Pete Townshend Interview

"Townshend Talking"

From the April 1980 Issue of Sound International

Steve Rosen: I’d like to start by going as far back as you’d like to go.

Pete Townshend: I never had any lessons as such. My mother and father were both in the music business. My father had a dance band called the Squadronaires that used to be an Air Force Band like The Glenn Miller Band. And I used to travel with them a lot before I went to school and in fact I travelled with the band until I was about seven and so I got an early taste of the road.
There wasn’t much music at home except for my dad practising his clarinet in the back room. We didn’t have a very good record player and we had a shitty radio and there was no piano in the house. And the only music I enjoyed until I was 11 was mouth organ. My grandmother bought me a guitar when I was 12 and it was just a really, really cheap guitar. I broke a lot of strings on it and it was finally when I got to just the D, the G and the B strings left, it was then that I broke through and learned a few chords. And essentially most of the shapes are centered around those three strings, so I played for about six months on just those three strings and learned a lot of chords and then finally when I managed to get enough pocket money to buy the rest of the strings I could suddenly play. It was really weird. I felt that it all fitted into place.
That same year I got a ukulele banjo which I quite enjoyed for a while. No, it was a mandolin banjo and then I got a small tenor banjo and I started to play in a trad group and that was when I first worked with John Entwistle. He played trumpet and I played banjo in this small Dixieland band. I played banjo for about two years and then I found a reasonably good Czechoslovakian guitar but I can’t remember the name. That was acoustic. I knocked about on that for a bit and the first actual guitar I owned was a Harmony single pickup Stratocruiser which I sprayed red. And the next decent guitar I had I bought from Roger (Daltrey) which was an Epiphone solid. He let me buy that from him on easy payments. Roger used to be a lead guitar player in a band and so he could afford a good guitar. This brings us up until about ’62 and by that time I was playing pretty good.

Were you listening to more guitarists on record?
PT: I still didn’t have a record player. I didn’t get a record player until my first year of art college and then I became conscious of blues and of jazz. I fell deeply in love with this girl who went out with a double bass player from an outfit called Johnny Scott’s which was a jazz group and she used to talk all the time about jazz. And in order to keep up with her I studied a lot of jazz and I started to listen to it and I got to like a lot of it. And then I met this guy who was in college there at the photography school, he was from Alabama. He had a fantastic collection of old blues records and a nice stash of grass and I got my introduction to the blues and to a lot of other stuff too like Mose Allison, Ray Charles, Jimmy Smith, Jimmy Reed and Hooker. A lot of great music in one year.
And The Who up to that point had only been playing other people’s music. Before The Beatles had emerged - and of course The Beatles had quite strong roots in R&B - I had already started to develop a knowledge of what lay behind rock music. I never got much into roots rock apart from Bill Haley; I never liked Elvis very much or his band. I thought his band was pretty shitty. I used to think The Jordanaires were awful. And I didn’t like Scotty Moore. I did like Jimmy Burton who played with Rick Nelson; he was a big influence. But the guy who really influenced the sound I ended up with was John Lee Hooker. He really impressed me although I was listening to a lot of jazz and playing jazz at the time. I preferred him.

The band was called The Detours when Roger was on lead guitar?
PT: Yeah. That turned into The Who and then we used the name The High Numbers for about six months. We chose the name The Who a little bit prematurely, it was too weird for a long time. So we used The High Numbers for a bit and then the time came when we were able to use The Who again.

You recorded one single as The High Numbers?
PT: I’m The Face it was called. In fact there’s a track called Zoot Suit which is on the Quadrophenia album from the film and that included quite a jazzy little guitar solo.

Was the single with The High Numbers your first studio experience?
PT: No, we had done a thing with Barry Gray, who is an electronic film music composer, and he used to do music for a lot of space programmes for kids where they used to use models. He did a lot of popular film music and he had his own studio and we did a demo there once. It was the first song I ever wrote, called It Was You.

Were you practising guitar during this period?
PT: I didn’t practise very hard. Because my father was a musician and used to spend hours and hours every day playing stuff maybe I just rebelled against it. But to this day my father is one of the fastest and most efficient readers; he can play things on the clarinet when he’s blind drunk that symphony orchestra performers can’t play. I probably would have had a bit more passion for the technicalities of music if there had been a piano in the house, because I don’t think music falls into place properly until you’ve conquered the keyboard. Until you’ve actually discovered a guitar player who reads and understands harmony and has managed to achieve that through guitar. Then you’ve found something very rare. If you go to a music college, what do they start by doing? They start by teaching you the piano. It doesn’t matter if you’re learning the violin, the harp or anything, you start with the piano. And so I didn’t start to actually understand the fundamentals of music until I started playing the piano and I didn’t start playing the piano until I was 22.

