The Who
1961
United Kingdom
Music group
The Who began as The Detours, a band started by guitarist Roger Daltrey (born March 1st, 1944) in London in the summer of 1961. In early 1962 Roger recruited John Entwistle (born October 9th, 1944), a bass guitarist who had been playing in bands based at their mutual school of Acton County Grammar. John then suggested as an additional guitarist--his school and band friend Pete Townshend (born May 19th, 1945). The five-piece band also had Doug Sandom as drummer and Colin Dawson as singer.

Colin soon left The Detours and Roger took over as singer. The group would remain as a three-piece band and singer through the late 1970's. The Detours started off performing covers of pop tunes, but quickly progressed to loud, hard-edged covers of American rhythm-and-blues.

In early 1964, The Detours discovered a rival group also named The Detours, and decided to change their name. Pete's art school friend Richard Barnes suggested The Who and it was officially adopted. Shortly after this Doug Sandom was encouraged to leave the band and that April his seat was taken over by young maniacal drummer Keith Moon (born August 23rd, 1947). Moon, dressed all in ginger-colored clothing with hair dyed to match, had insisted on performing with The Who at a gig. He smashed their replacement drummer's foot pedal and was accepted into the band.

The Who found another way to attract fans when Pete accidentally cracked the neck of his guitar on a low ceiling during a show. The next time they played there, fans called for Pete to smash his guitar again. He did and Keith followed it up by smashing his drum kit. Also around this time, Pete developed his windmilling style of guitar playing, adapting it from a stage move of Keith Richards.

In May 1964, The Who were taken over by Pete Meaden. Meaden was big in a new British youth movement called the Mods, young men who dressed in stylish clothes and wore their hair short. Meaden renamed The Who The High Numbers. Numbers were what Mods called each other and the High implied both rank and use of "leapers," the speed tablets that Mods took to allow them to party all weekend. Meaden wrote The High Numbers' only single "I'm the Face" backed with "Zoot Suit." Both songs were old R&B songs with new lyrics about Mods. Despite his best efforts, the single failed, but the band became the Mods' favorite group.

It was at this point that two men, Kit Lambert (son of composer Christopher Lambert) and Chris Stamp (brother of actor Terence Stamp), were looking for a band about whom they could make a film. They lighted on The High Numbers in July 1964 and became the band's new managers. After a failed audition for EMI Records, the band's name reverted to The Who.

The Who made their first big splash in London after taking over the Tuesday night spot at the Marquee Club in November 1964. They were advertised all over London with black handbills designed by Richard Barnes featuring a windmilling Pete and the legend "Maximum R&B."

Shortly after this Kit and Chris pushed Pete to begin writing songs for the group, specifically one to attract The Kinks' producer Shel Talmy. Pete adapted a song he had already written called "I Can't Explain" to The Kinks' style and won over Talmy. The Who signed a contract making Talmy their producer for the next five years. He in turn, signed them to Decca Records in the U.S.

Pete's earliest songs were written to match Rogers macho stage posture. Roger was the leader of the group at the time, a position he controlled with his fists. Petes increasing abilities as a songwriter threatened that position, especially after the hit single "My Generation." It was a defining ode to the Mod outlook on life, with the singer stuttering from amphetamine-overdose crying out "I hope I die before I get old." With the single a hit in the charts in December 1965, Pete, John and Keith forced Roger out of the band because of his violent ways. Roger promised to be a "peaceful perce" from then on, and was accepted back.

At the same time, The Who released their first album, also called "My Generation." However, distressed by Decca's lack of marketing of The Who's records in the U.S. and wishing to sign with Atlantic records, Kit and Chris broke the band's contract with Talmy and signed the band with Atlantic in the U.S. and Reaction in the U.K. Talmy struck back with countersuits, almost halting the release of the band's next single "Substitute." It was eventually settled with The Who paying record royalties for the next five years to Talmy and reverting to Decca in the U.S. This settlement, along with the band's extremely expensive act of equipment-smashing, soon left The Who in severe debt.

