Editor’s Note: The original version of this story misidentified the last time the Who had been on a late-night talk show. The text has been corrected and Rolling Stone apologizes for the error.
The Who kicked off a new, North American leg of their Who Hits 50! Tour this week and will perform tonight on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. Although the group’s members have appeared on late-night talk shows individually since then, and Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend appeared as a duo version of the Who on Letterman in 2006, he latter event marks the group’s first full-band performance on a late-night talk show in nearly half a century. The last time the whole group was on television, they nearly brought down CBS.
When the Who booked their appearance on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour on September 15th, 1967, they’d just notched their first U.S. Top 10, “I Can See for Miles.” The group, which was famously prone to destructive outbursts, performed that single but also wanted to go out with a bang – literally – with an unpredictable performance of “My Generation.”
“The Smothers Brothers had a fairly radical show at the time and they bravely asked us if we would destroy our instruments,” Pete Townshend once recalled in a VH1 interview about the incident. “Keith [Moon] persuaded the pyro-technician on the show to make a cannon, which he put inside his drum. And in the rehearsal it went bang, but it kind of made a lot of smoke and a bit of a dull thud. And Keith said, ‘Listen, you must increase the charge.'”
Stage manager Bob LeHendro complied but was unaware that the drummer added more explosives to the device, giving it three times the firepower.
When Tommy Smothers introduced the group, he said the audience was “going to be surprised what happens.” They were. As Townshend and John Entwhistle smashed their instruments into their amps, Moon’s bass drum erupted.
“It set my hair alight,” Townshend recalled. The guitarist then tacitly and awkwardly removed an acoustic guitar off Tommy and smashed it to bits, and Tommy even got in the fun, his mouth agape with shock. “Hey Dick,” he said to his brother, “I’d like to borrow your bass for a minute.”
Townshend would later say the explosion caused him hearing loss.
The Who will be on tour through May 29th, when they wrap the trek in Las Vegas.