Do you remember the first time you smashed a guitar?
PT: First I got into feedback. Jim Marshall started manufacturing amplifiers and somebody in his store came up with the idea of building a 4 x 12 cabinet for bass. And John Entwistle bought one and I looked at it and suddenly John Entwistle doubled in volume. And so I bought one and then later on I bought another one and I stacked it on top of the other one. I was using a Rickenbacker at the time and because the pickup was right in line with the speakers I was instantly troubled by feedback. But I really used to like to hear the sound in my ears. I didn’t like it coming out down there (below ear level) because I felt it was coming in my ear I could get it louder for me but it wasn’t necessarily going to be louder out front. And I started to get quite interested in feedback, but I was very frustrated at first. There were a lot of brilliant young players around - Beck was around. I think Roger first saw him when he was in a band called The Triads or The Tridents or something and he came back and said there was this incredible young guitar player. And Clapton was around and various other people who could really play and I was very frustrated because I couldn’t do all that flash stuff. So I just started getting into feedback and expressed myself physically. And it just led to when, one day, I was banging my guitar around making noises and I banged it on this ceiling in this club and the neck broke off, because Rickenbackers are made out of cardboard. And everybody started to laugh and they went, ‘Hah, that’ll teach you to be flash.’ So I thought what I was going to do, and I had no other recourse but to make it look like I had meant to do it. So I smashed this guitar and jumped all over the bits and then picked up the 12-tring and carried on as though nothing had happened. And the next day the place was packed. It turned into another form of expression for me: it was a gimmick of course. It is a very physical thing to be a stand up guitar player - and the way you feel and the way you move and the way you move your body is a big part of it; the fact that to sometimes pull a string up by the right amount you have to give it some momentum, so that you can’t play sitting down in the way you can play standing up. And so for me all that macho stuff became and expression.
I’ve never had any respect really for the guitar. I’ve respected guitar players of course and I understand their need for a good instrument but for years and years I didn’t care what the guitar was like.

Do you still feel that way?
PT: A little less now. I’ve got a couple of really nice instruments and I enjoy playing them. I would never take them anywhere near a stage.

To your knowledge were you the first to use controlled feedback?
PT: To tell the truth, Dave Davies, Jeff (Beck) and me have got a tacit agreement that we will all squabble ‘til the day we die that we invented it. I think possibly the truth is that it was happening in a lot of places at once. As the level went up, as people started to use bigger amps, and we were all still using semi-acoustic instruments, it started to happen quite naturally. I think the development of it was the word was around the street and then Lennon used it at the beginning of that record I Feel Fine and then it became quite common and a lot of people started to use it.

How did you happen to choose a Rickenbacker?
PT: I liked the look of it, I think because The Beatles were using them. They picked theirs up in Germany, they were real German ones. I stayed with Rickenbackers for a long time and then I started to use Fenders. I never liked Gibsons at all - I still don’t very much (laughs). Then I started to get interested in a wide variety of guitars. I just tried anything that was around. I tried a Grimshaw for a while which is an English guitar. I tried a semi-acoustic Gibson ES335, I flitted around a lot and then Hendrix came along and I started to use Strats again. But that didn’t last long because the sound of them wasn’t quite right for what I wanted. And then Henry at Manny’s (music store in New York) introduced me to a guitar which had just come out. I don’t know what you call them; it was a thin crimson-coloured guitar…

The SG?
PT: Right. They just brought out a new model and this was in 1968 and it had a slightly larger wound pickup and it really suited my amplifiers. I started to use those and they were a bit weak, which was the only problem; I could actually break them with my bare hands. But that’s when I started to develop that technique because you didn’t need a tremolo arm. You could do it by just shaking the guitar. I got into this thing also of temper tuning the guitar with the second string flat, and pulling back slightly on the guitar all the time to bring it into pitch. So using that on some of the higher chords where you wanted that second string to voice a bit flat, you could relax the guitar and it would come out a bit flatter. No, sorry, I meant the G string. When you’re using a lighter G - I’ve never used light gauge strings. I’ve always used heavy strings - you can do that. The top string (high E) is an .012 downwards and I use two Bs instead of a B and a G string. I got that from Jimmy Burton, that’s what he used to use. I can’t stand light strings, you don’t have to struggle for it. Mickie Green, who is a guy who used to play with Johnny Kidd and The Pirates, was a great experimenter with the Jimmy Burton technique. He used to have this great lyrical string bending thing going on and I went up to him one day and said, ‘What kind of strings do you use?’ and he said, ‘What?’ And I said, ‘Do you have a plain third?’ And he said, ‘A plain what?’ He just had big hands; he used to bend the third, a wound third, right up and over the back of the neck. That was an affirmation to me that if you wanted to do it you fought for it. I hate that guitar sound where people sound like they can bend the string just by kind of thinking about it.

