Roger Daltrey is never one to ever talk down his group, rarely ever showing signs of self-deprecation. Therefore, with that in mind, it’s no surprise that he once claimed that Jimi Hendrix “completely copied” The Who.
Hendrix arrived in London during 1966 and, by that time, The Who had already graduated from the club scene, and it wasn’t until America’s finest export had become a household name that Roger Daltrey would witness him live. With The Who beginning to taste the highs of fame, their career had gone on a wildly different trajectory when Hendrix arrived on British shores, but it didn’t take him long to catch up with them.
The Who had built up a fierce reputation for being a formidable live act, one capable of blowing the roof off any building. If there was one act you didn’t want to follow, it was them. However, when Hendrix came along, everything changed, and he suddenly stole their crown. His rise was much to the irritation of Daltrey, who thought that he wasn’t reinventing the wheel and just copying Pete Townshend’s schtick.
“When Pete used to break those guitars, it was like a ritual slaughter of some mythological animal,” The Who frontman told AC/DC’s Brian Johnson on the singer’s programme, Life On The Road. “The thing used to scream. Every whack of it somewhere would create a different noise, and that never got written up. It was all about, ‘Oh, he smashed his guitar’. ‘Sorry mate, but you missed the point.’ What I never ever talked about was the noise it was making.”
Hendrix didn’t just smash guitars, although he did have a penchant for pulling out that trick on occasion, and even went one step further at Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 when he burned two guitars during his now-legendary performance.
He shared a bill with The Who that evening, and the two acts had a jam-off backstage to decide who were to go on first. Neither artist wanted to play last and follow the other, so they had to result to an old-fashioned coin-flip. Hendrix lost the toss and had to take to the stage after The Who had ripped everything to smithereens — the stakes couldn’t have been higher.
“Monterey was the first one, the first pop festival, and Monterey was extraordinary,” Daltrey remembered about that day. “We drove down there all of us in one car, we turned up in this field, and it was all these strange-looking people, bells, bubbles.”
Although the festival impressed him, the plaudits that Hendrix received had a different effect on Daltrey. “All that stage act that Hendrix did, with the speakers and the guitar up against the microphone stand, all of that came from Townshend,” he declared. “Hendrix copied that completely. We all must understand that history, Hendrix saw Townshend doing that and, ‘Oh, I’m gonna grab that.'”
Conversely, Townshend has nothing but admiration on the subject of Hendrix. Speaking to Rolling Stone in 2019, he dotingly said: “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.”
Adding: “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.”
Hendrix only destroyed instruments on a handful of occasions throughout his career, and it’s no coincidence that he did this at Monterey following The Who’s set. He needed to prove himself as the headliner, and Hendrix couldn’t let Townshend steal the limelight.
This act is a compliment to Townshend and shows how highly he was rated by his peer. Otherwise, Hendrix wouldn’t have bothered to bring out all the stops to make sure the attention was firmly on him.