By Ian Elliot
Whig-Standard Staff Writer
The Who is touring again but Kingston is not a concert stop on
the 2000 The Blues To The Bush Tour. After the last time they played here 32
years ago tonight it might be just as well.
It was on July 15, 1968, that the Memorial Centre was the site of a
hard-rocking, instrument-trashing performance before 1,300 screaming and
delirious fans that has gone down as one of the more storied and bizarre
concerts ever given by The Who.
It featured a ticket scandal, the band's instruments being seized at the
Canadian border, an emergency charter flight from Detroit and Pete Townshend
tracking down a local musician to buy a second-hand guitar to replace the
one he smashed the night before.
It was also just one night in Kingston's past as one of the centres of the
music universe in Canada. For example, B.B. King gave his first Canadian
performance at the Grand Theatre, Don McLean performed American Pie live for
the first time at Queen's in the early '70s and the city has been rocked by
everyone from Jimi Hendrix, as a clean-cut backup guitar player with Joey
Dee and the Starlighters, to Genesis.
But on that sweltering night in 1968, the concert almost didn't happen.
When the opening bands took the stage at 8 p.m., The Who was still in
Detroit, held up by Canada Customs.
Townshend's and singer Roger Daltrey's passports were stolen the day before
in Cleveland. Customs, which even 30 years ago hated to see travellers show
up with little more than underwear tags for identification, seized most of
the band's gear when The Who could not post a $20,000 bond for security.
So when the band and its small entourage flew into Norman Rogers Airport on
a charter that had been hastily arranged by the Kingston promoters, all they
had was a 1958 Fender Stratocaster belonging to Townshend and a Precision
bass belonging to John Entwistle. Before they hit the stage around midnight,
The Who had to scrounge up drums, amplifiers and even a strap for
Townshend's guitar from local bands.
No Long Line
Lending one's gear to The Who was not something bands lined up to do. When
Pete Townshend picked up a guitar in those days, it was the best thing that
could happen to an audience and the worst thing that could happen to a
His trademark ending to a show in the early years was to smash whatever
guitar happened to be in his hands, often on whatever amps happened to be
handy, while the late Keith Moon ripped apart his drum kit.
The Who's habits made the members of opening act Fifth Column, sharing the
bill with Little Caesar and the Consuls and Toronto band The Chateaux, a
little anxious. It was their gear The Who wanted to use.
"I can remember going up to Peter Townshend before the show and saying that
amps were all we owned and could they not wreck them because we couldn't
afford to replace them," said Bill Joslin, a guitarist for Fifth Column who
helped fit Townshend's guitar with a strap before the show.
"I'll never forget what he said. He had one guitar that he brought with him
and he said, "The only thing that's going tonight is this guitar."
Sure enough, as soon as the band played the last chords of My Generation,
Townshend raised the perfectly good guitar over his head and smashed it to
bits on the stage.
Gary Parr, the CKLC deejay who emceed the show, had his hands on the ruined
guitar almost before it stopped bouncing.
"I went out grabbed the guitar that Townshend had just pulverized," he said
from his Ottawa home.
"I thought it would make a great giveaway for the station, so I picked it up
and had everyone sign it."
The smashed bits of Pete Townshend's Kingston guitar are now the property of
Mike Moore, who grew up here and lives in Calgary. A fan of The Who and a
player of Fender Strats, he tracked down the guitar several years ago and
"It was not quite the condition it left the factory in," said Moore, who
remembers it being passed around at high school parties. He had always
wondered how the guitar would sound if a new neck was put on it.
"The neck was broken right off and it was about six inches long. It has been
restored, but I always tell my friends I could put it back in the condition
that it was in about five seconds."
Moore reports the guitar, with authentic Fender hardware installed, sound
surprisingly good, given what it has been through.
The drums were the property of Chris McCann, who now lives in Montreal where
he is one of the most sought-after jazz drummers in Canada.
McCann was a serious drummer then and had a double rock set that was far
better than what most local bands play with.
They were almost exactly what Moon used himself and the drummer, dreading
coming to a town he'd never heard of and having to play with a cheap and
nasty set of rented toms, danced around the room in glee with McCann when he
And promised in advance to pay McCann for anything he broke.
"Chris was playing a double set of drums, and at that time, only Keith Moon
and maybe Ginger Baker had a double set," recalled Doug McClement, a fellow
musician who was in the third row for the concert.
"I remember noticing that about three songs into the show, Keith Moon had
broken the bass drum, just by the force of his playing.
That shows you the strength that he had in that small frame. You could jump
on a bass drum and not break it, and after three songs, Keith Moon had put
the foot pedal right through the face."
"I don't think I've broken a bass drum in my life," agreed McCann, who was
19 at the time and recalls being awestruck at Moon's playing. The
professional musician remembers Moon doing moves that McCann can't do today,
like bouncing a stick off a floor tom three metres into the air and catching
it in perfect time to keep the beat."
Turn up the volume
At that time, no one went to Who concerts to admire the subtlety of their
playing. McClement, who is now one of the foremost live recording engineers
in Canada, remembers when the band took the stage they did something that
none of the opening acts ever dared to.
"The first thing they did was open the amplifiers right up," he said.
"That sounds strange to say now because everybody plays loud, but back then
nobody turned their amps up to 10. The Who did."
Concertgoers still remember the madness of that loud concert in the cramped
and sweaty arena. Daltrey had his microphone snatched right off its cord by
a fan as he swung it wildly around, Moon at one point was beating a roadie
with a drumstick when the young man was slow in passing him a replacement
stick for one he fired into the crowd and Townshend accidentally kicked a
fan in the face as he whirled about.
"Off-stage, Townshend was a quiet, very intelligent guy," recalled Joslin,
who now works in Queen"s information technology department.
"But as soon as he got on stage, he was a wild man."
Said McClement, "It was a really exciting show. Here's The Who in a small
town at the end of a long day, and most bands probably wouldn't have felt
like playing at all, but they put on this amazing, incredible show."
After the show, over burgers and soft drinks, Townshend told McCann that he
hated playing large halls and preferred shows the size of the one in
The concert was also the focus of police interest as some young entrepreneur
printed hundreds of fake tickets to the show.
And one other bit of business remained before Townshend could leave town. He
didn't have a guitar to play, and the morning after the show he was knocking
on doors, tracking down a local guitarist who had once bought an old Strat
Townshend told Joslin his record company gave him a $250 allowance to buy
guitars before every show, which at the time was enough to buy a
professional-quality used instrument. That night, Joslin's old guitar met
its smashing end on a stage in Ottawa and The Who disappeared into the
night, on their way to another show.
i was thinking about a story i remember from when i was in
high school and a google search brought up your site.
i went to high school in smiths falls ontario in the early
1990s. i remember my english teacher, Mr. Schurman telling me a story about the
time when he was a teen living in kingston ontario. He was at his buddy's
house, hanging out in the basement when his mom came to the top of the stairs.
she yelled down to her son, "there's a pete townshend here to see you". the
story goes that pete townshend had a show that night and needed a guitar. he
went to the local music store to get a strat and was told that they had sold
their last one. the store gave name of the purchaser to PT. PT tracked him
down and went to his house and offered to buy the guitar.
i always thought it was a bit of a tale, but the dates add
up and the above linked article written for the local newspaper suggesting that
they needed gear adds some credence to the story. i always pictured eastern
ontario teenagers going up the stairs from the basement to see Pete Townshend
all dolled up in the latest savoy fashions, frills, long hair, tailored suit,
just thought i would share.
really enjoyed your site.
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