Famous Like Me > Composer > T > Pete Townshend
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Profile of Pete Townshend
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|Date of Birth:
||19th May 1945
|Place of Birth:
||London, England, UK
Peter Dennis Blandford Townshend (born May 19, 1945 in Ealing, London) is an influential rock guitarist and songwriter best known for his work with The Who.
Born into a musical family (his father Cliff was a professional saxophonist and his mother Betty a singer), Townshend exhibited a fascination with music at an early age. He had early exposure to American rock and roll (his mother recounts that he repeatedly saw the 1956 film Rock Around the Clock) and obtained his first guitar from his grandmother at age 12, which he described as a "Cheap Spanish thing."
In 1961 Townshend enrolled at Ealing Art College, and, a year later, Townshend and his art school friend John Entwistle founded their first band, The Confederates, a Dixieland duet featuring Townshend on banjo and Entwistle on horn. From this beginning they moved on to The Detours, a skiffle band fronted by then sheet-metal welder Roger Daltrey, which, under Townshend's leadership, would metamorphose (after a brief period as The High Numbers) into the Who, whose dynamic, highly-amplified style of rock music would be promoted under the moniker "Maximum R&B."
Townshend's biggest guitar influences include Link Wray, John Lee Hooker, and Hank Marvin of The Shadows.
The early singles Townshend wrote for The Who, including "I Can't Explain," "Substitute," and "My Generation" matched an ironic and psychologically-astute lyrical sense with crashing, sometimes crude music, a combination which would become the hallmark of the band. During the band's early days, Townshend became known for his eccentric stage style, often interrupting concerts with lengthy introductions of songs, swinging his right arm against the guitar strings windmill-style, and sometimes smashing his guitar on stage. Although the first incident of guitar-smashing was thought to be an accident, the onstage destruction of instruments became a regular part of The Who's performances. Townshend, always a voluble interview subject, would later relate these antics to Austrian painter Gustav Metzger's theories on auto-destruction, to which he had been exposed at art school.
The Who would go on to become one of rock music's most acclaimed and enduring bands. They are regarded by many rock critics as the best live band of the late 60s - early 70s, the result of a unique combination of high volume, showmanship, a wide variety of rock beats, and a high-energy sound that alternated between tight and free-form.
Townshend remained the primary songwriter for the group, writing over 100 songs which appeared on the band's 10 studio albums. Among his most well-known accomplishments are the creation of Tommy, for which the term "rock opera" was coined, pioneering the use of feedback, and the introduction of the synthesizer as a rock instrument. Townshend revisited album-length storytelling techniques throughout his career and remains the musician most associated with the rock opera form. Townshend also demonstrated prodigious talent on the guitar and was influential as a player, developing a unique style which combined aspects of rhythm and lead guitar and a characteristic mix of abandon and subtlety.
Townshend has been a follower of the Indian religious guru Meher Baba, who blended elements of Buddhist and Sufi mysticism with conventional Christianity. Baba's teachings were a major source of inspiration for many of his works, including Tommy, and the unfinished Who project Lifehouse. The Who song "Baba O'Riley," written for Lifehouse and eventually appearing on the album Who's Next, was named for Meher Baba and minimalist composer Terry Riley. Although Baba's teachings require abstinence from alcohol and drug use, Townshend has had several public battles with substance abuse.
In addition to his work with the Who, Townshend has been sporadically active as a solo recording artist. Between 1969 and 1971 Townshend recorded a trio of little-heard albums devoted to Meher Baba. His first major-label solo release, 1972's Who Came First was a moderate success and featured demos of Who songs as well as a showcase of his acoustic guitar talents. He collaborated with The Faces bassist and fellow Meher Baba devotee Ronnie Lane on a duet album (1977's Rough Mix). Townshend's solo breakthrough, following the death of Who drummer Keith Moon, was the 1980 release Empty Glass, which included a top-10 single, "Let My Love Open the Door." This release was followed in 1982 by All the Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes, which included the popular radio track Slit Skirts. Through the rest of the 1980s and early 1990s Townshend would again experiment with the rock opera and related formats, releasing several story-based albums including White City: A Novel (1985), The Iron Man: A Musical (1989), and Psychoderelict (1993).
Townshend also got the chance to play with his hero Hank Marvin for Paul McCartney's Rockestra sessions, along with other greats like David Gilmour, John Bonham and Ronnie Lane.
