March 12, 2010

Oh hello Mr. Soul
I dropped by to pick up a reaso

Gerard Richter, Abstraktes Bild 742-2, 1991

* From an interview of Pete Townshend published in Premier Guitar Magazine's April 2010 issue

PGM - For years now, your choice of electric guitar onstage has been the Eric Clapton Stratocaster. Why that guitar in particular after years using Gibson SGs and Les Pauls, as well as other models?

PT - A bit of history: The Who worked fairly solidly from 1963 through to 1982, when I felt I had had enough. Over the entirety of those years, I had regarded my stage guitars as tools rather than instruments. I never tried to play eloquently, I didn't practice much and I didn't work very hard on my sound. The Who was a band devoted to a single function, which was to reflect our audience, and for a lot of the time we had no idea how we did that. I felt it had more to do with my songs and the image of the band than our musicianship. I would never have been a Who fan.

I started in late 1962 with a simple, single pickup Harmony electric; I think it was called a Stratotone. When Roger quit his job as lead guitarist and became the singer, he passed me his Epiphone with P-90s. To be honest, although I realize now it was a fine little guitar, I wasn't happy until I got my first Rickenbacker in 1964. I soon got myself a top model 12-string Rick, too. It's interesting to think that the Marshall sound I helped Jim and his guys develop was built around the very low output and thin, surfy sound of the Rick. The sound I wanted was Steve Cropper, but very loud. The early Marshall with a Rick gave me that. The semi-acoustic body and a speaker stack feeding right into the guitar was what allowed me to refine tuneful feedback.

Before the band was making money—we are still in early 1964 in this story—I broke my 6-string Rick on stage engaging in art-school inspired performance art. Roger said he could have fixed that first broken Rick, but the word spread so fast about how crazy I was that it wasn't long before the 12-string and about four other Ricks followed before I started to look for something stronger. During that time the Who were touring Britain and Europe, and guitars were expensive. My Rick 12, for example, cost £385, that's equivalent to £5,925 today. With the dollar at 2.4 back at that time, my Rick 12 cost me $14,220. It makes me a little angry when people question my artistic integrity in what I decided to do on stage. I paid the price.

I tried everything that I could pick up at less than the price of a house. There are pictures of me with a Gibson 335, Strats, Teles, Jazzmasters and Danelectros. What I was looking for was not a good-sounding guitar but
one that was strong. And so I used quite a lot of Fenders. The necks never broke when I was doing my destruction routine, and gluing the bodies back together and rewiring helped me one step closer to becoming a luthier.

When Jimi was in London, it just so happened I was using a Strat, and he modeled his entire amplifier rig, apart from a couple of special fuzz boxes, according to my advice. So for a while our sound was similar. But no one could approach what he did with that rig, and I decided to concentrate much more on chordal work, trying to give a beat backbone to Moon's flailing and undisciplined drumming. Pretty soon, by accident, I discovered the Gibson SG with P-90s, and because I was using a mix of Sound City (later Hiwatt) and Marshall amplifier stacks, I landed the Live at Leeds sound that stayed with me almost all the way on from there—at least onstage. Because SGs are fairly light, I broke quite a few of them over my hipbone, as well as in our finale, so occasionally I used Strats for their sheer strength.
I built my first home studio in 1963, and again, somehow this relegated the guitar as a musical instrument to a different role. I just wanted something that suited the song I might be working on. I kept a basic collection of guitars for my home studio right through until Who's Next, when I made my first spending spree at Manny's in 1971. On that visit, I bought my first Martin D-45, a Gibson mandolin, a couple of Martin ukes and a tiple, a pedal steel, a Guild Merle Travis, and a beautiful Guild 12-string. I have some of these instruments still. Prior to that, for my home demos, I had a Harmony 12-string (very basic, but it sounded great, you can hear it on the Tommy recording), a Danelectro bass, an old-school cello I sometimes used as string bass and whatever electric guitar I was carrying to and from gigs at the time.

From 1971, everything changed. Alan Rogan helped me track down a lot of cool guitars. Joe Walsh gave me a Gretsch and a Fender Bassman combo with an Edwards pedal (to get the Neil Young sound). He also gave me a Flying V (that I am sad to say I sold to help buy my first big boat—he's never quite forgiven me). I bought two or three D'Angelicos, and started to really appreciate what a fine guitar really was. The acoustic solo in the middle of "Who Are You" is played on my D'Angelico New Yorker (also sold to help buy a boat!) and you can hear that I am playing eloquently at last…

PGM - Exactly who were the guitarists who influenced you as a youth?

PT - Wes, Kenny Burrell (in his work with Jimmy Smith), Jim Hall (with Jimmy Giuffre), Buddy Guy, Leadbelly, Lightnin' Hopkins, Snooks Eaglin, Big Bill Broonzy, Hubert Sumlin (with Howlin' Wolf), Albert King, Steve Cropper, Don Everly, Bruce Welch (with The Shadows), Eddie Cochran, James Burton (with Ricky Nelson). Among my contemporaries, it was Dave Davies, Jimi Hendrix and Neil Young. At art school I met Bert Jansch, and realized folk guys used tricks (tunings)!

PGM - After almost 47 years with The Who, are there any regrets? Would you change anything if you could? Do you still get a rush, a thrill, performing live with the band?

PT - I've never gotten a rush or thrill from performing. I'm good at it, and I find it easy and natural. No regrets. I fell into this business, the family business, out of art school. It's given me the chance to combine popular music (which is so natural for me) with ambitious creativity, so I've been really lucky. I've had great support, too, from The Who band and managers over the years. Lots of crazy ideas.

* The Caribbean are heading to SXSW and there are two chances to see the magic:

-- Hometapes SXSW Showcase @ The Mohawk, Thursday March 18, The Caribbean play at 9pm.

-- FRIEND ISLAND! A SXSW oasis built by cahoots with Force Field PR. Pancakes. Oregon beer. Candy. Records. Hard punch. Nachos. And fourteen bands (The Caribbean play at 1:40pm). Saturday March 20, 815 E. 6th St. Austin, TX (at I-35) 11am-8pm. Free! No SXSW cred needed.

* Did you know: Brahms was 43 before he completed his first symphony.

* "It isn't sex that causes trouble for young ballplayers, it's staying up all night looking for it." -- Casey Stengel


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, I miss you so. Wish things were different. <3 1801

12:58 AM  

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