Wayne Kramer on Townshend and The Who (Part 2)

L. Bird 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, 
out techniques… 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, 
semi-accidentally… Obviously Pete knew what he was doing, but everyone was 
just like "Wow, did you see that?!" We were just – what’s the English 
expression? 'Gob smacked.'

-And when you say rentacop, you're talking about when they would hire the 
local police.

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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