Were you using the Rickenbacker on the My Generation album?
PT: Yeah. I never used Marshall amps, I didn’t like them. I had Fender amps, a Fender Pro and a Fender Bassman and two 4 x 12s. Each one didn’t drive its own speakers, it drove those two Marshall 4 x 12 cabinets. And I kept that set-up for a long time. Then we used Vox amps for a little while. We did a deal with them but they were really rubbish. The AC30 is the only good amplifier they ever made. And then I met this guy who was making amplifiers at the time for a company called Sound City. This is much later, but all I know is once I found the Hiwatt amplifier I stuck with it. I tend to choose a guitar that fits the amp rather than the other way around. I got into Hiwatt amps just after Tommy. No, I had them then, so it must have been in 1967 that I changed.

Is the end of Armenia City In The Sky (Sell Out) your first use of reversed tape?
PT: Yeah, possibly.

And Sunrise was your first major acoustic piece?
PT: Yeah. Keith didn’t want that on the record. See in a way that’s a bit of a giveaway to the fact that at the time I was studying a bit of this jazz thing. I was still pulling that off. I was studying Mickey Baker methods and I had two of his tutors, both of which were magnificent. And it’s all that I’ve ever needed to get into slightly more complex chord work. And that song I wrote for my mother to show her that I could write real music.

What type of guitar was it?
PT: It was a Harmony 12-string.

Magic Bus is a great example of how you blend electric and acoustic guitars.
PT: I don’t know how that sound occurred. I think there were a couple of people playing; it was a live track. There was a gang of us singing; Jess Roden was there and a few other people and a couple of people playing guitar.
My acoustic style is very, very Spanish influence and what I tried to do was to develop a way I could play very, very fast flourishes and still keep hold of the pick. I developed a technique - and this is only analysing backwards because I didn’t consciously do this - using a heavy pick, a large pick, not an enormous pick but a standard size like a Manny’s pick, I would float it in mid-air and not actually hold it. It floats between my fingers, and I somehow managed not to drop it, so it is very, very loose and you can get a lot of ododododododododododo (imitates in sound and posture a rapid strumming of a guitar). And a lot of that was a layover from the fact that I developed a lot of those techniques when I was learning the banjo. Those trad banjo solos always used a lot of syncopation and I took that over to guitar.
Chris Spedding said this recently, and I’ve often wondered why my chord work has a particular stamp to it and I think something he said about what he does could be the answer. I always leave out the 3rd in a chord. If I’m playing an A major chord, for example, I will only play the A and the E and I would not let the C# in. It wouldn’t actually be in the chord, you would never hear it. And when you go over to electric what happens is that when you play a chord like that the C# comes up as a harmonic because of the distortion, but it’s clean distortion. If you actually play the C# it clashes and you get into modulation distortion. Which throws up other notes you don’t actually want. I think that particular approach to electric guitar work transferred to acoustic guitar makes it quite interesting to write. Because if you’re playing what are two-note chords in octaves it leaves you freer melodically and it takes you back to more ancient music principles. It’s almost like using a chord as a drone.

The opening chords of Pinball Wizard are an example of those drone type chords.
PT: Yeah. I got very Baroque music with people like Purcell and I started to be interested in the fact that they used melodic transitions very rarely and there would always be suspensions and tension and it would be another level of tension and it would drop. This was mainly Purcell who was an English composer and I was deeply influenced by him. In fact the beginning of Pinball Wizard, on the demo, that chord sequence runs for about 15 minutes. It’s just an exploration of how many chords I could make with a running B: the B was in every chord. It went through about 30 or 40 chords very slowly and then into the song. I’m A Boy did that as well in the solo.