Kit continued to push Pete as a songwriter. While playing one of his home demos to Kit, Pete joked that he was writing a "rock opera." Kit thought it was a wonderful idea, and sent Pete off to write one. His first attempt was called "Quads." Set in the future, it concerned parents who request four girls. When one turns out to be a boy, they insist on raising him as a girl. However, The Who's need for a new single caused this first rock opera to be compressed into one short song called "I'm a Boy."

Meanwhile, as a means of making money, Kit had gotten an advance on The Who's next album with the proviso that each member of the band write two songs for it. Roger only managed one and Keith one and an instrumental. John, however, wrote two peculiar ditties, one about a "Whiskey Man" and the other about "Boris The Spider." It was the beginning of John as an alternate songwriter for the band, a songwriter with a dark sense of humor.

The new album came up short for material, so Pete wrote a mini-opera to close the album. "A Quick One While He's Away" is the story of a woman who is seduced by Ivor the Engine Driver after her "man" has been gone for "nigh on a year." The album was named "A Quick One" both for the mini-opera and the slight sexual innuendo (for that reason it was renamed "Happy Jack," after the single, in the U.S.).
With the lawsuit with Decca and Talmy finally settled, The Who were free to tour the U.S. They came over first for a series of quick shows at D.J. Murray The K's Easter concerts in New York. Their equipment-smashing, which they had abandoned in England, was revived and Americans were awed. It was the beginning of a rabid cult following in the U.S.

They returned to the U.S. that summer to play at the Monterey Pop Festival in California which brought The Who to the attention of the San Francisco hippies and the rock music critics that would soon form Rolling Stone Magazine. Pete, with his constant pontificating, could always be relied upon for copy, and he helped sell the band in the U.S. as a "thinking man's" band.

That summer they toured as an opening act for Herman's Hermits. It was on this tour that Keith's reputation as a hellraiser would be cemented at his 21st birthday party (when he was actually 20) held at an after-show party in a Holiday Inn in Flint, Michigan. All that actually happened was that birthday cake got mashed into the floor, a fire extinguisher was sprayed on cars, ruining their paint jobs, and Keith broke out a tooth when he slipped in the cake while running from the police. With time and many embellishments by Keith, this turned into an orgy of destruction climaxing with a Cadillac at the bottom of the hotel swimming pool. In any event, The Who were banned for life from Holiday Inns and this along with their occasional smashing up of hotel rooms became part of the band's and Keith's legend.

While their fortunes increased in the U.S., their career began to nose-dive in the U.K. Their next single "I Can See For Miles," while their biggest single hit in the U.S., barely got into the Top Ten in Britain. Subsequent singles such as "Dogs" and "Magic Bus" did even less well. The album they released in December 1967, "The Who Sell Out," did not sell as well as their previous ones. It was a concept album designed to sound like a broadcast from the now-outlawed Radio London, an offshore pirate station, and would later be considered one of their best.

During this downturn, Pete quit using drugs and turned to the teachings of Indian mystic Meher Baba. Pete would become Baba's most-famous disciple and his following work would reflect what he learned from Baba's teachings. One such idea was that those who can perceive earthly things are unable to perceive the world of God. From this Pete devised a story of a boy who becomes deaf, dumb and blind and removed from such earthly perceptions can then see God. When cured he becomes a messiah figure.

The story eventually become known the world over as "Tommy." The Who worked on it from the summer of 1968 through to the following spring. It was a last ditch effort to save the band and give them a hit and material for their stage show. It would succeed beyond anyone's dream.

When "Tommy" was released it was only a moderate hit. When The Who played it on stage, however, it became the highlight of their show. "Tommy's" big break occurred when The Who performed it at the Woodstock Music Festival in August 1969. The climax of the opera, "See Me, Feel Me," was played just as the sun rose over the festival. Captured on film and shown in the movie "Woodstock," "Tommy" and The Who became international sensations. Kit also found novel ways to promote the work, having The Who perform "Tommy" in opera houses in Europe and at the Met in New York.

"Tommy" went on to have a life of its own spawning ballets and musicals. The band became so connected with the work that many thought the band was called "Tommy." Finding a follow up would prove a daunting task. In the meantime, Pete continued to make demos and work with a new musical instrument, an ARP synthesizer. To buy time before the next project, The Who recorded a live album at Leeds University. "Live At Leeds" became The Who second worldwide hit.

