Monday, October 30, 2017

Pete Townshend/Jimi Hendrix - Round One

1967 was a pivotal year for The Who, particularly for Pete Townshend. In January the band appeared at the Saville Theater in London with Jimi Hendrix as the opening act. Hendrix played just four songs, "Rock Me Baby," "Like a Rolling Stone," "Hey Joe" and "Wild Thing," but challenged the very fiber of who The Who would become. It was on that day that a rivalry began, a catalyst of styles not unlike that between The Beatles and The Beach Boys, though many, including Roger Daltrey, look at the Townshend/Hendrix feud as a tryst rather than a catalyst. Townshend purportedly downplays his angst at the time, but stated, "It was OK at the Saville, it was good. But I felt a bit edgy about it. I said to Kit Lambert, our manager, 'It's just that we shouldn't be playing with somebody of that class. They [Hendrix, et all] shouldn't be our backing-group. It's not that I can't stand the competition - it's just that I can't stand the competition!" While I've always been more in Townshend's corner than Jimi's (keep in mind that I was a bit young to "get" Hendrix when he was alive, and wouldn't truly "discover" him until the mid-70s, while The Who were a part of my repertoire; I got Quadrophenia for Christmas, if you can imagine), Townshend's angst may indeed, like everyone else's, have come out of shear awe.

Townshend added, "A couple days [more than a month, actually] later we appeared with them at the Saville Theatre. Jimi opened for us, and he had exactly the same rig as me, I actually felt I'd given too much away....

"It was always me who went to people like Jim Marshall and Dave Hill [actually Dave Reeves] who started Sound City, which became Hiwatt amps - and pushed them to make bigger, better and cleaner-distorting big amplifiers. And I handed all that to Jimi. I've never really recovered from that..."

Townshend’s apologetic, if edgy, stance is pretty unfounded when, at the time, 1966-67, The Who were essentially a pop band, at its most diverse, a "Mod" band, with hits like the Beatlesque "The Kids Are Alright" and "I Can't Explain," or even the ribald "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere." Nonetheless, the competition was on.

Five days prior, Hendrix headlined at the Marquee, with The Syn (which along with Tomorrow would evolve into Yes) opening. Guitarist Peter Banks said, "It was a very peculiar gig. All The Beatles were there, and the Rolling Stones. Clapton and Beck and every other guitar player in town came along and we had to play to all these people. They were waiting for Jimi Hendrix but we had to play once, come off and then play another set. So people were going. 'Well, thank God they've gone.' Then we came back on again." Imagine, if you will, all those people in the same room!

Of the Saville show, Eric Clapton, then still a part of Cream, said, "We'd been to see Hendrix about two nights before at the Saville Theater, and he played this gig that was just blinding. I don’t think Jack had really taken him in before. I knew what the guy was capable of from the minute I met him. It was the complete embodiment of the different aspects of rock 'n' roll guitar rolled up into one. I could sense it coming off the guy. And when he did see it that night, after the gig he went home and came up with the riff [for "Sunshine Of Your Love"]. It was strictly a dedication to Jimi."

Jack Bruce disagrees "No! Absolutely no truth in that whatsoever. It had nothing to do with Jimi. In fact nothing that I wrote had anything to do with Jimi. No. I was kind of following my own path." Hmm, do I sense another rivalry?

Pete Townshend: The thing that really stunned Eric and me was the way he took what we did and made it better. And I really started to try to play. I thought I’d never, ever be as great as he is, but there’s certainly no reason now why I shouldn’t try. In fact, I remember saying to Eric, “I’m going to play him off the stage one day.” But what Eric did was even more peculiar. He said, “Well, I’m going to pretend that I am Jimi Hendrix!”

Brian May (guitarist, later of Queen): "Freddie [Mercury], particularly, was a manic fan of Hendrix. I was converted when I saw him at one of Brian Epstein's shows, where he supported The Who. I can still remember the feeling now, I thought this guy's so good I don't want to admit it. I was already playing; I was in groups. This guy came along, who was so far in advance of everyone else, and it was like he was on the same road but almost out of sight, ahead of us all. It was frightening and a bit upsetting, really. I went to see him a lot after that, and I just became devoted to him, wondering how he did it." Here's where May probably says it best: "I really thought I was pretty good before I saw Hendrix, and then I thought: 'Yeah, not so good!'"

In an article from Disc & Music Echo, February 2, 1967 Mike Ledgerwoods banner read, "JIM! BRINGS THE ROOF DOWN!" and stated, "THE WHO, it was rumoured, had threatened to raze London's Saville Theatre to the ground in their bill-topping act last Sunday. Fortunately they didn't. It would have been a terrible waste of an excellent showplace.

"But instead the roof was nearly brought down by the power-packed excitement of Jimi Hendrix - making his public debut, outside club gigs. Jimi is surely the musical phenomenon of recent limes. His popularity - on the strength of just a few appearances, the odd TV, an unusual record ... and LOTS of talk - has rocketed with a force seldom equaled in the world of pop. Here’s a musician to the very core. A guitar genius who plays with incredible feeling and fervour. If he never gets another hit disc, his showmanship and those wild exercises onstage will carry him through. Sunday, despite early amp and mike mishaps was his night. From 'Rock Me Baby' through a knockout 'Like A Rolling Stone' and 'Hey Joe' to his version of 'Wild Thing' which, incidentally makes the Troggs' hit sound a rather tame disc.
Even the incredible Who, themselves veritable leaders on the sound scene, seemed hard-put to follow this tousle-haired giant."

New Musical Express (Friday 3 February) was even more blunt: "I can’t help wondering," wrote Norrie Blunt, "just what the Who are all about. Their concert at London's Saville theatre on Sunday was a mixed-up ragbag of their hit songs, new group compositions, flashing lights and winking toy robots wandering around the stage.

"Oh, it was all pleasant and inoffensive enough - perhaps too inoffensive - and the sound was good, but all their former excitement seemed to have disappeared..., It could easily have been that I was simply disappointed with the Who after seeing the Jimi Hendrix Experience, which closed the first half of the show...He played 'Wild Thing' the way the Troggs never could, and 'Like A Rolling Stone' the way Dylan never would. He plays his guitar with his teeth, his fret, his amplifier, his elbow, occasionally his hands, and sometimes it plays on its own." All that praise, must have been  a stick in Townshend's craw, ya think?