Pete Townshend Biography

Guitarist, Songwriter, Drummer, Pianist (1945–)
Pete Townshend is best known as the guitarist and songwriter for the band the Who as it grew to be one of the most influential bands of the 1960 and '70s.


British musician Pete Townshend was the guitarist and songwriter for the Who, widely regarded as one of the most influential bands of the 1960s and '70s. During the band's early years, Townshend became known for his concert antics, sometimes smashing his guitar on stage, a gimmick that became a regular part of the Who's performances. His solo career began in 1972 with the album Who Came First.

Early Life

Born Peter Dennis Blandford Townshend on May 19, 1945, in London, England, Pete Townshend has been a significant force in rock music, both as a member of the Who and as a solo artist, for decades. Townshend's father was a saxophonist and his mother was a singer, and he became curious about music at an early age.

Growing up in the same working-class neighborhood with future bandmates Roger Daltrey and John Entwistle, Townshend started playing in bands as a teenager. He and Entwistle were members of the Confederates together. Entwistle later joined the Detours, an outfit that already included Daltrey.

The Who Forms

After a stint at the Ealing Art College in 1961, Townshend became a member of the Detours. This group eventually evolved into the Who, which first found success in their native England in 1965 with such songs as “I Can’t Explain” and “My Generation.”

During the band’s early days, Townshend became known for his concert antics, sometimes smashing his guitar on stage, a gimmick that became a regular part of the Who’s performances. He made his solo debut in 1972 with Who Came First, which was dedicated to his mentor Meher Baba, followed by Rough Mix (1977), which he produced with bassist Ronnie Lane. His next solo effort, Empty Glass (1980), was a bigger success, selling over a million copies and reaching the Top 5. Two years later, Townshend had less success with his next effort, All the Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes (1982). He took a break from the Who around this time.

Reunion Tour

In 1989, Townshend joined forces with Entwistle and Daltrey to embark on a reunion tour with the Who. In 1993, he took his talents to Broadway with The Who’s Tommy, a runaway hit that earned Townshend a Tony Award. Townshend continued to record music on his own, releasing 1993’s Psychoderelict.

Before the start of another tour with the Who in 2002, Townshend suffered a great loss: Longtime friend and bandmate John Entwistle died of a heart attack on June 27, 2002. The band had already weathered the tragic death of drummer Keith Moon back in 1978, and Townshend and Daltrey decided to continue the tour as a tribute to Entwistle.

Later Work

Townshend has continued to devote much of his time and energy to the Who. He also wrote most of the tracks for the band’s most recent release, 2006’s Endless Wire. He and the rest of the band were the subjects of the 2007 television documentary Amazing Journey: The Story of the Who and a 2008 special tribute concert. The concert was filmed and later aired on television as VH1 Rock Honors: The Who. In addition to the band, other performers at the event included grunge rockers Pearl Jam and alternative rock favorites the Flaming Lips. Actor Sean Penn and comedian Adam Sandler also served as presenters at the tribute.

Personal Life

Divorced from first wife Karen Astley, Townshend has been with singer-songwriter Rachel Fuller for years. The two often collaborate on musical projects. They have worked together on the Web-based musical program “In the Attic” and the 2007 album Attic Jam. On the recording, Townshend performs with a variety of modern acts, including Death Cab for Cutie, the Zutons and the Fratellis. The recording serves as an example of Townshend’s lasting influence on later generations of rock musicians.

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