MWE3 Feature Story
conducted by Robert Silverstein for and 20th Century Guitar 



Continued From Home Page

The Music Must Change

by Robert Silverstein

More a musical institution than a rock group, The Who have overcome obstacles, the smallest of which might have completely derailed a more complaisant coalition. Proof of the enduring Who spirit can be clearly traced back in time on a 2004 CD compilation release on Geffen / Chronicles. Glamorized with nostalgic British Invasion packaging, The Who - Then & Now anthologizes eighteen of the band’s most popular hits—spanning 1965 till 1981—including original mono and stereo mixes, album cuts and single edits of classic rock songs Who fans know like the back of their hand now. But the real kicker topping off this Then & Now collection are two brand new Pete Townshend tunes showcasing a 2004 lineup of The Who—in essence marking the band’s first new single release since 1982. Daltrey singing Townshend has always captured the band’s spirit, and on these two new Who songs, Pete and Roger—with Ringo’s son Zak Starkey on drums, John “Rabbit” Bundrick (keyboards), Simon Townshend (guitars) and ELP’s Greg Lake (bass)—reinstate the signature Who sound. “Real Good Looking Boy”—the first of the new songs—is a late 2003 recording first worked on before the June 2002 passing of founding Who bassist John Entwistle. The other new Who song here, “Old Red Wine”, was recorded this past March 2004 with Pino Palladino replacing Greg Lake on bass. A fond farewell to their old comrade, “Old Red Wine” oozes affection for the Ox and is a fitting tribute to John Entwistle. After incredible years of albums and endless touring, Townshend and Daltrey—now in what Townshend calls “our new Everly Brothers format”—have another chapter to live out in the Who saga and these first tracks in over twenty years offer every indication that a forthcoming studio album will be equally spectacular. A few weeks before the Who’s upcoming Summer 2004 Far East tour—topped off by the dream vacation seeing The Who at the Honolulu Blazedale Arena on August 3rd—Pete Townshend spoke to Robert Silverstein on July 4th, 2004 about the new Who and a range of rare remembrances.

{editor - This interview was first was featured in a slightly edited version in the July 2004 issue of 20th Century Guitar. I had been speaking with Pete’s assistant Nic Joss for a quite a while and she’d been very helpful sending me rare treats to feature in the magazine as far back as 1999. After Pete blew his stack at the vast range of questions I’d written, enough to fill a book, I paired it down considerably, content in even having Pete do this email interview. The Who had just released their first new music in ages - two excellent new tracks on the Then & Now best of CD from 2004. Thanks again to Nic Joss for having Pete do this email interview and also thanks to Pete’s former webmaster Matt Kent for e-mailing me his excellent photography. Where are they now? I haven’t spoke to either of them for the past 4 years and of course Pete continues to record and achieved recent acclaim for the 2006 release of Endless Wire, the first new Who album in ages.}

RS: The 2004 Then & Now best of The Who compilation features the first new Who songs in over 20 years. Can you say something about “Real Good Looking Boy”, which I understand is a tribute to Elvis Presley and the song you wrote honoring John Entwistle, “Old Red Wine”.

PT: “Real Good Looking Boy”—there are two strands to the song, one for me, one for Roger. My strand speaks of wanting to look like a friend from my childhood, and being disavowed of the idea that I might compare with him by my mother. Roger's strand speaks about seeing Elvis for the first time, and being affected by the allure and latent sexuality of his face. There is a third strand, which is about the fact that Roger and I seem to have survived where others have not. Which brings me to “Old Red Wine”. This is about John loving old, dusty wine.

RS: Could you say something about the Pete Townshend SJ-200 limited guitar that Gibson recently introduced? It’s not usually electrified, but the Pete Townshend signature model has a pickup and a lighter neck contour. How involved were you in designing the new J-200 signature?

PT: I did a lot of work on the neck. My very first J200 seemed to have a thinner neck. I wanted the guitar to have a Fishman piezo—which I believe sounds best through a Fishman amplifier designed for the job—or very high quality studio stuff like Focusrite, API or Neve when you are recording.

