Credit: Heinrich Klaffs

Remembering when The Who’s Pete Townshend was arrested for assaulting a police officer

One of rock and roll’s most iconic guitarists, Pete Townshend, was known all too well for his fiery performances with The Who. When the band took to the stage at the Monterey Pop festival he demanded his band “leave a wound”.

Smashing instruments may well be part of Townshend’s schtick but on May 16th, 1969, while performing in New York City, he clattered a non-uniform police officer while the cop jumped on stage.

If you’re looking for tales of youthful energy and vibrant rock and roll attitude, then you may as well start with The Who. As well as the iconic ‘Moon the Loon‘, the band’s ferocious drummer, the group was always brimming with the tension between Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend always burning away — the band often fell into violence.

The fighting wasn’t reserved for inter-band scraps. At Woodstock in ’69, Townshend once hit Abbie Hoffman with his guitar when they invaded his on-stage territory, the same can be said for the man filming it, who later caught a boot to the face. Townshend has a temper.

The Who were performing at the Fillmore East in New York a few weeks prior to the event and Townshend’s quick feet once again saw him in trouble. The group were running through their epic rock opera Tommy across the United States and their scheduled New York debut was one of the most prized stops.

The group were in the middle of performing ‘Summertime Blues’ when a plain-clothed police officer tried to jump on stage. He began wrestling the mic from singer Roger Daltrey, who himself is no slouch with his fists, and it prompted him to defend himself abruptly. Townshend, seeing the fracas, swiped at him with a heavy boot.

What the band didn’t know, was that on the other side of the wall smoke had begun to creep into the theatre. The smoke had begun to cascade into the venue from a grocery store next door that was on fire. The undercover policeman was trying to warn all those inside of the impending danger and instead received a swift kick to the crotch from Pete Townshend.

Luckily, as the band finished the song, Fillmore owner Bill Graham came out and calmly told the crowd the situation and had everyone leave in an orderly fashion. The show was later rescheduled for the upcoming Sunday. It was a lucky change because The Who had their lead guitarist in a jail cell.

Whether you’re part of The Who or not, it turns out assaulting an NYPD officer will always land you a night behind bars and later fined $30 for the assault.

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