By late 1970 Pete had the idea for the next project. Kit had made a film deal with Universal Studios for a Who film which he hoped would be "Tommy" with him directing. Pete instead came up with his own idea called "Lifehouse." It would be a science-fiction story about virtual reality and a boy who rediscovers rock music. The hero would hold an endless concert and at the end find the Lost Chord which would take them all to nirvana.

Pete had The Who perform at open door concerts at the Young Vic Theatre in London. People were supposed to wander in and out of the concert while they and the band were filmed. Audience members would become part of the film, their life stories changed into computer sequences to be played on the synthesizer. What resulted was disappointing. The audience just called out for Who favorites and the rest of the band grew quickly bored.

Pete's project was put on hold and The Who went into the studio to record the songs Pete had written for "Lifehouse." The two-record length work was whittled down to one album and the result was released as "Who's Next." It became another international hit and is considered by many as The Who's best album. "Baba O'Riley" and "Behind Blue Eyes" were radio staples and "Won't Get Fooled Again" became the band's closing song for the rest of their career.

With growing fame, the members of The Who began to chafe under the burden of being the voice for Pete's songs. John was the first to launch a solo career with the album "Smash Your Head Against The Wall" released shortly before "Who's Next." He would continue to record solo albums through the early 1970's, giving vent to his dark humorous songs. Roger also began a solo career after building a studio in his barn. His album "Daltrey" yielded a Top Ten British single "Giving It All Away" and gave him a power in the band he hadn't had since he'd had to beg for his job at the end of 1965.

Roger used his new power to launch an investigation into managers Kit Lambert's and Chris Stamp's financial practices. He discovered they had been misusing The Who's funds for years and worked to get rid of them. Pete, who looked on Kit as an artistic mentor, took Kit's side leading to a rift in the band.

Pete, meanwhile, began work on the next Who rock opera. It was to be a history of The Who, but after a meeting with Irish Jack, who had followed the band since their Detours days, Pete made it into the story of a Who fan. It concerned Jimmy, a mod fan of The High Numbers in 1964. He works a dirty job to make money to buy a GS motorscooter, hip mod clothes and enough leapers to get him through the weekend. The heavy doses of speed cause his personality to split four ways, each personality represented by a member of The Who. His parents discover his pills and kick him out of the house. He travels to Brighton to relive Mod's glory days but finds the head Mod reduced to a lowly bellboy. In despair he takes a boat out to a rock in the sea in a violent storm and has an epiphany ("Love, Reign O'er Me").

"Quadrophenia" developed problems shortly after recording. It was to have been mixed for the new four-channel quadrophonic system, but the technology was too inadequate. Once mixed down to stereo, the rich sound tended to bury the vocals, to Roger's consternation. On stage The Who tried to recreate the sound by playing along to backing tapes. The tapes, however, refused to cooperate and often led to chaos. In addition to all this, Keith's wife left him shortly before the tour taking their daughter with her. Keith drowned his sorrows in booze and whatever else he could get his hands on. At the San Francisco show that opened the U.S. tour, Keith passed out in the middle of the show and was replaced by Scott Halpin, a member of the audience.

Pete got no rest on his return to London. Production began immediately on the film of his rock opera "Tommy." Control of the film had been taken away from manager Kit Lambert and given to madman British filmmaker Ken Russell. Russell turned the work into a glittering comic book with guests stars like Elton John, Eric Clpaton, Tina Turner, Ann-Margaret and Jack Nicholson. The result was very gaudy and although it pleased few Who fans, it was a hit with the public. Two after-effects were that, playing the lead role, Roger became a star apart from the band which gave him much more leverage than he had had since 1965, and Pete worked himself into such a state that he had a nervous breakdown and began drinking even more heavily than usual.

It all came to a head at the Madison Square Garden concerts held in June 1974. When the audience called for Pete to "jump, jump" he realized he no longer wanted to. The passion of performing with The Who was beginning to fade for him. This led to the next Who album, "The Who By Numbers." A dark, bitter look at Townshend's soul, the album was heralded by a vicious shouting match between Pete and Roger carried out in the British music press.

