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Group became the Who in 1964; members included Pete Townshend (full name, Peter Dennis Blandford Townshend; born May 19, 1945, in London, England; son of Clifford [a musician] and Betty [a singer] Townshend, mother's maiden name: Dennis; married Karen Astley, 1968; children: Emma and Aminta), songwriter, guitarist, keyboard player; Roger Daltrey (born March 1, 1944, in London, England) vocalist; John Entwistle (born September 10, 1944 [one source says October 9, 1946] in London, England) bass player; Keith Moon (born August 23, 1946, in London, England; died September 7, 1978, in London, England) drummer; Kenny Jones (born September 16, 1949, in England) replaced Moon as drummer. Addresses: Home --(Townshend) The Boathouse, Ranelagh Dr., Twickenham, TW1 1QZ, England. Office --(Townshend) c/o Entertainment Corporation of America, 99 Park Ave., 16th Floor, New York, N.Y. 10016-1502. Record company --Warner Brothers Records, Inc., 3300 Warner Blvd., Burbank, Calif. 91505.

The Who, with songwriter, guitarist, and keyboard player Pete Townshend, vocalist Roger Daltrey, bass player John Entwistle, and drummer Keith Moon, became one of the most enduring parts of the British invasion of the 1960s. With hits like "I Can't Explain" and "My Generation," the band became a symbol of the era's youth movement. They helped define and popularize the concept of the rock opera with the critically acclaimed "Tommy" and "Quadrophenia." Despite setbacks, such as the death of Moon and long dry spells during which the group was considered disbanded, the Who has managed to maintain its following, which has been augmented by the ranks of fans who were babies when the band first burst upon the music scene. As David Gates reported in Newsweek, "after the Beatles and the Stones, they're it. "

The roots of the band that would become the Who grew early. Townshend, Daltrey, and Entwistle were school acquaintances during their adolescence in London, England. Particularly close were Townshend and Entwistle, who played together in a Dixieland band when they were thirteen. Eventually they lost interest in that type of music and both became enamored of rock and roll, but while Townshend went to an art college, Entwistle joined a group called the Detours with Daltrey. When the Detours concluded that their guitarist was inadequate, Townshend was recruited. By 1962, they were one of the most popular attractions in London's small clubs.

In 1963, the Detours came under the management of Pete Meaden and Helmut Gordon, who changed the group's name to the High Numbers in hopes of appealing to England's new "Mod" youth culture--Mods valued psychedelic drugs, and it was hoped that "High" would be interpreted as a reference to intoxication. Also in keeping with the image, Meaden and Helmut decided that the band's thirty-five-year-old drummer was too old to attract young fans and should be replaced. While in the throes of these changes, the High Numbers recorded an unsuccessful single, "I'm the Face." With the drumming question unresolved, they were playing at the Oldfield Hotel in Greenford when a drummer from a surf band asked if he could sit in with them for a few sets. The High Numbers and their managers liked what they heard, and Keith Moon joined the group.

Shortly afterwards, the High Numbers again came under new management, film directors Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp. Lambert and Stamp suggested yet another name change, and this one stuck. As the Who, the band attracted even more attention, gaining a reputation in London's clubs for violent stage antics like Townshend's now famous guitar-smashing and Daltrey's equally renowned twirling his microphone cord like a lariat. As for Moon, countless critics have described his manner with the drums as "attacking" or "destroying." Entwistle, perhaps for contrast, stood relatively still while playing his bass. By the end of the same year, 1964, the Who had also landed a recording contract with Decca Records (later MCA). Their first major single, "I Can't Explain," was released early in 1965. Though the disc was only moderately successful in the United States, it made the top ten of the British charts. A string of English hits followed, including 1965's "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere," and "My Generation," 1966's "The Kids Are Alright," and "Happy Jack," 1967's "I Can See for Miles," and 1968's "Magic Bus."

The Who gained important U.S. exposure with their appearances at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 and at Woodstock in 1969, and their following in the United States had been growing steadily since the release of "My Generation"; but their star did not really rise there until the advent of their rock opera, "Tommy." Townshend's story of "Tommy," a deaf, dumb, and blind boy who becomes both a phenomenal pinball player and a sort of messiah, changed the way rock music was perceived. The Who performed "Tommy" in serious opera houses all over the world, including the Royal Theatre of Copenhagen in Denmark, the Cologne Opera House in Germany, and the Champs Elysees Theatre in Paris, France. Their presentation of "Tommy" at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City was judged one of the greatest rock concerts of all time by Rolling Stone. As the magazine concluded, the rock opera "directly challenged the cultural establishment's dismissal of rock as three-minute segments of cacophony."

In addition to gold albums, such as 1971's Who's Next and Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy, the Who also created a second rock opera, which they released on the 1973 album, Quadrophenia. Like "Tommy," "Quadrophenia" was primarily written by Townshend and also eventually became a successful film; the latter creation centers on a member of the Mod culture named Jimmy, whose diverse character aspects reflect those of the Who's members. But the band was beginning to age--in fact, the theme behind 1975's The Who by Numbers was the question of whether older rock musicians could retain their relevancy.

The Who suffered its first major setback in 1978 when Keith Moon died of an overdose of an anti-alcoholism drug. Though Kenny Jones was enlisted to take over drumming duties, the band continued to have problems, including some close calls with drugs on Townshend's part. A 1979 concert in Cincinnati, Ohio, further lowered the Who's morale when eleven people were trampled to death in the crowd's rush to get to the seats. The group changed to Warner Brothers Records to release Face Dances in 1981 and It's Hard in 1982, but despite hits like "You Better You Bet," "Athena," and "Eminence Front," most of the Who's members felt these albums were not of consistent quality with their previous work. Townshend told Rolling Stone reporter Steve Pond: "I think the Who stopped two albums too late." Also, the group was never completely at ease with Jones's style of drumming, and missed Moon. As Townshend confided to Pond, "the fact of the matter is, there is a ghost.... There's the ghost of the void which is left when the person is gone." After a farewell tour that ended early in 1983, the Who disbanded.

The band reunited in 1985, however, to perform for Live Aid, the concert effort for Ethiopian famine relief. The Who came together again in 1989 for a reunion tour, despite the problems created by Townshend's debilitating tinnitus, a hearing problem probably caused by his many years of exposure to the high decibel levels of the group's music. For the 1989 tour, Townshend, Daltrey, and Entwistle were joined by drummer Simon Phillips--who is said to recall Moon's energetic style--and guitarist Steve Bolton. Fred Goodman reported that "for most of [the tour's] shows ... the Who rumbled and thundered with the authority of a freight train...the group brought an urge and verve to many of its warhorse anthems." The proceeds from two performances of "Tommy" benefited charities for autistic and abused children; the proceeds from another two concerts featuring the Who's hits over the years went to Special Olympics.

by Elizabeth Thomas

Who, The's Career

Entwistle, Daltrey, and Townshend performed in a group called the Detours, 1962; added Keith Moon and changed their name to the High Numbers, 1963; changed group name to the Who, 1964; drummer Keith Moon died, 1978; added Kenny Jones as drummer, 1979; group disbanded, c. 1983; reformed to appear at Live Aid, 1985; reformed with Simon Phillips replacing Jones, and Steve Bolton, for a reunion tour, 1989. Appeared in films, including Tommy, Quadrophenia, and The Kids Are Alright.

Who, The's Awards

Many gold and platinum albums.

Famous Works

Recent Updates

June 1, 2004: The Who's compilation album, Collection, was released. Source: Billboard.com, www.billboard.com/bb/releases/week_3/index.jsp, June 3, 2004.

Further Reading



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