W hat if you were a fifteen year old and was confronted by this rock group with a crazy name, a guitarist who would smash his guitar to smithereens at the end of the show, a drummer who stood up on his stool, twirled his sticks like a magician and then fell all over his drums, a singer who ran around the stage like a wild man, while the bassist stood steady as a rock in the eye of a hurricane, playing intricate bass lines that seem to shake the roof? I would freak out and that is exactly what happened when I heard the Who, at full volume, at a friend's house many decades ago. The foreign music magazines were full of pictures of this new sensation that was driving the youth crazy, with their powerful music and their eccentric antics on stage. As a young and wild man myself, I wanted more and more and more!
One of the key figures of the British Rock invasion of the world and the Mod era of the mid sixties, the Who burst on the British Music scene with their unique formula of 'Maximum R&B' and wildly energetic live shows. Yet their entry was not an untroubled one. The Who evolved in 1964 from a group called the 'High Numbers', which included Daltrey, Townshend and Entwistle while Keith Moon, their enigmatic drummer, joined them later. In those days, the Marquee club in London was the center of the dynamic Blues, R&B and Rock scene of England. It was here that the Rolling Stones, Yardbirds, Alvin Lee, the Animals etc, performed to cult audiences. Later some of these acts would go on to be world famous! The Who soon became regulars here and it is said that it was here that Townshend first smashed one of his guitars out of frustration with the sound system. This was the beginning of a lot of broken guitars, as destruction became one of his performing signatures. We, the Bombay musicians, were always amazed at his audacity, as our precious imported guitars were always treated with kid gloves and near reverence.
The Who were responsible for a lot of innovations, both on the music front and with its presentation. One of them was the sea of change they brought about in the way that the media and the audience perceived musicians. Before, it was always the vocalists that got the glory, with the newspapers and TV featuring them in the forefront. This changed dramatically when the Who hit the scene. For the first time a special TV camera was assigned to Keith Moon, the drummer while Townshend with his trademark windmill guitar motions was captured from all angles! Daltrey could not be ignored as he did all the singing but alas, it was silent Entwistle, the bassist and the best musician in the band, who got the raw deal and continues to be underrated to date! This has always been the sad story of good musicians who cannot compliment their musical talent with showmanship skills. I always advise prospective musicians to never neglect this aspect, as I have always been amazed with the number of people who compliment mediocre musicians just because their visual appeal is overpowering!
The Who were also responsible for bringing respectability to the Rock arena with their pioneering effort "Tommy", the Rock Opera. This afforded them an entry into the elitist world of the 'Opera'. For the first time, critics loved the music and the group, finally received the respect they richly deserved. This opera has been a personal milestone for me, as I had the good fortune to play the main role in its Bombay production. This Multimedia production, which featured high-tech slide projection, also marked the debut of Karla Singh as Choreographer and Shiamak Davar as Dancer.
The Who continued their dream run with the release "Who's Next" which went on to be a major hit. Containing the greatest 'Rock Scream' of all times in "Won't get fooled again" , the Who were growing in strength with every album. In spite of the usual fights within the band, fuelled by the substance abuse that is so common among people with demanding lifestyles, the band continued what was truly a remarkable career. Unfortunately, it all came to a grinding halt with the death of Keith Moon, their drummer on September 7, 1978.
The Who continued to record and tour with
different drummers but the glory of the old days had bypassed them. All three
surviving members have claimed that they felt the Who ended with Moon's death.
On Aug. 23rd, it is the 54th birth anniversary of this
awesome musician who truly changed the way drumming was approached. I am sure
all the die-hards Who fans will spend that day, listening to their music and
remembering the good old days. As for the uninitiated, check out "Live