The tours that followed in 1975 and 1976 seemed much more successful than the album. But there was a growing emphasis on playing the band's oldies and short shrift given to the new. After a particularly loud concert on this tour, Pete noticed he had a ringing in his ears that wouldn't stop. A trip to the doctor revealed that he tinnitus and would soon go deaf if he didn't cease touring.

After 1976, The Who did stop touring. All that was left was the final break between The Who and their old managers. In early 1977 Pete signed the final papers dissolving The Who's ties to Lambert and Stamp. He left the meeting only to run into two members of the Sex Pistols, the new punk sensation that seemed to be the new broom that would finally sweep The Who away. It ended with Pete drunk in a doorway told to move on by a policeman.

This became the song "Who Are You" the title track of the next Who album. After a two-year break from the recording studio, activity for the band began to increase. In addition to a new album, The Who were having a film made of their history that would eventually be released as "The Kids Are Alright." The Who even bought Shepperton Studios to film it in. However, when Keith returned from America after the hiatus, he was in sorry shape. He had gained a lot of weight, had become a severe alcoholic, and looked a decade older than his true age of 30.

The Who completed the album and the film in 1978 with a concert held at Shepperton for Who fans on May 25th, 1978. Three months later the album was released to massive sales. Twenty days after that, on September 7th, Keith Moon died of an accidental overdose of pills he had been prescribed to control his alcoholism.

Many thought The Who should have called it quits after Keith Moon's death, but The Who had too many projects going to pull the plug. In addition to "The Kids Are Alright" documentary there was a new film based on "Quadrophenia" that was about to be released. By January 1979, The Who began looking for a replacement drummer. They found him in Kenney Jones (born September 16th, 1948), the ex-drummer of the Small Faces and a friend of Pete's and John's. His style was quite different from Keith's and led to his rejection by many Who fans. John "Rabbit' Bundrick was added as a keyboardist and the band was further augmented with a brass section.

This new Who began touring again that summer and autumn to gigantic crowds in the U.S. But a tragedy struck. At the Cincinnati concert in December 1979, eleven fans were trampled to death in the rush for seats. The Who nearly ended at that point. It was decided to keep on touring, but doubts of its appropriateness remained.

1980 began with two lauded solo projects. Pete released his first intentional solo album "Empty Glass." ("Who Came First" [1972] was a collection of demos and "Rough Mix" [1977] had been shared with Ronnie Lane). It was hailed as the equal of his work with The Who and yielded the hit single "Let My Love Open The Door." At the same time Roger released "McVicar," a excellent, gritty film in which he played a real-life bank robber.

Later that year, however, it was apparent that something was wrong with Pete. He was drunk most of the time and playing endless solos or spouting tirades from the stage. His drinking eventually led to cocaine, then heroin. He began partying all night in London with members of the new "new wave" groups who treated him like a god.

He got crueler treatment from the critics after the release of The Who's next album "Face Dances" Despite the hit single "You Better, You Bet" it was judged to be inferior to the band's previous standards and to some sounded as if it were made up of leftover tracks from Pete's "Empty Glass" album.

Roger began to realize that Pete was destroying himself and offered to stop touring if it would save Pete's life. Pete almost lost his life after an overdose of heroin at the Club For Heroes in London and was rescued at the hospital at the last minute. His parents put pressure on him to seek help and Pete flew to California to take a cure and get off the drugs and alcohol.

On his return he was still shaky and feeling little confidence in his ability to write new material for The Who, asked them to suggest a topic. They agreed that the new album should reflect their concerns over the growing tensions of the Cold War. The result was the album "It's Hard" which also explored the changing role of men in the wake of feminism. Critics and mnay Who fans, however, disparaged it as much as "Face Dances."

The tour of the U.S. and Canada which began in September 1982 was billed in advance as The Who's farewell tour. The final show was broadcast closed-circuit around the world from Toronto December 12th, 1982. After the tour The Who were supposed to record one final album to fulfill their contract. Pete began work on an album called "Siege," but quickly abandoned it. He met with the other band members and said he felt he could no longer write songs for them. After obtaining an early settlement of their record contract, Pete announced the end of The Who at a press conference December 16th, 1983.