RS: What originally attracted you to the Gibson Super Jumbo 200? I know that Elvis, Dylan and Ron Wood used it.

PT: It records so well. It has quite a crisp sound for such a large guitar, and my first one (now in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum) actually had a metal Tune-a-matic bridge. I may try this on a variant of my signature model.

RS: I understand that a portion of the sales of the signature guitars are going to the Double O Charity. Could you say something about your charity work?

PT: Double O provides funding for the treatment of alcohol and drug dependency, especially where childhood trauma has been involved. I have done so much charity work over the years, I don't want to list it. Let me just say I do it for me, it helps me, I like doing it. If I still get kicked down to hell I won't complain.

RS: There was also a limited edition Pete Townshend Gibson signature SG from the ‘90s as well. Did that one sell out and if so do they have any plans of coming back with it?

PT: Some of these sold for high sums. If it comes back now it will definitely come back with a whammy bar!

RS: Did Gibson have a Pete Townshend signature Les Paul Deluxe? Is there any other particular signature model guitar that you would like to see reissued by Gibson?

PT: No Les Paul Deluxe as yet, but I'm thinking about it. I am also thinking about Signature guitars by Rickenbacker and Fender. It would be fun to make an indestructible guitar wouldn't it?

RS: So much of that great music you were writing and recording after Tommy, including Who’s Next and Who Came First was directly or indirectly related to the Lifehouse concept, which was never fully completed by The Who. Do you think that Lifehouse is sort of regarded as the Who version of Brian Wilson’s legendary Smile album, in that like Smile, the Lifehouse songs changed and carried on for years appearing on various Who albums in different versions and incarnations?

PT: I still work on, inspired by Lifehouse, which was a dark vision rather than a spiritual one. It was a fully landed work from the off. The only reason I've continued to work with it is because I feel music really does have the potential to reflect the human soul at a very deep level.

RS: Could you see bringing Lifehouse to Broadway or making a movie of it one day?

PT: Not now. I've showed all my various treatments of it to all those I know who produce and evolve Broadway shows and movies. No one has felt it is strong enough to fly. I have written a new screenplay—The Boy Who Heard Music—which is one final evolution of the Lifehouse theme. This could fly, but only as an animation film I think.

RS: Speedy Keene was the first person outside The Who to specifically write a song for The Who, in the case of “Armenia City In The Sky” from The Who Sell Out. I know he recently passed away. Any memories of how you met Speedy and his song writing contribution to The Who Sell Out and is that what led to the eventual Thunderclap Newman album?

PT: Speedy was the drummer for a band called 'CAT' which I believe may have been named after the bass player—a certain Chris (Alan?) Thomas who went on to produce most of my best solo albums. He then served time as my driver, which was when it emerged he was full of many lovely song ideas. I recorded his demo of “Armenia” in my home studio and I think Kit Lambert (our producer) thought I'd written it. We slinked it past before the band realized it was by Speedy. The Thunderclap album was vital—Speedy was a unique songwriter and a really cool drummer. I created the band for him.

RS: : Thunderclap’s anthem, “Something In The Air” is still among the most stirring rock songs ever made. When did Speedy first play you that song and can you recall playing bass and producing it and did you ever wish that The Who had recorded that song?

PT: He played it to me in bits. I had to coax it out of him. It would not have worked for the Who—too plodding.

RS: I have a CD from 1989 called The Shadows At Their Very Best. And both you and Eric Clapton wrote the liner notes for that. Can you recall the influence The Shadows had on the then developing British music scene in the early ‘60s?

PT: They didn't influence that scene in my opinion, they existed in a late '50s time-warp of their own and had to struggle (as did we all) to find a place in the pop world reinvented by The Beatles and R&B. I went to their final concert a few weeks ago and they were terrific. Cliff Richard sang a few songs and he was really good too. They are all amusing, self-effacing, slick and old school.

RS: Your brother Simon Townshend is also a fine recording artist. I thought his Among Us album sounded very Who inspired. Any news on Simon you could relate? I know he recorded with The Who on the new Then & Now songs.

