Charlie Watts

Pete Townshend and The Who

If I had a time machine, I would dial in the late 60s Fillmore East: Jimi Hendrix, early Led Zeppelin, Jeff Beck, Frank Zappa and the Mothers, Miles Davis, early Allman Brothers and The Who with Keith Moon, John Entwistle, Roger Daltrey and nutcase extraordinaire Pete Townshend, the true Godfather of Punk; decked out in his boiler suit, big boots and slinging a cherry red Gibson SG. While The Who was never my favorite band and I did see them in the 80s, in the late 60s/early 70s, with Keith Moon still alive, they were easily one of the most kinetic and explosive concert acts in the world. Youtube clips from the 1970 “Tanglewood” show have the band at the top of their game:

When I say the band was never my favorite, it’s mostly because I always found a lot of their songs really hard to relate to, especially growing up. The early single hits were easy enough and the band always rocked, but some of their best moments were really off the wall. Take A Quick One, the mini opera that completely kills at The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus. The performance is so good that they completely own the Stones, but the whole thing is just so weird to listen to that it’s hard to imagine a testosterone-charged teen looking to rock would want to throw it on when the urge struck. But the clip shows what The Who always had — smart arrangements and writing and an absolutely blistering live execution of their material…and they are funny. You can’t watch a clip with Keith Moon in it and not be entertained…that is flat-out impossible. This isn’t the best visual quality clip, but get The Kids are Alright or The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus DVD to enjoy a spectacular performance.

Keith Richards once said about Keith Moon…that (paraphrase) “he didn’t know a tin pot from a paradiddle, but he could play with Townshend.” This fact appears in many places in rock literature — Keith Moon was the Chico Marx of rock drumming; an amazingly instinctive player who never practiced, didn’t know what he was doing half the time, and played in a manner with certain techniques (like his double-kick) that defy convention and common sense. As the band evolved it’s interesting to wonder what kind of effect Moon had on Pete’s guitar style, because it’s not like you could be in a group with a guy like Moon and not be affected.

If you compare Townshend to Keith Richards, Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page with the extreme left representing the player’s rhythm to lead ratio and the extreme right representing the player’s lead to rhythm ratio, Pete and Jimi are squarely in the middle. Both players integrated chords and fills into their playing much more than Page, who played more single-string riffs and long solos, or Richards (at the opposite end) who played more chord based riffs. This isn’t to suggest that Richards never played lead or Page never played rhythm — Page began using more chord-based riffs as Led Zeppelin’s career progressed and Hendrix started to change his style as his “songs” developed into “jams” later in his career. But Townshend’s style as we know it, is a complete integration of lead and rhythm guitar; he segues from a chord, to a few notes, to some more chords, to a feedback squeal to a loud BOMM on the low E string all in a few measures. He became the master of the rhythm slash and power chord, augmented and accentuated by these “bits” of counter-melodies or noise played on the high strings or single strings. One reason why Pete (and Jimi to a certain extent) differ is that he didn’t come from a blues-based approach growing up, but loved the RnB style of Booker T and the MGs and guitarist Steve Cropper. (Before he hit it big Hendrix put in a fair amount of time on America’s Chittlin’ Circuit playing in RnB bands). In the early days, The Who were known for their MAXIMUM RnB, which meant less solos and more fills, but Towshend’s highly charged, aggressive live approach to guitar and having Moon as the drummer put all of the dance rhythms of RnB on steroids. This is the main reason I think he is the Godfather of Punk as a lot of players in that genre were obviously heavily influenced by him and by the band’s approach to a group sound that minimized individual soloing. This is Keith Richard’s point in the quote above — Townshend and Moon were perfectly suited to playing with each other just as Hendrix/Mitchell, Page/Bonham, Richards/Watts were good combinations. Try to imagine changing those dual combos around and whether that would even work.Townshend/Watts? Richards/Bonham? Kind of hard to imagine. Then factor in how John Entwistle’s bass lines worked within what Townshend and Moon were doing. Together they produced a very busy and explosive sound and that sound defines The Who, at least through the late 1970s.

