Wayne Kramer on Townshend and The Who (Part 2)
pkeets at hotmail.com
Thu Dec 16 19:25:07 CST 2004
The MC5 were very much of the streets, not to be trifled with? Did you feel
there was this affinity with The Who?
Yeah. I feel like they had a step up on us, they were a little bit older had
been in the game a little bit longer. They could play better, could sing
better. Their ideas were evolved. They were just ahead of us. We were just a
little bit younger. In 1966 I was 15-16. (He turned 18 on April 30 that
year.) I was about 19 when I wrote 'Kick Out The Jams.' It took me that long
to learn the skills of writing a song and performing and entertaining
people. So yeah, we identified with (The Who). I identified with them on a
lot of levels that are not verbal, not intellectual, but more a sense of
character. Who he is. The man that he represents himself to be. We certainly
admired them, we certainly copied them, we tried to learn from them, as all
artists do from their mentors. Townshend was the guy that showed me that
there was ways to get sounds out of the electric guitar that were unorthodox
and which no one had really explored yet, this whole business of feedback
and distortion. He was like the snow plough, cleared the way for the rest of
-As a songwriter and lyricist, he could write pubescent pop songs, but The
Who were pretty much the first group to come out with 'My Generation,'
'Anyway Anyhow Anywhere,' these very cocky anthems of youth
And also be able to get a lyrical handle on disassociation,
disenfranchisement, and being disconnected. And really sum up what teenagers
felt. Being an outsider, these are basic concepts in what we know as Rock
101 Songwriting. In those days, this was a new territory to be breaking into
as articulately as he was. To say 'The Kids Are Alright,' to say it that
-Again, was that something you could take on board as the MC5?
We saw this connection in the music of James Brown and Motown. We would
learn Motown songs because I wanted to be (Motown bassist) James Jamerson. I
knew who he was. I would see him and the other Motown musicians at the local
music store; they were the kings. They ruled in Detroit. I wanted to grow up
and be those guys. We would learn those [Motown] songs as best we could to
try and play those things. And The Who was doing the same thing. We were
doing a version of 'I Don't Mind' before we heard The Who's version. When we
heard their version it solidified our aesthetic. And to be honest, they did
it better than we did, they were better players. Certainly, they were a
better rhythm section.
I just saw the Who in Australia, and Townshend is a motherf**ker. He is
playing his ass off. He is still a superior guitarist to 99% of the fellows
who make a living playing the electric guitar. He just outdistances them,
speed, melody, harmony, inventiveness. He has his own voice
on the guitar; that's what all artists are looking for. You want to tell
your story your way.
-(I talk for a while on Pete Townshend as rhythm guitarist. How I admired
him when I was younger because he wasn't a flashy lead guitarist, he played
magnificent riffs, and even when he played solos they were simple.) Did you
get same thing?
He clearly understands the art of rhythm guitar. It's a lost art. Fred Smith
and Brian Jones and maybe a couple of other guys were the only guys who ever
really perfected it to the art form. It's a really demanding rigorous
technique to master, because it requires you to play things consistently,
syncopated, and it hurts! Lead guitar players get away with murder they
can let a note ring forever, they can trill, and play triplets, but to play
rhythm guitar properly and have it have meaning in a band context, in an
ensemble, that's a demanding technique. And if you are a serious guitarist
you have to master it. You have to master both. It's not enough to play a
solo or just play a solid rhythm, you have to understand how these things
all work together. You're right he was the guy that really made rhythm
guitar come alive.
-Did you ever play together?
Yes. They came to Ann Arbor and played a club that was about as big as my
studio. It was a little teeny basement club and I stood inches in front of
them; there were maybe 40 or 50 kids there. I was so close I could see the
sweat dripping off their noses. It was just an unbelievable experience for a
kid like me, for being in a band and understanding what they were doing. The
club was the 5th Dimension. [This was in fact The Who's first ever club gig
in America, June 14, 1967, a warm-up for Monterey Pop that weekend. Kramer
is only the second person I've come across who attended the show.] It was a
great gig because a rentacop came up on stage when the smoke started coming
out of Pete's amp, and Townshend was twirling around and clocked the guy,
Obviously Pete knew what he was doing, but everyone was
just like "Wow, did you see that?!" We were just whats the English
expression? 'Gob smacked.'
-And when you say rentacop, you're talking about when they would hire the
Yeah. And he was up there trying to take charge: "Oh Jesus, there's a fire,
let me get in here." Clunk!
They played the Grande Ballroom in Detroit often I was at all these gigs,
but I was too shy to try and meet him. We were on another show with them in
Toronto, the last date of a US tour and they really tore up the gear that
night. [It was at The CNE Coliseum, The Who with The MC5, The Troggs and
Raja, Sunday 7 April 1968.] They were pretty wild backstage, they were
enjoying themselves, the tour was done, I was intimidated and didn't feel
like I could slide in with them and be a peer. They were still idols of
-Have you ever met him?
Unfortunately I've never sat down and had a talk with Pete. I just figure at
some point I'll be somewhere and I'm guessing we're kind of cut from the
same cloth. I've studied him and clocked his work over the years. And I read
his stuff. Our paths are not dissimilar.
In the world of rock music, Pete Townshend is an anomaly, because he is an
intellectual. And rock prides itself on being dumb. But he's found a way to
work in this game and to do it as an artist, to bring artistic principles
into the work and to elevate
He single-handedly raised the bar in what was
considered a dumb teenage fashion trend. He was able to marry the worlds of
serious art from over the ages, as something that makes a connection between
people, that makes the world a more harmonious place and less separated, art
designed to be a bridge to carry a message between people, to let us know
that in the end we're not alone. And Pete Townshend was the snot nosed kid
from Shepherds Bush and I could be a snot-nosed kid from Detroit, and say,
Yeah I know that kid. I know him. And know that him and I are the same kind
of guy, and there are millions just like us. And that really is a
contribution to make. In the end we want to feel like maybe we left the
place a little nicer than we found it, and I think you can say that about
Pete Townshend. He worked hard at it.
The MC5's message has always been that you can make a difference but you
have to do it wholeheartedly. You need to make a commitment but you can't
hedge on it, you can't do it when it's convenient and not when it's not
convenient, you have to be in it with both feet. That's what Townshend
always did, that's what I think great artists have always done. I would put
him on a list with Picasso and John Coltrane and Salvador Dali and Sun Ra;
he elevated the art form.
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