With the rest of The Who left to find their own way, Pete startled everyone by getting a job at the publishing house Faber & Faber. The job didn't seem to take too much time, however, from his new interest of preaching against heroin use, a campaign he was to continue throughout the 1980's. He also found time to write a book of short stories called "Horses' Neck" and make a short film about life in the White City housing projects. This film featured a new band Townshend formed featuring brass, keyboards and backup singers called Defor the film "White City," a live album and video "Deep End Live!" was also released.

It wasn't long before The Who made a return appearance. On July 13th, 1985, they were reunited to perform at the charity concert Live Aid which had been put together by Bob Geldof to aid starving Ethiopia. The Who were to have performed a new song by Pete, "After The Fire," but lack of rehearsals led them to play only some old favorites. "After The Fire" subsequently became a solo hit for Roger.

Roger and John struck off on their own during the late 1980's. In addition to extensive acting work in films and television, Roger launched a solo tour in 1985. John did the same in 1987. They played much smaller venues than the stadia of old, but loyal Who fans continued to support them.

In February 1988 The Who reunited again to receive the BPI Life Achievement Award. They played a short set after the awards at Royal Albert Hall. Pete was then writing a new rock opera based on the children's book "The Iron Man" written by Ted Hughes. In addition to other stars, Pete called in Roger and John for two tracks which were billed on the album as The Who. This reuniting of the band led to talk of a reunion tour, and after much cajoling of Pete, a new tour came about in the summer of 1989.

It was billed as The Who's 25th anniversary tour, but it was a radically different group on stage than had been there in 1964. Pete stuck mostly to acoustic with another guitarist playing lead. Most of the cast of the group Deep End were on stage including a new drummer and a percussionist. The shows featured the first complete performance of "Tommy" by The Who since 1970 and climaxed in Los Angeles with an all-star concert featuring Elton John, Phil Collins, Billy Idol and others.

After this, The Who again disappeared. But "Tommy" did not. Pete rewrote it along with American theatrical director Des McAnuff into a stage musical which incorporated many elements of Townshend's own life story. After previews at the La Jolla Playhouse in California, "The Who's Tommy" opened on Broadway April 23rd, 1993. Who fans had a mixed response but the New York and London theater critics loved it and it won Pete both a Tony and a Laurence Olivier Award.

Pete carried the multi-media quality of "The Who's Tommy" into his next work which also featured autobiographical elements. "Psychoderelict" tells of a reclusive rock star who is tricked out of retirement by a sleazy manager and a conniving journalist. Despite a solo tour of the U.S., the new work failed to get much attention from the record-buying public.

At the beginning of 1994 Roger took a break from his film acting to stage a grand 50th birthday concert at Carnegie Hall. The music, played by a rock band and orchestra, paid tribute to Townshend's work. Daltrey not only got many guests to sing Pete's songs, but got John and Pete to perform onstage, although not at the same time. Following this Roger and John toured the U.S. playing Who songs with Pete's brother Simon on guitar and Ringo Starr's son Zac Starkey on drums.

That same summer saw the release of a four-CD box set of The Who's music and the beginning of an ambitious effort to remaster and often remix The Who's back catalog by their label MCA. "Live at Leeds" was first with an additional eight tracks and many of the CD's that followed had bonus tracks along with illustrations and liner notes.

Despite a lack of activity, Who fandom continued. In September 1995 a sold-out Who convention was held in London attended by Roger and John and many others connected with Who history. 1996 started out well with the premiere of John's new solo band The John Entwistle Band which toured the U.S. playing small venues. A new CD from the group, "The Rock," was sold at the shows and afterwards John and the band came out to meet the fans.

The big surprise of 1996 was still to come. In April it was announced that The Who were again reforming to perform "Quadrophenia" at a benefit concert at Hyde Park. The show held June 26th combined Pete's multimedia ideas and some of the Deep End/1989 tour backup with Roger's 1994 band. It was supposed to be just the one show, but three weeks later they took the show to New York's Madison Square Garden and in October began a North America tour. They were generally not billed as The Who, using their individual names, but everyone referred to them as The Who anyway.

The tour continued thru the spring of 1997 thru Europe, followed by another 6 week tour of the United States.

Where their path leads from here, Who knows...
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