While some of Pete’s aggression can be written off to his style and personality, part of his artistic background included being influenced by Gustav Metzger, artist and political activist who “pioneered” the concept of creative destruction and auto-destruction in the early 1960s. Metzger would influence other artists and musicians including Cream and Yoko Ono. In the early days The Who were very Pop Art and Townshend certainly was conscious of all of the various things happening in the art world at the time. Yoko Ono has taken a lot of heat over the years as a “singer”, but if one considers what she is doing or some of what she is doing in the same vein, the whole point is not to sing in the standard or beautiful way. Here, let’s look at the following equation:

{\Begin AutoDestruction}
Yoko singing (sometimes) = Pete smashing guitar
{End AutoDestruction/}

See how it all begins to make sense? At the (Yoko) link above Townshend describes being aware of Ono because of his association with Metzger, and describes what she was doing as “insane” but in an admiring way, so I’m not just trying to be funny with the above equation. Townshend was never just a ROCK AND ROLL DUDE!! kind of guy and he didn’t just break things. He was using feedback before Jimi Hendrix came on the scene, combined slashing chords, single note runs, picked arpeggios and extreme volume to bring the sound of violence and destruction to the musical form. Of course, for the actual violence he had a very willing partner in Keith Moon, who absolutely loved breaking things and blowing them up. While some of this was showbiz and some of it was lunacy, the ideas behind it descended from a bona-fide and controversial art movement in the same way that Jim Morrison (and later Iggy Pop (perhaps)) used influences like New York City’s The Living Theater to perform in a way that shocked and moved an audience out of its complacency. It has long been alleged that this is what Morrison (who had been incorporating similar ideas in his performance from the beginning) was trying to pull of in Miami 1969 when he was arrested for indecent exposure and inciting a riot. Below is the entire clip from The Smothers Brothers Show in 1967 when The Who brought auto-destruct to prime-time television. Unbeknownst to anyone else Moon had loaded his bass drum with serious pyrotechnics. Townshend has long maintained his problems with Tinnitus began in the wake of this explosion.

Pete expanded on A Quick One in 1969 with the first full-blown rock opera, Tommy, which was quite an ambitious undertaking at the time. While it has attained legendary status over the years, it certainly wasn’t embraced by everyone when it was first released. Given the nature of the story and some of the themes that appear (infidelity, murder, child abuse, sexual abuse) it really isn’t any wonder that some found it excessively vulgar, exploitative, and casual in its approach to such heavy subjects (boy gets sexually abused by his uncle, plays pinball). But Townshend had a history of bringing taboo subjects into the popular music form (I’m a Boy, Pictures of Lily, My Generation, A Quick One) all done with a British style of humor and eccentricity and Tommy represented a supreme coalescing statement of everything the band had done up to that point and certainly qualifies as a real artistic achievement. What really makes it work is how much of opera revolves around Townshend’s guitar work in a very rhythmic sense. There was no departure from what he and the band were already doing and many of the songs (Pinball Wizard, Amazing Journey, Sparks, Acid Queen, Christmas, We’re Not Gonna Take It and I’m Free) stand on their own as great guitar-driven rock songs. This period of the band, which included performances at Woodstock and Isle of Wight saw them getting the solid recognition they had been working for throughout the 60s and this ranks as my favorite period of their career. Their rave up of Young Man’s Blues from Isle of Wight is as good as rock and roll gets and illustrates perfectly everything I’ve tried to describe about Pete’s guitar style.