Would you say your guitar work on the Live At Leeds album was as good as anything you had done to that point?
PT: There was some nice stuff there. I don’t know what possessed me to actually start to play like that. I suppose it just must have been the influence of Hendrix. Because up to that point I just wasn’t interested in single-note work. It seemed mad for me to even try to compete with the likes of Beck and Clapton and Jimmy Page. I first saw Jimmy Page when I was 14 or 15 and he was already in a professional band. He was one year older than me and he was in a professional band at 16 and he was earning 30 pounds a week when I was just still in school. He was playing really fast stuff and Ritchie Blackmore was in a heavy pop band like a Ventures-type outfit. You would just listen to records like that open-mouthed at the time. But at one particular time after Hendrix I decided it was worth trying to express myself through single note work. I think a lot of the help was when Henry introduced me to the SG. It fitted my sound and had a lyrical quality to it because the neck was so uncluttered at the top you could play high.

So that was a new SG you used in 1968 along with two Hiwatt stacks?
PT: Yeah.

Were you ever one to use pedals?
PT: No. I always had a fuzzbox but that was always just to make a loud noise at the end when I started smashing things up. I can’t stand clutter. I can’t stand a guitar with too many switches on it. It confuses me. And also a pedal means that you have to stand still to work it and I can’t stand still. I sometimes use pedals at home.
Eric Clapton thought he discovered the wah-wah pedal. If I had actually started to use the wah-wah pedal Eric would never have spoken to me. He was really put out when Jimi Hendrix used to use it. ‘You can’t use a wah-wah pedal, that’s my trademark!’

Do you use a wah-wah on the solo in Going Mobile?
PT: No, it’s one of the original crude guitar synthesisers. ARP made that for me. I still have a 2500 ARP which is one of the first ever built. And they made me a guitar interface for it, so it sounds just like a duck doesn’t it?

The Who’s Next album was really the first where you started working with synthesisers, wasn’t it?
PT: Yeah, I started playing piano when I was about 22 and there’s some piano on The Who Sell Out album: I Can’t Reach You has some piano.

Who’s Next was also the first album produced by the band?
PT: Yeah. We did initial recording for Who’s Next in New York with Kit Lambert who had produced all our stuff up until then, and Kit was getting a bit sick and I was kind of sick - both of us were suffering from mental and physical exhaustion - and Glyn (Johns) was brought in at the last minute to help out. He was brought in to re-mix the stuff we had done in New York and do overdubs. And he listened to it and said it was great. It was good, but if we started again I could do a lot better. And Glyn was really pitching to do this standout album and we knew all the material so it was just a simple matter of going in and playin’. And every time we went back in we were just getting astounded at the sounds he was producing.

Who’s Next is the best album you’ve ever done.
PT: Yeah, I think so too. But you know a lot of it, like the synthesiser sequence on Baba O’Riley I did at home, and the whole track of Won’t Get Fooled Again I did at home. It’s the album I try to look at as a standard in a way.

There was a lot of guitar on Quadrophenia (the original).
PT: Yeah, I enjoyed that. But then I enjoyed the whole album because I produced that single-handed and I enjoyed all the sound texture stuff and the exploration of themes and contrapuntal stuff.

Keith is credited with drums, Roger with voices, John was bass, and you with ‘rest.’
PT: Yeah, and that’s what I needed when we were finished.

Was this about the time you did the Rainbow show with Eric Clapton?
PT: No that was later, around ’74. I had to prop him up and teach him how to play again. The guy had shut himself away for the better part of 21 years. Me and the father of the girl Eric was living with at the time organised this concert and bullied him into doing it. He didn’t want to do it.

What equipment were you using on the Who’s Next album?
PT: What happened then was I had a couple of lucky breaks. The first was I came to Manny’s again and told Henry I wanted a J-200 and he brought out 20 brand new and I tried all of them and I found one superb, which I still have. And that’s what I used for that Pinball Wizard sound; it was a really great instrument. And Joe Walsh, whom I’d met, sent me an orange Gretsch like Neil Young uses and a Fender Bassman amp and with an Entwoods volume pedal in between I started getting into that kind of sound. Leslie West sent me a really great Les Paul Junior with one pickup on it and Eric gave me an old Strat. I think in a way what these guys were trying to tell me was if I wasn’t ready to go out and find me a good guitar, they did it for me. They gave me good instruments and I still have those three instruments today. And those were really the guitars I used on that album. Mainly the solo work on Who’s Next was done on the Gretsch Chet Atkins.