Townshend has also recorded several live albums, including one featuring a supergroup he assembled called Deep End, who performed just three concerts and a TV show session for The Tube, to raise money for a charity supporting drug addicts. In 1984 Townshend published an anthology of short stories entitled Horse's Neck. He has also reported that he is writing an autobiography. In 1993 he and Des MacAnuff wrote and directed the Broadway adaptation of the Who album Tommy, as well as a less successful stage musical based on his solo album The Iron Man, based upon the book by Ted Hughes. (MacAnuff and Townshend would later co-produce the animated film The Iron Giant, also based on the Hughes story.)
From the mid-1980s through the present, Townshend has participated in a series of reunion and farewell concerts with the surviving members of The Who, including a 2002 tour immediately after Entwistle's death.
Townshend suffers from partial deafness and tinnitus as a result of extensive exposure to loud music through headphones and in concert, including one notable 1970s concert where the volume level was claimed to have been measured at 120 dB 40 m from the stage. Part of his condition may be attributed to an infamous 1967 appearance on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, during which Moon set off a large amount of explosives inside his drum kit, while Townshend was standing in front of it.
Townshend met Karen Astley (daughter of composer Ted Astley) while in art school and married her in 1968. The couple separated in 1994 and divorced in 2000. They have three children, Emma (b. 1969, who is herself a singer/songwriter), Aminta (b. 1971), and Joseph (b. 1989). For many years Townshend refused to confirm or deny rumors that he was bisexual. In a 2002 interview with Rolling Stone magazine, however, he explained that although he engaged in some brief same-sex experimentation in the 1960s he is heterosexual. Townshend has been dating musician Rachel Fuller for several years. He currently lives in Richmond, England.
Child pornography controversy
In early January 2003, Townshend admitted publicly to using his credit card to obtain access to a commercial child pornography website. He claimed that he visited the site while researching child abuse and child pornography on the Internet. Townshend made the admission after his credit card transaction was discovered as part of "Operation Ore," a large anti-child pornography operation, and the story was leaked to the British media. Townshend also expressed his willingness to cooperate with a police investigation. London police searched his home and confiscated his computers. Police returned the computers several months later and did not contradict Townshend's claim that the computers contained 15,000 of his songs but no child porn. In May 2003, he was cautioned by the police (acceptance of which is technically an admission of guilt), who decided not to press charges after finding no evidence that he was in possession of child pornography. Townshend was also placed on the Sex Offenders Register for five years, requiring him to register with the police every year and if he moves. Failure to do so would carry a five-year jail sentence.
Townshend claimed he was researching the subject of child abuse and had contacted both an anti-abuse group and his attorney immediately after encountering the web site. His research claims were bolstered by a document he wrote and posted on his official website in January, 2002.
In "A Different Bomb," Townshend warns that portions of the Internet represent a terrible danger because "they provide deviant material to deviant people." In March, 2004, Townshend was featured on a BBC television documentary in which he described his experiences as a result of the child pornography charges. He apologized for the incident and stated that he was so upset by the accusations made against him that he considered suicide.
- Who Came First (1972)
- Empty Glass (1980)
- All the Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes (1982)
- Scoop (album) (1983)
- White City: A Novel (1985)
- Another Scoop (1986)
- The Iron Man: A Musical (1989)
- Psychoderelict (1993)
- A Benefit For Maryville Academy (1998)
- Live: The Fillmore (2000)
- Live: The Empire (2000)
- Live: Sadler's Wells (2001)
- Live: La Jolla (2001)
- Scoop 3 (2001)
Compilations and EPs
- A Friend Is A Friend (1990)
- English Boy (1994)
- Coolwalkingsmoothtalkingstraightsmokingfirestoking (1996)
- Avatar Chronicles (2000)
- Lifehouse Chronicles (2000)
- Lifehouse Elements (2000)
- Jai Baba (2001)
- O Parvardigar (2001)
- Scooped (2002)
- Happy Birthday (album) (With Ronnie Lane) (1969)
- I Am (With Ronnie Lane)(1970)
- With Love (With Ronnie Lane)(1971)
- Rough Mix (With Ronnie Lane) (1977)
- Deep End Live! (With David Gilmour et al) (1986)
- The Oceanic Concerts (with Raphael Rudd) (2001)
In 1969 Townshend assembled a band called Thunderclap Newman, produced their album Hollywood Dreams, and played bass on it under the alias Bijou Drains. The album contained the band's number one single "Something in the Air".
For albums Townshend composed as a member of The Who, see their entry. Not included are albums by other artists on which Townshend played as a session musician.
- Rolling Stone's List of the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time
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