The Kids are AlrightWhile The Who started to lose me a bit around the Quadrophenia years, there were still some good songs on the record and throughout the rest of the 70s, at least until Keith Moon passed away. After that they were a completely different band in the same way that LED ZEPPELIN ended with John Bonham’s death. Pete has had a pretty successful solo career in addition to continuing on with Who projects over the years and he is one of the most influential guitarists in rock music. His use of acoustic guitars over the years has really piqued my interest lately — he definitely uses acoustics like Richards/Page to 1) layer nice textures onto a track, 2) provide nice contrasting parts within the song, 3) fill out what is an otherwise “electric” song with an acoustic mixed low to beef up the sound and, 4) in some cases using all acoustics to give the song a really huge, percussive sound. A really close listen of Tommy demonstrates all four of these methods and Pete (like Jimmy Page and Keith Richards) was always a master writer/producer as much as he was a great guitar player. With this in mind I’ll end this with a great solo version of Drowned from The Secret Policeman’s Ball in 1979. Notice that Pete’s technique is the same whether he is playing acoustic or electric. Like many other great guitar players (Django, Stevie Ray, Jimi etc, etc) he has always played guitar as if his very existence depends on it and that is an attitude and mental state every guitarist should aim for every time the instrument is picked up. The real beauty with all of these players, Pete included, is how they are able to channel the energy, need to play and aggression into something that is stylish and ultimately…artistic!

The Kids are Alright, Isle of Wight and The Rock and Roll Circus are all really great. 4 stars! They are must-have’s in any serious rocker or guitarist library!

Keith Richards — Part I

GUITAR HERO

Keith is my numero uno, the man, the KING OF COOL and HOT TRASHY GUITAR. He was the first guitar hero I had and over the years I’ve learned many a lick and trick from listening to his music, reading his interviews and copping the feel from his playing. Long before Django, or Eddie or Jimi or anyone else I was a huge fan of The Rolling Stones and their music. Not only is Keith’s style great, but because he always mentioned great players from the past that were influences, he provided a link to the past that made for even more listening entertainment and inspiration. The Stones, from the very beginning, always picked great cover songs too — Love in Vain, Mona, Let it Rock, Prodigal Song, Shake Your Hips, Down the Road Apiece, Stop Breaking Down, Not Fade Away and many others always done with the energy and panache that is THE STONES.

There have been many great books on Keith and The Rolling Stones over the years and probably anyone reading this has had at least a few in their possession. The pictures you see in this post come from The Rolling Stones: The First 25 Years, by rock writer extraordinaire Dave Dalton. I’ve had this for so long it’s not even a book anymore. It completely fell apart years ago and is basically just a big pile of pages, but it’s a an AWESOME BOOK. Not only is the photography really brilliant, but it spans the real pinnacle of the band’s career and includes many interviews with Keith and Mick from the 1970s. This is is how I knew all about Keith’s guitar style before I even left home. I was surprised to see this book is still available and if you like Keith and the band, you should totally buy it.

BLUES ATTITUDE

From the early days The Stones were different from all of the other people who banded together to play rock and roll music. They grew to be notorious for their attitude and behavior and although they were eclipsed by The Beatles in the 1960s and Led Zeppelin in the 1970s, at least as far as popularity and sales, they became the epitome of what a rock and roll band is, or should be. Not only was their music top-notch, but they had the attitude (in spades) to match. The emotions and the attitudes expressed in songs like Satisfaction and Let’s Spend the Night Together (which was too risqué for The Ed Sullivan Show in 1967) seem quaint when compared to some of the jokes in an present-day episode of Family Guy. But that was the uptight culture that was America in the post-WW II years. Many of the overly conservative/fundamentalist leanings rampant today have been a part of this country all along. Whether he was in court on drug charges, staring down the Hells Angels at Altamont or being flogged in the press as a musical hack, Keith was never one to shy away from conflict. He has the BLUES ATTITUDE, a style and way of life I’ve already talked about in the Bukka White post I wrote last year. Along with the outlaw country styles of Jimmie Rodgers and Johnny Cash and the rock and roll snarl of Elvis and Chuck Berry was all about IMPULSE and ABANDON, not only in the music, but also the lifestyle associated with it. Keith Richards came to embody all of this and even today is held up as THE symbol of hedonistic living, a shining example of those people who burn the candle at both ends and then snort the wax. In uptight conservative society, which is really what the upper class wants to inflict on the lower classes because the upper class perfected hedonistic behavior a long time ago, people like Keith were a threat to the status quo that had kept everyone in line. As the 60s progressed, more and more of the old ways fell away. Of course, Keith doesn’t get all the credit for these changes, but he was and is a person who declared, through his razor slash chords and his defiance of traditional mores, that he was a man who lives on his own terms, like it or not.

