Pete Townshend – Driftin’ Blues
Pete Townshend was one of the most important songwriters of Sixties and Seventies rock, as well as a dynamic performer and underrated guitarist. As leader of the Who, he wrote enduring nuggets of pop and rock, including “I Can See for Miles” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” as well as the sprawling rock operas Tommy and Quadrophenia, and his performances with the band – which found him showing off his trademark windwill strum and smashing guitars – became iconic. As a solo artist Townshend went down different avenues, exploring personal issues he didn’t touch in Who songs and penning such rock radio staples as the Top Ten hit “Let My Love Open the Door.”
Peter Dennis Blandford Townshend was born in London on May 19, 1945, the son of professional musicians: saxophonist Cliff Townshend of English big-band jazz group the Squadronaires, and singer Betty Dennis. When the American movie Rock Around the Clock came out in 1956, Townshend became obsessed with rock & roll. With the support of his parents, he learned guitar and banjo, and formed a Dixieland jazz band, the Confederates, in which he played banjo alongside schoolmate John Entwistle on trumpet. The two eventually began playing rock & roll as the Scorpions, with Townshend on guitar and Entwistle on bass. By the early 1960s, Townshend was attending Ealing Art college, where he discovered performance art and the blues. He and Entwistle joined singer Roger Daltrey’s band the Detours, which, after adding Keith Moon on drums, eventually became the Who (see entry). The band began playing the pub circuit, with Townshend increasingly taking over spokesman and primary creative force.
Townshend’s earliest songs for the Who, like “My Generation” and “Substitute,” came to define London’s mid-1960s mod scene and would have a profound influence on late-Seventies punk. But by the later Sixties and early Seventies — particularly in the Who’s live performances — Townshend and the band had moved on to helping pioneer a meatier sound that would become known as heavy metal. By this time, Townshend also was toying with the idea of creating rock operas, and in 1967 he strung together a series of somewhat related songs mocking the radio business, and the Who released it as The Who Sell Out; in 1969 the band released Townshend’s first major rock opera Tommy. Meanwhile, Townshend had become a follower of the Indian guru Meher Baba and began exploring devotional music, which led to his first solo album, Who Came First (Number 69, 1973), a compilation of gentler, more folk-based songs that included his adaptation of a Baba prayer, “Parvardigar,” as well as one track from fellow Baba devotee Ronnie Lane of the Faces. (The album was later reissued with extra tracks including a demo version of the Who song “The Seeker.”) That same year, the Who released Townshend’s second major rock opera, Quadrophenia, a ambitious narrative about a mod who suffers from a split personality. He also dabbled in journalism in the early Seventies, penning articles for rock magazines including Rolling Stone and the U.K. Paper Melody Maker. (He later served in various roles in the publishing industry including acquisitions editor at Faber and Faber.) In 1975 director Ken Russell took Townshend’s Tommy to the screen, with Daltrey in the title role and Ann Margaret as his mother, and featuring performances by some of the era’s biggest rock stars including Elton John, Tina Turner and Eric Clapton.
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