Do you use Hiwatts in the studio?
PT: Not very often. No, I usually use a really old Fender amp or a Peavey Vintage or some copy of an old amp like a Boogie. I also now have this device which is a pre-amp you plug straight into the board which I used a lot on Who Are You. It’s a pre-amp and I just plug straight through that into a compressor and then straight into the deck.

You’re playing a banjo on Squeeze Box?
PT: Yeah. I’ve got a really nice G banjo made by Fender which has their version of Scruggs’ heads. I learned how to do a flat picking very early on; I used to listen to a lot of Chet Atkins and stuff like that. So I can do all that stuff.

Do you do any fingerpicking on acoustic?
PT: I can, yeah. I’m quite good at it but I’m not wonderful at it. I use fingers; I can use picks. You obviously have to use picks on a banjo. It takes me a couple of days to get used to them (fingerpicks) and to forget that they’re there. The tips of my nails are lousy and I bite them so I’ve never really had any nails. And if I did I’d only knock them off on stage anyway.

Did you do the synthesiser programming on Who Are You?
PT: Yeah. It was a very simple effect. When David friend, who is the president of ARP, heard that he rang up and said, ‘Hey, great, the guitar synthesiser is all happening. Can we use it in ads?’ And I said, ‘Sorry, I didn’t use the guitar synthesiser.’ He gave me the ARP Avatar no #001 but I think I just plugged straight into a 2600 ARP on a mock autopad effect.

What is your main stage equipment now?
PT: For the last couple of years it’s been Les Paul Deluxes and I think they’re probably what I’ll stick with; the standard guitar, and again I usually have to go through about 20 before I find a good one. I have about six or seven of them. I’ve tried Hamer and Alembics and Ibanez and Yamaha and these people make guitars that are much, much better than Gibsons. But I’ve gotten into the weight and the shape of the Deluxes. The pickup suits the amp. The higher level DiMarzios and things like that, which most of these guitar makers are now using, don’t seem to suit my amplifiers. What I need is a fairly clean sound and then the amp looks after the distortion. And a lot of these current model guitars are made with the possibilities to get a clean sound or a dirty sound out of a transistor amp. But I’m still using valve amps. They’re modified slightly: I put a DiMarzio pickup in the middle but I never use it. I don’t know why. I bloody bother doing it. I just like the way it looks. The DiMarzio is the one where you can switch between two sounds (Super Distortion). I sometimes use that in the studio; I have one Les Paul that has three of those on it and each is switchable so you can get some really interesting sounds out of that.
The thing I’ve had the most trouble with on my Les Pauls is the quality of the wood in the neck. It’s kiln dried and a lot of the resin gets dried out with the moisture and under the rough treatment I give them they don’t seem to last very long. I remember once an old mate of mine who used to work for Sunn became a representative for Gibson and he came to see me and asked why I didn’t do a deal with Gibson. I said, ‘The day you can bring me a Gibson off the end of the production line like this kid is going to save up his money for and it’s good then I’ll put my name on it.’ And he said he’d make me anything I’d like and he’d get me special instruments and I said that’s not the point. If I’m putting my name on it I’m putting my name on something somebody is going to go out and buy. And if I pick up a guitar in a store and there are six there and every one of the six are good then maybe I’d consider putting my name on it. But I’ve never really done any deals on guitars. For a long time Gibson wouldn’t do it and when I could have afforded some help they didn’t want to give it. So now I’m very touchy about doing it. I endorse Boogie amps because they’re handmade and a lot of care goes into them and they’re good and the people who make them won’t compromise. At least they haven’t yet. They’re not entirely to my taste; they’re much more complicated than they look and they’re quite hard to get used to. I don’t get them for nothing. I wish I did. I have to put my name on them to get one at all.

What Hiwatt set-up do you use?
PT: One amp and two 4 x 12 cabinets. I use a vertical stack but the bottom ones are dead, they’re dummies. I use the bottom ones to stand the top ones on. If they weren’t there I wouldn’t feel right.

Are the Hiwatts stock?
PT: I’ve tried various speakers in the cabinets but I couldn’t tell you what’s in them now. I don’t know if they’re JBLs or Altecs or what. The ones I use are actually four-input amplifiers; each one with its own volume control and master volume at the end and they’ve only got treble and bass controls. They’re really basic valve amps.

What settings do you use?
PT: I use the input full up to get the distortion and then turn the guitar down to control the amount of distortion from the guitar. And the master volume about half up. They’re only rated at 95 watts but they’re really good and reliable. I rarely get any trouble on stage.