PT: No news apart from the fact that he operates in my studio now and works brilliantly with developing artists. He has a real knack of bringing good songs to a great conclusion. A real producer in my opinion.

RS: I hear you’re also planning new expanded deluxe editions of Who’s Next and Live At Leeds, as well as your solo album Empty Glass. Can you give us an early scoop on these upcoming projects?

PT: Who's Next has missing master reels. I would like to hear a 5.1 Surround version of Live At Leeds but it isn't scheduled yet. Empty Glass is one I'd also like to do.

RS: Just for the record, how did you come up with the name Eel Pie?

PT: I lived near an island on the Thames with that name.

RS: A couple years back your extensive Scoop series of home demo recordings was anthologized by Redline Entertainment in the States on a two CD set called Scooped. How involved were you in the final track selection of Scooped and looking at your archives, will there be any further upcoming Scoop releases?

PT: I don't edit the Scoop series. I just let Helen Wilkins decide. I have loads of similar stuff, but there comes a point when work-in-progress becomes tiresome for fans. It involves almost as much work from me to prepare an unfinished track for release on CD as to finish it.

RS: I guess the Avatar box set on Eel Pie sold out because it was recently reissued and reconfigured as a double CD set called Jai Baba. Can you reflect back on the three Baba tribute albums from the '70s and looking forward, do you think you’ll ever produce or record music for another Meher Baba tribute / compilation album?

PT: I don't think I'll ever do another specifically devotional collection. I was younger and brighter back then, Ronnie Lane and others like him gathered to support the releases. Today, I work chiefly to maintain the film archive of Meher Baba for posterity, and to help social causes in the locality of his Tomb.

RS: Also I am still greatly moved by your Who Came First version of “There’s A Heartache Following Me”. Wasn’t that song one of Baba’s favorite songs?

PT: Yes it was. I feel Don Williams would also have been a favorite of Meher Baba. I was introduced to his records by Ronnie Lane and Eric Clapton.

RS: Lastly about the Thunderclap legacy, there’s a 2003 reissue of the Andy Newman solo album, Rainbow, on Eel Pie. You produced that album. Andy has to be among the most unique players in the history of rock. Is Andy Newman still around and can you shed any historical light on his Rainbow album?

PT: Richard Seaman produced Rainbow for Track Records, I acted as Exec. Andy is still around and ageless, I've tried to encourage him to make another record. He was a fan of Bix. When Bix played piano you can hear how Andy was influenced in the creation of his own method.

RS: Considering your impeccable skills as a film composer, citing the work you’d done on both Tommy and Quadrophenia, are you considering any other side projects like instrumental film scores?

PT: I think Tommy was such hard work I have fought shy of films. (See new Tommy DVD, I do a long interview.) But my partner Rachel Fuller is a trained orchestrator and we may take on a film together as a trial when her new album has been released and settled (Cigarettes And Housework. Universal release on August 10. )

RS: Can you say something about the Who's performance at the Isle of Wight this past June and also about the upcoming tour of the West Coast and the Far East?

PT: Not a lot. IOW was weird in very cool way I thought, but we got good reviews. I am enjoying being on stage (and traveling) more than ever. I haven't quite risen to Bob Dylan's intense level of touring and performing, but now I am beginning to understand why he does it. I wanted to play Japan because Aerosmith will headline the Festivals we play there - I feel safe under their friendly wing because they are so huge there. They’ve been really generous to allow us parity billing. Oz I just wanted to go and play again before it was too late. I didn't like long-haul flying all that much, now I do - so that too has changed. Most of all I am doing these shows to spend some time with Roger this summer. We only see each other when we perform. After all those tense years when we found it hard to agree, I now love being with him professionally, almost unreservedly. Life's too short to worry about the 'why' in all this. It's happening, we're lucky to be able to play.


Thanks to Pete Townshend @
Nic Joss and Matt Kent @
all photos copyright (c) Matt Kent / Yearhour 2004



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