Happy Birthday to Pete Townshend, who turns 73 on today (May 19th)!!! Townshend, who is the primary creative force behind the Who, wrote nearly all of the band’s music and has been responsible for crafting the stories and themes behind such rock classics as Tommy, Who’s Next, and Quadrophenia. Released on April 20th was The Who Live At The Fillmore East 1968. The album, which took fans by surprise, vastly improved upon the sound of the legendary bootleg of the April 6th, 1968 gig making the rounds for the past few decades. For the new project, the band entrusted longtime live soundman and confidant Bobby Pridden to restore the tapes, polish and mix them into a live album worthy of the Who name.
Also on that day, Townshend reissued his 1972 solo debut, Who Came First, with the new 45th anniversary version featuring a bonus disc including “eight previously unreleased tracks, new edits, alternative versions and live performances.” Who Came First has been remastered by Townshend’s brother-in-law and the Who’s recording engineer Jon Astley using the original master tapes. Included in the eight-panel digi-pak are new sleeve notes provided by Townshend himself, the original poster from the 1972 release and a 24-page booklet which contains rare images of guru Meher Baba and Townshend in his recording studio. The cover photo of Townshend, taken by Roger Daltrey’s cousin Graham Hughes — who also shot the cover of the Who’s Quadrophenia — has been updated for the release.
Who Came First, which was originally released on October 1st, 1972, is made up of multi-track one-man band demos, nearly all of which were intended for the Who. Among the key tracks featured on the set — which was reissued in 1992 with six bonus tracks — are “Let’s See Action,” “The Seeker,” “Pure And Easy,” “Sheraton Gibson,” and “Time Is Passing,” among others. The album was first compiled to combat pirated versions of Townshend’s tribute albums to Meher Baba, titled, Happy Birthday and I Am.
Roger Daltrey recently announced that his upcoming solo set, Always Back To You — due out on June 1st — features Townshend contributing guitar to seven of the collection’s 11 tracks.
It was revealed last year that Townshend had married his companion of over 20 years, singer-songwriter-musician Rachel Fuller. Fuller appeared on the British radio program, English Harbor Radio, and while talking about many other things, discussed the fact that she and Townshend took the plunge back in December 2016 during a civil ceremony, which “took about eight minutes” in front of only two people. The marriage marks the second for the Who guitarist and the first for Fuller, who was 43 at the time.
2015 saw the release of Townshend’s latest project, Classical Quadrophenia. The new ‘symphonized’ version of the legendary rock opera was orchestrated by Rachel Fuller. The album — which also features Townshend on vocals — is a showcase for operatic tenor Alfie Boe singing Roger Daltrey’s original parts with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and the London Oriana Choir conducted by Robert Ziegler. The revamped Quadrophenia premiered on July 5th, 2015 at London’s Royal Albert Hall starring Townshend, Boe, along with the famed orchestra and choir.
Townshend appeared with Boe and Billy Idol last fall for a string of Classic Quadrophenia dates in Lenox, Massachusetts; Rosemont, Illinois; Manhattan, and Los Angeles only.
In 2016, Townshend revealed to Rolling Stone that he was slowly sifting through his database of demos and figuring out what needs to be done with them. Although he has released three separate volumes of Scoop demo collections over the years, nearly every work he’s created has a self made home studio recording of the tune — and in later instances it was simply used as the backing for the final track. Most recently, the older demos have found homes on the box sets for My Generation, Tommy, and Quadrophenia, but now he’s looking at them beyond their role as “bonus material.”
In 2012, Townshend published his long awaited autobiography, titled, Who I Am, to critical acclaim. Earlier that year, Townshend signed an exclusive, new publishing deal with Spirit Music Group to administer and promote his past and future songwriting catalogue. The pact also includes a long-term publishing agreement for Townshend’s upcoming projects, including new songs composed for potential solo and Who releases.
That same year Townshend and his wife of 43 years, Karen Astley, were granted a preliminary divorce in London’s High Court. The couple had been separated since 1994 and has three adult children — Emma, Aminta, and Joseph. Townshend has been romantically linked with Rachel Fuller since 1996.
In 2006, after a 24-year-wait, Townshend wrote and produced the Who’s comeback album Endless Wire. Despite the album hitting Number Seven in the U.S. charts, Townshend has stated that he felt the album fell short of his commercial expectations, and complained that none of the songs garnered the level of airplay he had come to expect with previous Who projects.
A while ago, we asked Townshend why he needs grand concepts such as Tommy, Quadrophenia, and the recent Wire And Glass mini-opera, behind most of his work: “I just write. I’m just a songwriter, y’know, that’s what I do. Which is why it’s very important for me to have some kind of concept to hold me down, some kind of concept to give my work shape, focus, and direction. Because I don’t feel that the Who ever had a clear brief (on what to write for them), ever, ever, ever, ever.”
Photo Courtesy of Rick Diamond