You obviously like them more than Marshalls.
PT: I’ve never used Marshalls really. I tried Marshalls for a while because we always had a very friendly relationship with that firm but I never really used them. Everybody else did - Eric, Jimmy Page and Jeff, and Jimi Hendrix when he came over used Marshalls. I never got on with them, I don’t know why.

You don’t use any pedals on stage then?
PT: For some gigs we did recently in Europe I used an MXR compression sustain unit. It makes such a hell of a noise when you put it on. I have a facility in my stack to put in an actual studio compressor but there’s so much compression happening in the chain already that it’s not really necessary. If I want an effect then Bobby Pridden, our sound man, knows just by my looking at him exactly what I want. Whether it’s a phasing sound or multi-echo or ADT or reverb faded in and out with the notes. We’ve been together for 15 years and apart from everything else we can both lip read so in the middle of a solo I can ask for some ADT and I’ll get it. So I can usually get what I want back through the monitors.

What types of picks and strings do you use?
PT: The picks I use are Manny’s mediums and I use Gibson Sonomatic strings, medium gauge. It’s and .012 on the top, .016 for the B, .018 for the G. I don’t use two Bs anymore. I’ve started to make the G a bit heavier.

You have a tremendously heavy pick attack.
PT: Yeah, again I think that’s from the banjo. I have to go over every guitar I take on stage very, very aggressively to weed out dodgy strings. I’ve got a guitar man who works for me now and what he does is he’ll put a new set on every night and stretch them right down practically to the breaking point and I come in a couple of hours later and I always manage to get a few more semitones out of them and then tune it up and they usually just about last the show. If I’m lazy or he’s lazy and we decide to keep strings on, then always in the first or second number they break. I’ve actually had strings break on the first chord. That’s the reason why I can’t use light strings, every time I’ve tried to do it on stage they tend to snap.

Do you use any special tunings?
PT: Rarely. I like experimenting with tunings but only with the idea of compositions and not on the stage. I discovered an interesting tuning about two years ago which is to string an acoustic guitar up like a banjo, so it goes G, D, G - so the D at the top is high along with the G. The only interesting thing with that is when you use normal flatpicking techniques the trick is to come out with the high note first. But to most guitar players that wouldn’t be of much interest because if they wanted to pick backwards they could do it.

Are there any kind of standard barre forms you use?
PT: There’s only one chord I couldn’t like without and that’s the basic A chord you hear in the beginning of Won’t Get Fooled Again. I play all six strings but with no C#. So it’s (from low to high string) an E, A, E, A, E, A. That chord is in a sense the backbone of everything I do. Followed closely by G, followed closely by D, and back to the A.

You’ll also make a D chord and move it up the neck and use the lower strings as drones.
PT: I used to do a lot of that but I’ve stopped. Around that period and before that period from Substitute onwards I became very interested in the drone. I listened to a bit of Indian music and that influenced me, and country music has a drone going through it as well. They call it pedal bass, but of course on guitar and banjo work it’s not a bass but a running note that runs through all the chords. I broke free of that when I started coming to grips with the piano. I think still when I pick up the guitar I do a bit of that and I have to watch that I don’t get stuck in that Indian noise.

Were most of the songs on Who Are You done on piano?
PT: Who Are You I wrote on guitar. Sister Disco I wrote on a combination of synthesiser and guitar, and I think the rest were written on keyboard.

Do you work from certain patterns on your solos?
PT: No, not really. I’m still a very crude player and on a recording session one of the nice things is I can drink half a bottle of brandy and spend a couple of hours experimenting. Often the best things I do are accidents, complete accidents. I just go for it and see what happens. If I play a safe guitar solo, if I set out to do something safe, I can’t pull it off. Because I haven’t actually got any formal approach to it.

Looking back, are there any solos which stand out for you?
PT: My own favourite solo is on My Baby Gives It Away. I also like the one on the Rough Mix album on Hard To Hang On To because it was just an off the wall thing. I’m starting to play better now and so I should because I’ve been playing a long time.

