Nobody can deny the British Invasion was loaded with talent as supergroups Beatles and The Rolling Stones led the charge. With a style diverging away from the standard British beat, THE WHO forged a style of rock that set them apart from their U.K. peers. It’s been an amazing journey.
The core members of The Who were remants of a band called The Detours:
The original drummer, Doug Sandom, was the oldest of the group already knocking on thirty where the rest of the guys were still in their teens. He was catching hell from the wife for being out all night.
A 17 year-old Keith Moon came in for an audition upon Sandom’s departure and flailed away at the kit like an all out assault. In his early days he could barely keep a beat but his personality was a compliment to the rest of the guys. The Who was born.
Their musical arrangements and on stage antics set the stage for one of the most unique groups to ever come out of the Kingdom. Townshend and Moon made a mockery of their instruments, ending a Who show with destruction of guitars and drums. I suspect a guitar got the knickname “Axe” by someone watching Pete Townshend chop the stage with one of his fine guitars. His last act of defiance was to toss the remnants of his instrument into the eager hands of a waiting fan.
Their fame grew with memorable performances at the Monterey Pop, Woodstock and Isle of Wight music festivals. The 1969 release of Tommy was the first in a series of top ten albums in the US, followed by Live at Leeds (1970), Who’s Next (1971),Quadrophenia (1973), The Who by Numbers (1975), Who Are You (1978) and The Kids Are Alright (1979).
Over the years The Who would sell over 100 million albums. They enjoyed that top tier of success few achieve in the world of rock. As with many musicians of the period, the lifestyle of rock royalty caught up with the boys in the band. On September 7, 1978, just three weeks after releasing, Who Are You, Keith Moon died of an apparent overdose of prescribed drugs. He was 32. Former “Small Faces” drummer Kenny Jones replaced Moon at the drum set.
Tragedy seemed always around the corner. In December of 1979 the band showed up for a sold-out show at Riverfront Coliseum. A crowd rush before the concert killed 11 fans and injured 26 others. The deaths were attributed to “Festival Seating” where seats are first-come/first-serve. When the crowds waiting outside in bitter cold conditions heard the band performing a late sound check, they thought that the concert was beginning and tried to rush into the still-closed doors. Some at the front of the crowd were trampled to death as those pushing from behind were unaware the doors were still closed.
The deaths devastated the band. They were not informed of the tragedy until after the show and dedicated their next performance to the fans who lost their lives in the disaster.
Shortly after releasing It’s Hard in 1982, The Who embarked on their ‘farewell’ tour of the US. It included two shows at Shea Stadium in New York on 12 & 13 October and ended in Toronto on 17 December. It was the highest grossing tour of the year, with sellout crowds in stadiums and arenas throughout North America. By the end of 1983, unable to provide “Who” quality arrangements for another studio album, Pete Townshend announced his departure from the band.
The Who reunited for a couple of one-off shows, Bob Geldof‘s Live Aid concert at Wembley, in July of 1985, and again in February 1988 when they were honored with the British Phonographic Industry‘s Lifetime Achievement Award.
In 1989, they embarked on a 25th anniversary The Kids Are Alright reunion tour which emphasised songs from Tommy. Simon Phillips played drums with Steve “Boltz” Bolton playing lead guitar. Townshend, trying to minimise damage to his hearing, relegated himself to acoustic guitar and some electric rhythm guitar. They played to sellout shows across the US in stadiums and concert halls everywhere. (I saw them on this tour at Carter-Findley Stadium in Raleigh, NC.)
The Who were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990, their first year of eligibility. Time magazine wrote in 1979 that “No other group has ever pushed rock so far, or asked so much from it.” Many people think The Who may hold the title of Best Band ever.
To complete the trinity of Who tragedy, bassist John Entwistle died in room 658 at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas on June 27, 2002, one day before the scheduled first show of The Who’s 2002 US tour. He went to bed that night with stripper/groupie, Alycen Rowse, who woke at 10 am to find Entwistle cold and unresponsive. The Clark County medical examiner determined that death was due to a heart attack induced by cocaine. After a brief delay and two cancelled gigs, the tour commenced at the Hollywood Bowl with famed bassist Pino Palladino as Entwistle’s replacement.
The Who continue to play to sold out shows wherever they go. In July 2011, Townshend revealed on his blog that he will be touring their 1973 rock opera album Quadrophenia with bandmate Roger Daltry in 2012.
I would say when it’s all said and done… The Kids are All Right.