Pete Townshend is one of rock music’s most outspoken voices. His fierce tongue is unrivalled and has landed the creative mastermind behind The Who with more enemies than you could even imagine. That said, one person who was perhaps too talented to face his wrath was the great Jimi Hendrix. The guitarist was warm to Hendrix, a creative who even by Townshend’s incredibly high standards was a force to be reckoned with and a talent he quickly found himself in complete awe of. The only regret that Townshend has from the time he spent with Hendrix is one piece of advice he handed the young American which would come back to haunt him.
Quite the contrary from Townshend’s usual regrets, this wasn’t him speaking out of line. Hendrix blew him away from their very first interaction and his words to the guitarist were, on the whole, positive ones. However, Townshend’s regret derives from how these words of wisdom would end up coming back to slap him in the face. When Hendrix arrived in London during 1966, The Who were already stars and no longer really involved in the jostling for position amid the capital’s thriving club scene. With The Who beginning to taste the highs of fame, Townshend and Hendrix’s paths rarely crossed during this period but the Who man graphically remembers the times that they did.
As well as some of the same haunts, they shared the same label and following Hendrix’s arrival in London, he looked up to The Who as mentor figures whenever he got a chance to share a bill with them. For the ‘My Generation’ composer, the first time that he saw Hendrix was an out-of-body experience, that has vividly stuck with him: “Well, that was a cosmic experience,” he shared to Rolling Stone in 2019. “It was at Blazes, the nightclub in London. He was pretty amazing. Now I think you have to have seen Jimi Hendrix to understand what he was really about.
“He was a wonderful player,” Townshend uncharacteristically noted. “He wasn’t a great singer but he had a beautiful voice. A smokey voice, a really sexy voice… When you saw him in the live arena he was like a shaman. It’s the only word I can use. I don’t know if it’s the right term. Light seemed to come out of him. He would walk onstage and suddenly he would explode into light. He was very graceful.”
Townshend then added: “I met him, of course, because he was on our record label. He’d come to the studio, he came with his manager Chas Chandler who was the bass player of The Animals. Chas had left and gone into management, discovered Jimi Hendrix, put a band together. When I’ve seen him in the studio, he had this military jacket that I suppose was supposed to evoke the hippy era. It was covered in dust and dandruff, it just looked scruffy. I thought, ‘Well, this guy might turn out to be okay.”
Despite all the superlatives he still has to say for Hendrix, there is one regret that looms large over the encounters he shared with Hendrix. “What I did for Jimi – which I always regretted doing for Jimi,” he recalled to Ultimate Classic Rock Radio. “His manager brought him to meet me at a recording studio when he first arrived and he asked me what equipment to buy. I told him that I’d been using a mixture of an amplifier called Sound City. Which was a Marshall substitute, with a Marshall, to get this really kind of slabby sound.” The addition to Hendrix’s set-up meant he could now match The Who’s mammoth sonic experience, something they had previously kept as a guarded secret.
“Then, a couple of weeks later, we did a show with him at the Saville Theatre with him allegedly supporting us,” recalled Townshend, “I wish I’d never given him the tip! I was thinking, ‘Oh my God, this guy’s brilliant enough without being a thousand watts loud!’”
Anyone who knows Townshend isn’t at all surprised that his regret doesn’t derive from anything but his advice being ‘too helpful’, which provides his ego with a ready-made excuse for Hendrix overshadowing The Who. Sorry to break it to you, Pete, that one wasn’t down to the equipment. The visceral talent that bled out of Hendrix overshadowed anyone and is the reason for his meteorically fast rise to becoming the biggest star on the planet. Nevertheless, the sheer audacity shown by Townshend in attempting to take some of the plaudits for Jimi’s success can only be applauded.