Is it important for you to have the technique of a Jeff Beck?
PT: Not really. Sometimes in the past it’s made me a bit catty towards that kind of player, catty through a certain amount of jealousy I suppose. I suppose I’ve never respected them that greatly. There are only sort of odd records that Beck and Page have come up with that I really liked. And I’ve never invited comparisons to that kind of player. Like I said before, you’ve got your Erics and Jimi Hendrixes and Jimmy Page and Blackmore and Jeff and people like that who are out there doing that particular thing. But I feel myself in a slightly different place. And even today I would never want to get into a guitar battle with people of that calibre. Because for me, ultimately, the joy I would get from expressing myself through a solo would never be as great and would never be as fulfilling as the joy I get from expressing myself through a song.

There was a rumour going around that you said you wished you could play guitar like Jeff Beck but Jeff Beck wished he could write songs like Pete Townshend.
PT: I might have said that. I said some really shitty things about Jeff Beck a couple of years ago which I now regret. I kind of went through a punchy period right before the new wave thing happened because I was getting fed up with the way music seemed to be getting very boring and the same old stuff. I got depressed and was just hitting out at everybody. I can’t imagine he (Beck) would give a shit about writing songs.
Just after Woodstock, The Who had a big revival of interest in Tommy. A lot of people used to come and see us and in Britain it was, ‘You are our favourite group with Deep Purple,’ and I used to go, "Huh?’ And over here it used to be, ‘You are out favourite group with Ten Years After.’ And both groups I hate! I admit that all the people in the bands are very good friends of mine but I hated their music. And it was very hard to live with in a way that we were being lumped in with these very heavy metal bands. I think it was because Ritchie Blackmore used to sort of bash his guitar on his head and smoke a cigarette through his teeth and play a mouth organ back to front. And of course with The Who it was smashing up, pyrotechnics, and with Ten Years After it was that backwards-tape Chinese guitar playing.
I used to listen to people like Kenny Burrell and Wes Montgomery. And Chet Atkins, clear thinkers. I hated Les Paul. I’ve never liked flash playing really. I don’t mind flash performers, I don’t mind showmanship, or guitar circus. When I was younger I used to listen to a hell of a lot to Charlie Parker and Charlie Christian and when you hear him play the way he did and as fast as he did without any flash at all, pure expression of the soul literally flying above everything else, why even bother to attempt to come close? And for me I feel I’m on the ground, physical, and a writer and words are really what I’m about. I wouldn’t even attempt to try and approach that and I think it’s impetuous of people to imagine that they can think that fast.
I heard an album recently by Larry Carlton that I enjoyed. I didn’t necessarily like the music but it’s effortless to listen to him. I feel Joe (Walsh) is a very expressive guitar player. And he has brought out a lot of expressiveness in the other guitar player in the band, Don Felder. And I like Pat Martino a lot.

Do you listen to other rhythm guitarists?
PT: I think my biggest influence in that area was Keith Richards. And I still really like the way he plays but in that particular area I don’t think I’m topped. There’s nobody to touch me. What’s really strange is I don’t think there’s many people who have actually heard me play rhythm in the function of a rhythm guitar. That’s where I really get off very well. I wouldn’t object at all to have a guitar player in The Who so that I could just concentrate on rhythm. Because I love it. It’s a physical thing, it’s like a dancing thing. There’s a strong syncopation element in it. There’s no guitar player that I’ve ever worked with that hasn’t said it - Jimi Hendrix, Stephen Stills, Eric. They’ve all said it was great to play with you.
I suppose it’s what it must feel like to be a drummer or a bass player: why do they do it and not want to be in the front light? And that’s something I feel when I’m playing rhythm with somebody else. One of the anomalies of The Who is I’m doing that kind of thing but I’m also out front doing it. A bit like Inez Foxx or something.
Like there’s a certain style McCartney produces when he’s playing the piano due to the fact that he’s left handed. What’s interesting is our group is, of course, that the roles are reversed. John is the lead guitar player and although I’m not the bass player he does produce a hell of a lot of the lead work. It’s really funny to this day where you get a song like Dreaming From The Waist when John is doing this blinding bass solo and making Alvin Lee look like he plays in slow motion and I’m just standing there strumming a chord. And the audience looks at me and goes, ‘How does he do it? How does he produce that noise?’ And of course John won’t demand attention, not like the guy in Earth, Wind & Fire. You see, for years nobody even knew John was there. He used to wear all black and nobody ever put a lamp on him: if we appeared on TV you never saw him unless the camera was whipping from Roger to Keith.

