Why did Jimi Hendrix and The Who’s Pete Townshend battle it out at Monterey Pop Festival?
There aren’t many people willing to stand toe to toe with Jimi Hendrix, guitar in hand and a Zippo in the other. But The Who’s own guitar-slinging cowboy, Pete Townshend did exactly when the groups crossed paths at Monterey Pop Festival.
The festival would be an opportunity for several bands to shine properly for the first time on American soil. While the British invasion had well and truly begun, only The Beatles and The Rolling Stones had made a real dent in the charts. It meant the hippie-festival Monterey was an open-goal for The Who and even American-born Jimi Hendrix.
By 1967, The Who had become an established act in Britain. With Roger Daltrey on vocals, John Entwhistle stoic on bass, Keith Moon lunacy on drums and Townshend’s thrashing guitar, the group had carved their own niche. And to do so they had used one of the many fragments of broken guitar that lay across the stage.
A man with an equally impressive live performance had also been setting light to every club in London was Jimi Hendrix. Having arrived in Britain on a wave of hype Hendrix was looking to jump on the next tsunami to the West Coast and finally make his name in his birthplace.
It was all set for the two guitarists to clash. Both bands had a point to prove and both bands had a live show capable of showing up every band on the setlist. Things got decidedly heated. Townshend initially approached Hendrix, having moved in similar circles for some time, with the idea of hashing out who would go on stage first.
Townshend had tasked his band with a performance that would “leave a wound” in American music and Hendrix was not prepared to go do without a fight. The story goes that Hendrix and Townshend then took part in a legendary jam session backstage to see who may go first.
But Townshend saw it differently and told Ultimate Classic Rock: “I’ve heard Roger talk about it as a jam session, but it wasn’t a jam session. It was just Jimi on a chair playing at me. Playing at me like ‘Don’t f—k with me, you little sh-t.’” Instead, they would have to settle things the old fashioned way: a coin flip.
The Who won the toss and would be given the first opportunity to deliver the most vicious side of rock. The band’s visceral playing style had everyone blown away, as they closed out their performance with the anthemic ‘My Generation’ and obligatory instrument smashing, the words around the grounds were all about The Who.
But not for long. Hendrix was well aware of the band’s set-finisher (it was the main reason he wanted to go on before them, how could one compete?) so he fashioned his own plan to take the headlines. He wouldn’t smash his guitar to piece she would sacrifice it with fire, turning his performance into a ritual nobody would ever forget.
The Who may have won the first battle but ultimately Hendrix would leave Monterey Pop Festival the victor. Watch both of their iconic performances below: