Cassidy, banjo; and Gary Rea, bass.

The recording was originally planned as a co-production with the musician/producer Lou Whitney. After Whitney died in October 2014, the plans were revised to record in his studio in Springfield, Missouri surrounded by those that helped create his sound and style of making records.

In the clip below, you can watch the HillBenders perform “Pinball Wizard,” the hit single from Tommy.

For more information, visit and