Was it difficult at first getting used to playing with Entwistle and Moon?
PT: No, I’ve always felt comfortable. Again I think that’s why my style has been formally rhythmic p I lay down the beat and John and Keith worked around it. I mean, John is not that syncopated all the time. I used to play almost with Keith’s bass drum and John used to play with the top kit. Normally it’s the other way around. I think it’s one of the interesting things about The Who’s sound and it’s still happening even with Kenny (Jones). John and Kenny work out things all the time. I think I would work with any drummer that way.

You’re working on a new solo album?
PT: I started writing for it a while ago. I think Chris Thomas will produce it. When I did the Wings thing (Back To The Egg) I met him again and we chatted. I don’t really need a heavy producer: I just need somebody to discipline me to get the thing moving.

What kind of guitar sound do you try for on record?
PT: When I work at home I have a studio of my own and I just tend to plug it in, stick up any mic, and play. I like different kinds of sounds: I don’t really go for any particular kind of sound on acoustic. When I play electric, in order to play and express anything I think I have to have a reasonably fluid sound, which is the only way I can describe it. But it’s not a sustain noise; it’s get to be reasonably razor-sharp and jagged to get the chords across, One of the difficulties I’ve had with changing amps is that the builder will come in and say, ‘I’ll build you the amp you want, what do you want?’ and I don’t really know what I want…

Do you usually come into the studio with a demo of the track?
PT: Yeah, I have all the parts on there which they ignore. If it’s right on the demo the band is not too proud to do it the same way again. The good thing about a demo is you’ve made a commitment to a particular sound and if there’s something wrong with it it’s going to be very evident. So you don’t make the same mistake twice. John makes demos too of his stuff. He comes in with these finished masterpieces and I wonder why we bother to re-record them again.

If John brings in a song which isn’t right will you tell him?
PT: I wouldn’t be that aggressive. There are only two writing individuals in The Who, me and him, and I think we write in very different areas. I really welcome his input at every level and I know over the years he’s played on a lot of stuff I’ve written that he has not particularly liked. And it’s worked out well. So at the demo stage I wouldn’t criticise it then, I’d say let’s have a go at it and see what happens. And I think it’s fundamentally obvious if it doesn’t turn out right. Generally, because I’m an enthusiast of demos and other people’s demos, I like everything he does. Like on my own stuff I might make four or five tracks and listen to them at home thinking they’re all perfect, and as soon as you sit with the other guys you go, ‘God, what was I thinking of? This is no good at all.; It’s too personal or the wrong kind of sound and you hear the opening and go, ‘God, Roger is going to hate this,’ and then he says he hates it. You go through the same thing if you make a film or a record: you hear it for the first time when you hear it with people sitting there and listening to it. You suddenly put yourself in their shoes.

How does a Who song evolve?
PT: We try and have as full a sound on the track as possible. But it is just usually the rhythmic elements. You might go in with a keyboard player; a more rare occurrence is to go in with another guitarist. We might put down bass, drums, acoustic piano, acoustic guitar; or electric guitar, acoustic piano, bass, drums or we might go in with a guide track tape or synthesiser tape. There are always four elements. On the first album we had Nicky Hopkins in there with us. There’s something about recording that diminishes the power of a three-man group and you have to have the extra harmonic element.

Does it require many takes before you come up with a solo you’re happy with?
PT: No, because I don’t aim very high.

Is there anyone you haven’t worked with you’d like to?
PT: For along time I wanted to work with Todd Rundgren and I asked him to produce my solo album which he agreed to do. And then I suddenly realised it probably wasn’t a good idea because we’re so alike in a lot of ways. I would like to work with him. I think he’s a better guitar player than me and a better singer but I think what really worried me about the prospect of him producing my solo album was that I’m influenced by him enough as it is. Do you understand? And I like the way I’m influenced by him at the moment.
I think on Sister Disco there are some influences. And I listen to his music all the time and enjoy his production work. I don’t know if I’m doing the right thing or not but I decided it probably wouldn’t be a good thing to work with him.
I like working with The Who. On the Tommy soundtrack album which I directed I worked with all kinds of people. And I do a lot of production work on every level - documentary level, demo level, finished production.

You’re pleased with The Kids Are Alright?
PT: Yeah. The movie is good. It’s not exactly a documentary of The Who or its history or anything like that: it’s just a collection of whatever was available. Some of it’s TV trash and some of it is very good like footage and some of it is very bad live footage. Kind of a bit of everything. It’s fun though, I think. It’s a film about the group, not me. And Quadrophenia is a powerful film. We don’t appear in it and there’s not a hell of a lot of music, but we’re proud of it.

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