EARLY DAYS

In the beginning Keith and the Stones played the music of their heroes, the music they loved. It was rude, energetic, infused with sex and danger and the freedom to let it rock. Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts were a great rhythm section, Mick Jagger was well on his way to being a superstar frontman and Brian Jones and Keith Richards had practiced their dueling blues, rhythm and blues and rock and roll “weaving guitar” parts until they had them down cold. They had digested Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, Hubert Sumlin, Scotty Moore, Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry and were able to play it with a reckless enthusiasm that drove the kids wild. It was all about MOVING people, as the following clip from The Tami Show proves. The Stones are having a really good time and everything the band becomes is right here in this clip. It’s a tad derivative still — Showtime at The Apollo, James Brown or Otis Day and the Knights maybe. They weren’t really writing their own material yet. But Keith fires the whole band with his timing, feel and exuberance. He’s also really good at those short, stingin’ leads. ROCK AND ROLL BABY!

By 1965, with the release of the singles The Last Time and Satisfaction and the Aftermath album, the band really came into their own with original material and almost all of it was built on Keith’s style and sensibilities. He was and is a complete genius at adapting to whatever the situation required. Very early on, in one of their first forays into the recording studio, the question was asked, “who makes the records?” and Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham pointed to Keith and said, “he does.” While part of the reason was Keith’s personality, it was also because he knew how to create a good track and capture the atmosphere necessary to make it more than a great track, especially once the concept of albums came into vogue. Only Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page equaled Keith’s ability to make albums that had not only the sound, but also the ambiance and atmosphere of blues and early rock and roll. Many critics have said that about the Exile on Main Street album, but it was true of other records as well, Beggars Banquet, Let it Bleed and Sticky Fingers especially. He was and is the KING of lo-fi, slop guitar and with Mick Jagger, Charlie Watts, Bill Wyman, Brian Jones and later, Mick Taylor and Ronnie Wood, he had a lot of help making genre-defining records.

POP STARDOM

In the first phase of their career, the band was constantly being pressured for a single because that was the format du jour at the time. This was true of every band and every project through the late 60s. Many groups, even heavier ones like Cream and The Yardbirds were at the mercy of producers, record companies and managers who didn’t really understand this new rock phenomenon and insisted on doing business the old way. (HERE is a funny interview with Keith Relf, singer for The Yardbirds on the trials and tribulations of dealing with this aspect of pop stardom). Because The Beatles were the undisputed rulers of the pop charts throughout the decade, there was a lot of pressure on bands to follow their lead. Some of this yielded positive results for Keith and The Stones, others were pretty dismal (Their Satanic Majesties Request). Many of the Stones’ early original singles — The Last Time, Satisfaction, Get Off Of My Cloud and 19th Nervous Breakdown were very Rn’B-influenced and contained all of the best riffs and tricks to be mined from listening to all of the influences I’ve already mentioned. However, in 1965 they started to expand on this with other songs like Paint It, Black, Under My Thumb, Lady Jane, Ruby Tuesday, and Mother’s Little Helper. They were able to do this because Keith and Mick were becoming great song writers and Brian Jones was a complete genius at picking up exotic instruments and mastering them them well enough to play on a track or live in a very short time. Even though Keith would, in time, become the best example of the outlaw rock and roller, he, like the others was always very pop-conscious. His guitar hooks usually brilliant and he knew how to ARRANGE a song for the singles format. It was Keith’s idea to use a fuzzbox on Satisfaction to give the guitar a horn-like sound and there weren’t a whole lot of people using fuzz boxes at the time. (It was supposed to be a “guide” track for real horns, but it was released as is). In addition to his electric guitar finesse, Keith was a very good acoustic picker, featured on songs like Lady Jane or Back Street Girl. While some of this material seems a bit off the wall compared to later, there are some real gems in the mid-60s Stones catalog that capture the whole period of 1960s “Swinging London”.

