Pete Townshend: The Gibson Classic Interview (Excerpt)by Best Classic Bands Staff
To commemorate Gibson’s recent announcement of the Pete Townshend Deluxe Gold Top ’76 —a striking “Les Paul Artists Series” replica of one of the main instruments favored by Townshend in the ‘70s—Best Classic Bands is proud to share the following excerpt of an interview conducted with the Who leader in 2002. The chat offers a fascinating glimpse into the creative mind of one of rock’s greatest artists.
Did you always try to completely arrange [your] songs before taking them to The Who?
Yes. The reason for doing this is that The Who is a simple rock band with an extremely parochial style and sound. To influence it one must be very specific about what one wants. So a full orchestral piece recorded by The Who will sound orchestral, but there will be no orchestra. The other reason for trying to deliver complete demos is because up until now—and this may well change—I have always wanted to be the composer up until the recording starts, and from then on the guitar player. I have never felt comfortable tearing my own stuff apart with the band during recording. So I become a little detached. I find myself behaving like a session man. I do my job.
[You’ve written] that “Behind Blue Eyes” wasn’t a personal song. Was it ever difficult to hand over such a beautiful song to Roger, to sing?
Not at all. Roger has a great voice. The Who did rather overplay the song, but today we can do it however we like, and Roger still interprets the song with different degrees of intensity every time. I love singing the solo too. It’s a terrific song.
This article was written by Russell Hall and originally appeared on Gibson.com.
Did you consciously strive to write toward the strengths of the individual members of the band?
Always. On “My Generation,” I made the demo with a six-string bass and played a solo because I knew that would suit John. I put in a stutter because Roger and I were both huge fans of both John Lee Hooker and Johnny Cash, and both [of them] occasionally stuttered. When I started to employ drums on my demos I tried not to overplay, but I certainly would have played like Keith sometimes if I could. After I heard [The Band’s] Music from Big Pink, I wanted my demos to sound tight and cool. That’s why the demos for Who’s Next are so good, because I tried very hard indeed to emulate the sound of The Band to some degree.
You also once said that Who’s Next probably became one of the best-sounding Who albums precisely because those demos were so good. Can you elaborate on how an outside producer—in this case, Glyn Johns—would take what you had done sonically and try to replicate or evolve it?
You know, I don’t think he did that. The band had rehearsed the songs for that album to the highest standard by the time Glyn got us into his special studio at Olympic. We did the album quickly as a result, maybe in less than two weeks.
You’ve always seemed to have an especially intense love of the studio—much like Prince, it seems to me. Does the studio inspire you as a writer?
Yes. I love Prince and the way he uses the studio as his template for whatever is happening in his life. For people like us, the studio is like a golf-course! It’s strange to think that one can be inspired by technology, but one can. For example, “Drowned” [from Quadrophenia] was written purely to test my first one-inch 8-track machine. It is a fantastic song, but I just knocked something out so that I could play. Music is something you play at. It’s play—like golf, sailing, model trains, engine restoration, etc. It’s quite a man thing, I think.
Along with maybe Lou Reed, you were one of the first artists to demonstrate that rock and roll could accommodate big themes, or themes normally associated with great literature. Do you agree?
Ah. I love Lou Reed, but I’m not sure I ever did what he did. I think Lou deals with earthly themes. Lou is like an Elmore Leonard crossed with Charles Bukowski—he’s actually better than both of them in my opinion. His story is often a neighborhood moment. He captures a specific, a color, the nature of a feeling. Lou is actually perfect pop. Just perfect sometimes.
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Townshend and Reed finally performed together, in 2007. Here’s “White Light/White Heat” from NYC’s Joe’s Pub…
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