Is that the image you have of yourself?
I suppose to most people I'm probably seen as an amiable idiot . . . a genial twit. I think I must be a victim of circumstance, really. Most of it's me own doing. I'm a victim of me own practical jokes. I suppose that reflects a rather selfish attitude: I like to be the recipient of me own doings. Nine times out of ten I am. I set traps and fall into them. Oh-ha-ha-ha Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha Ha! Of course the biggest danger is becoming a parody.
Your wife, Kim, must be extraordinarily sympathetic and patient.
She is. She sort of takes it in 'er stride.
How did you meet her?
Eh-eh-eheeeee-eh-eh-eh. Ah-Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha! I met her in Bournemouth when I was playing a show. She was 16 and she hung out at the club when we worked, the Disc. Sometime later when I went down to see her, I was on a train and Rod Stewart was on the train. This was about ten years ago. We got chatting and we went to the bar car. It was Rod "The Mod" Stewart in those glorious days and he'd just been working with Long John Baldry. He was playing a lot of small discotheques and pubs, doing the sort of work we were doing. I said to Rod, "Where are you going?" He said, "Bournemouth." "So'm I," I said, "I'm going down there to see my chick." He said, "So'm I." So I showed Rod a picture of Kim and he said, "Yeah . . . that's 'er." Hahahahahahaha!
I don't remember. We were in the bar car and we both got paralytic. I only remember the trip back. Oh-hee-Ha-Ha-Haha!
How'd your mother-in-law come to live with you?
She's me 'ousekeeper. And she's a great cook. You see, I was cradle snatching. I snatched her daughter at 16, right out of convent school, and she 'adn't learned 'ow to cook yet, so I said, 'Get your mother up 'ere.' She's been living with us for about a year now. She's not the accepted idea of a mother-in-law. At my 'ouse there's no real accepted idea of anything.
Do you have "favorite" drummers?
Not many. D.J. Fontana [Elvis' original drummer] is one. Let's see . . . the drummers I respect are Eric Delaney and Bob Henrit [from Argent] and . . . I got a 'uge list, really, and all for different reasons. Technically, Joe Morello is perfect. I don't really have a favorite drummer. I have favorite drum pieces and that's it. I would never put on an LP of a drummer and say everything he did I love, because that's not true.
How'd you start on drums?
Jesus Christ, I think I got a free drum kit in a packet of corn flakes. Ah-Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha-ha-Ha! But no . . . drum solos are fucking boring. Any kind of solo is. It detracts from the group identity.
How much of a group effort are the songs? How much do you change those demos when you record?
Not a hell of a lot. Because Pete knows. When Pete writes something, it sounds like the Who. The drum phrases are my phrases, even though it's Pete playing drums. He's playing the way I play. He's playing my flourishes. The same thing for the bass part, and the guitar of course is 'is own. Only the vocals change some.
Are many of the songs rejected?
No. He obviously writes a lot more . . . I mean, not every song that 'e writes is suitable for the Who. When he gets an idea 'e thinks is right for the group, 'e brings it in and we try it. It's not very often that 'e's wrong.
Do you rehearse a lot?
We've always prepared for live shows meticulously. But we rehearsed a damn sight more often several years ago than we do now. Now we've reached a peak in the band . . . well, we reached it a long time ago . . . so now Pete plays us a number or we listen to a number and we can get it off pretty much if not the first time, the second or the third, and by the fourth or fifth it's begun to be battered into shape. In the old days, we were still getting the group together, still working out our own relationships.
The Who's never really been a "singles band." Was this by design?
Pete wrote "Can't Explain" as a single. He wrote "My Generation" as a single. But he's never really been one for writing singles. He doesn't like to sit down and write a single. He likes to write a project . . . and an LP is viewed as a project, a group project. A single is something you take off an LP. We don't go in an' do singles. The singles market really is not our market. If one of the tracks on an LP sounds like it might be a single, then it's released as such.
We had a period of singles after "My Generation" – "I'm a Boy," "Substitute," "Happy Jack." But then we went into making LPs. And once you get into making LPs, it's very difficult to go back to making singles.
Two years later, how do you look back on Tommy?
With disbelief. Ah-Hahaha. I can't believe we spent six months doing it. It took six months to make. That's studio time and that's talking about it, discussing it, arranging it, producing and writing it. Getting it all together. Recording it and then saying we could do it better and recording it again. Six months continuously in the studio.
Other than with disbelief, how do you remember it?
Well, it is disbelief. I just can't believe that we did that album. It was an amazing album to do. It was, at the time, very un-Who-like. A lot of the songs were sort of soft. We never played like that. And we didn't have an idea then as to how it was all going to turn out. Here we were, spending all this time on a project that none of us really knew all that much about.
Who came up with the phrase "rock opera"?
Pete. We really didn't know what else to call it. And people kept asking what we were doing.
Then came the Tommy tours . . .
Because we'd been in the studio so long, we immediately went on an American tour. We incorporated a lot of Tommy. In fact, the act was mostly Tommy. After that, on the Opera 'Ouse tour, we played just two numbers to warm up, we'd do "Summertime Blues" and "Can't Explain" or something, and then we'd do the opera. We did about six or seven opera 'ouses. I enjoyed them. Nice sound. But it was a bit strange. It was rather like playing to an oil painting.
Did there come a time when you got tired of Tommy?
Oh, yes. Very shortly after we made it. Ah-Hahahahahahaha-Haha! Yeah, it started becoming a bit of a bore. Everywhere we'd go we'd do our little show, and it became so we were playing it in our sleep. Toward the end we got bored. We played it 18 months nonstop. All the spontaneity was going. So somebody finally said, "All right, sod it, out with it! Who's next?" And it was. That was the next album.
The Who's always been a working band, a touring band. Do you still enjoy the road?
[Using soft voice, as if delivering a eulogy] I love it. It's my life. If I was to be deprived of touring . . . I love the responsibility of . . . being responsible for the enjoyment of a packed 'ouse. And knowing the four of us can go onstage and give enjoyment to that many thousand people, that's fucking something, man, that does me right in. If I'm good and the group is good, you can get 14,000 . . . 140,000! – get them on their fucking feet. Yeah. That's where it's at. That's what it's all about for me.
Do you think the top groups are charging too much for concert tickets? Honestly.
The fact is when the four of us go on tour we take a road crew of 20. We have to charge the prices we do to get the sound right, to get the lighting right, to get the hall right. We don't overcharge. In fact, a publication I've got right there, from the Student Union, says the Who are among the bands that don't seem too involved with money. And we're not. We're more involved with giving a fucking good show. If it costs us every fucking penny we're making, it doesn't worry us. I'd rather give a good show than make money. On a British tour it's impossible to make money any way at all. With the tax situation and the size of our crew . . . but people still complain. They see pictures of the 'ouse, they see pictures of me in my cars. These things didn't come from my tours here. I don't make money in England. I make it abroad.
Also I made it by investment. I bought a 'otel two years ago for £16,000 [$40,000]. I sold it last week for £30,000. Now, out of that £14,000 profit, I should probably see two. Doesn't matter, because I sold the company that I bought the 'otel with at a net loss of 10,000. So when I start a new company, I've got a £10,000 tax deficit. So in actual fact I made 12,000.
[As he said this, the face of his $5,000 wristwatch popped out onto the cushion next to him.]
My god . . . look at that! My watch has started molting. It's the season. It's autumn. In autumn, all the expensive watches in Surrey begin molting. Ah-Oh-ho-hahahahahaha!
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