PHASE II

The mid-60s was a really great period for Brian Jones, but, unfortunately it was also the beginning of his decline. He really came into his own as the COLOR guy for the band because he played everything; sitar, mellotron, recorder, harmonica, marimbas, organ, harpsichord, saxophone, accordion, autoharp, and dulcimer. Songs they did during this period, which are still very popular, would have been impossible without him. He was comparable to The Beatles having George Martin involved on their records. According to Keith, Brian didn’t enjoy playing guitar very much after 1965 and while there were certainly other issues within the band, it’s easy to believe that he would’ve been bored being the rhythm guitar player given his multi-instrumental abilities. Hounded by the drug squads and marginalized within the band because of his physical and mental condition, he would become the 1960s first “death by misadventure” casualty.

1968, the year of Jumping Jack Flash and Beggars Banquet, was often heralded by critics as the band’s return to their roots, but it was actually much more than that. In the past they had played American music, but post ’68 they set out to completely reinvent American music and culture, at least as they saw it. It was art in it’s truest sense and while Mick Jagger’s lyrics had a lot to do with the panorama they created, this whole period was Keith Richards coming into his own as a complete (understated) guitar master. He began exploring the concept of open-tunings, used by the blues masters of the past: Skip James, Robert Johson, Bukka White, Son House and Muddy Waters. Combined with his love of acoustic guitars, brilliant song sense and endless supply of memorable riffs and driving rhythms, he created a body of work from ’68 to ’72 that is the Stones pinnacle. Every one of the albums from this period rates five stars or… it should. Charlie Watts has said (I’m paraphrasing) that “every band in the world follows the drummer except The Rolling Stones. We follow the rhythm guitar player.” A very crucial ingredient to why these records were so great was how well Keith and Charlie play together. Keith’s riffs, combined with Charlie’s unique approach to “rock” drumming creates a very powerful, hip shaking statement. This was the beginning of the band’s ascent to superstardom.

OPEN TUNINGS

I learned all of the open-tunings a long time ago precisely because Keith used them. The original version of Jumping Jack Flash (with it’s flip side Child of the Moon) was done in open E/D. Tune the guitar to a major chord E-B-E-G#-B-E (down 2 steps for open-D, which is less stress on the guitar, especially acoustics). Beggars Banquet was the first album done with Keith using these tunings although Brian had used this tuning for slide guitar in the past. Street Fighting Man, Prodigal Sun, Salt of the Earth, No Expectations, Jigsaw Puzzle and Stray Cat Blues are all definitely in open tunings. Another element that makes this album interesting is that some of the songs were cut with the band gathered around a Phillips cassette recorder which was then put through a speaker and recorded. Sort of like having an overdrive in the chain. Says Keith: “The basic track of that was done on a mono cassette with very distorted overrecording, on a Phillips with no limiters. Brian is playing sitar, it twangs away. He’s holding notes that wouldn’t come through if you had a board, you wouldn’t be able to fit it in. But on a cassette if you just move the people, it does. Cut in the studio and then put on a tape. Started putting percussion and bass on it. That was really an electronic track, up in the realms.” Brilliant lo-fi stuff isn’t it? That track still sounds great and the whole album is just drowning in atmosphere. Here’s the original when the song was still Did Everyone Pay Their Dues?

Here’s my version of Stray Cat Blues…I just did the music for a friend’s project that profiles a woman who takes care of stray and feral cats (at her own expense) in Mexico. I decided to use the Keith approach to the music and I ended up with something not too bad considering I haven’t played slide guitar in 5 years and was never much of a harmonica player. I also used the old Johnny Cash trick of slipping a piece of paper through the strings to create a nice rhythmic “chuck” for the background. The track had to be edited down for the length of the movie, but this is why I love GARAGEBAND.

In THIS post, I do some playing around with open-tunings on an acoustic, including Prodigal Son and You Gotta Move. They are close to what Keith does except “Move” is tuned down to a “C” tuning. I’m playing it in “D”. Keith Part II coming later in the year!