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The Who's Pete Townshend Tells His Story

'Who I Am' details an iconic guitarist's life

Who Are They?

Rock immortality was still a few albums away when The Who posed on these London train tracks in 1965. From left to right, they are lead singer Roger Daltrey, drummer Keith Moon, bass player John Entwistle and Townshend.

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The Papa of the Power Chord

Townshend breaks out his "windmill" guitar stroke during a 1966 appearance on Danish TV. The idea for the move came to Townshend as he watched Keith Richards "limber up [for a show] by swinging his arm like a windmill."

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When Guitar Gods Gather

Jimi Hendrix cradles his Rickenbacker on a first meeting with The Who in 1967. "He was a mesmerising performer," writes Townshend. "He was a shaman, and it looked as if glittering coloured light emanated from the ends of his long, elegant fingers as he played."

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Take That!

Townshend smashes his Fender Stratocaster during a 1967 concert. "It's possible our audiences didn't understand the significance of auto-destruction," he writes. "But they certainly seemed to experience emotional release when we broke up our gear at the end of a show."

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Man on Fire!

Townshend stands bathed in smoke after Keith Moon set off theatrical gunpowder inside his bass drum on The Smothers Brothers Show on Sept. 15, 1967. Says Townshend: "My hair caught fire and my hearing was never the same."

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Magic in Their Eyes

Townshend and bride Karen Astley snuggle close on their wedding day in 1968. (His fear that she had "deceived" him inspired "I Can See for Miles" the year before.) "Keith Moon was well-behaved at the ceremony," reports Townshend. 

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This'll Wake 'Em Up!

Townshend rocks his famous white boiler-suit in the early-morning hours of Day 2 at Woodstock. Singer Roger Daltrey's "long, curly hair looked like golden fire," Townshend recalls, "his sweat an angelic sheen that evoked an Old Master painting."

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Studio Freak

Seated before a console steel guitar and a Marshall amplifier head, Townshend adjusts a recording level in his home studio in Twickenham in 1969. "Sometimes the entire house would vibrate with sound when I was recording."

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The Pete & Roger Show

The Who strike classic rock-band poses at Kings Hall in Manchester during the 1973 live tour of Quadrophenia, their sixth studio album. But snags with the quadrophonic PA system yielded "some of the most shameful performances in our career on stage."

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The Guitarist Unplugged

"This was the first-ever solo performance I did," says Townshend of his 1974 show at London's Roundhouse, a charity event he headlined. "I was surprised by how well I was able to hold the attention of the audience without amplification, and pleased I sang well enough to get by."

Courtesy Everett Collection

An Amazing Journey

The film version of Tommy starred Tina Turner, Eric Clapton and a very high-heeled Elton John (far right). "The contrast between Roger and me was dramatic," says Townshend. "He looked beautiful, tanned, healthy, alive, alert and fit. I was shattered, bleary and hung over."

Courtesy Everett Collection

Tragedy Strikes

The wheels were coming off the magic bus by the time The Who tried to record Who Are You in 1978: Keith Moon's drug and alcohol abuse had made "his drumming ... so uneven that recording was almost impossible." Moon (far left) died of an overdose on Sept. 7, 1978.

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The Who +1

The Who soldiered on for another four years without Keith Moon. In 1979 they added drummer Kenney Jones (far left) of The Small Faces, then made a farewell tour of England, the United States and Canada in 1982. "The Who had gone down," reflects Townshend, "but not in flames."

Dave Hogan/Hulton Archive/Getty Images


"Let's get together / Before we get much older" took on unexpected poignance when Roger Daltrey sang "Baba O'Riley" at the London Olympics in 2012. He and Townshend, his bandmate of 50 years, belted out a medley of classic Who tracks to close the games.

Patrick Semansky/AP Photo

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In his long-awaited autobiography Who I Am (out Oct. 8), guitarist and songwriter Pete Townshend opens up about a tabloid scandal, his musical career and much more. In honor of the release of his memoir, here's a brief retrospective on Townshend and The Who, from early days up to the present moment.

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