Pete Townsend was born in Chiswick, London, on May 19th 1945. He got a present of an acoustic guitar from his grandmother when he was 12 years old, one by one he broke the strings until he was left the D B and G.
He wanted to find out how the guitar worked and set about learning chords and their structures, and in the following months made great headway, learning an amazing amount of chords and understanding of the instrument, he replaced the strings and so the career began.
Pete’s father played the clarinet and was an accomplished saxophone player and was a session musician and band leader, as Pete was not interested in playing sessions he reacted to this with teenage rebellion as he was more interested in songwriting and sound engenering rather than in music theory, he also learned the banjo and joined a jazz band and played New Orleans swing. The trumpet player in the band was John Entwistle who later became involved in bands and soon was the bass player with the Who.
The first electric guitar Pete ever had was a Harmony Guitar called a “Stratocruiser “ soon after he became a member of the Detours, the lead player called Roger Daltrey sold him an Epiphone Lead Guitar on easy payments.
The first name for the band to come up was High Numbers soon to become The Who, their one and only single as The High Numbers was called “Zoot Suit/ I’m a Face “, the single was not a success but is now a rare collectors item.
As a Mod band they accepted their image combining it with “ Op Art “ fashion, the end result was a very flashy image which the young mod crowds could identify with.
By the time the band had changed their name to The Who, the raw high energy music which reflected their American R&B influences was allowing their audiences to express their youthful frustration.
Pete’s rhythm guitar work,his visual stage presence and the groups overall sound set them apart from their contemporaries, for example Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck were very much lead players and because he could not replicate them, he had to find his own solution.
While strutting on stage at the Ealing Club in West London he accidently stuck the head of his Rickenbacker guitar in the false ceiling above and snapped the neck off, when the audience began to laugh he smashed the rest of the guitar to pieces and continued the show on a 12 string as if nothing had happened.
The next night the Club was packed out and nightly equipment smashing signalled the end of every Who stage and television appearance, meanwhile Pete had perfected the “power chord” and the use of controlled feedback and windmill arm motions, which provided a powerful foundation for the rest of the band.
The basic guitar, bass and drums format uncluttered by too much soloing allowed Keith Moon and John Entwistle more freedom than their counterparts in other more conventional rhythm sections and from staged violence and semi contrived personal expression came the early hits of “My Generation “ and “ Substitute “ contrasted with other bands and they became the most emulated band of the 60’s.
His powerful chord style means that he has to use heavier strings and change them quite often, “ If I’m lazy and do not change them, then always on the first or second number they will break, I’ve had strings break on the first chord”.
During the early days John Entwistle was using a Marshall 4×12 speaker cabinet for his bass guitar and Pete realised he was getting twice as much volume and got one for himself and followed it with another cab putting one on top of the other creating one of the first “stacks”, because the top cab was at ear level he could hear himself more clearly and control feedback better.
In 1978 Keith Moon died and so the band tour less now but Pete is still regarded as one of the key rock guitar players.