Popular Culture 20111118: A Brief History of The Who. Part I

(9 pm. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

In this series about The Who we have reviewed all of their albums through Who are You, and I chose to stop there because the band were just not the same after the death of Keith Moon.  We shall now go back and look at the formation of the band, their rise to fame, and their slow decline after the release of Who’s Next.

Tonight we shall concentrate on their meeting and early success, ending with the departure of the really shady Shel Talmey in 1966.  Most people are not really aware of how far back some of the band members actually went, and how the band came to be in its lineup of Roger Daltrey, John Enwistle, Keith Moon, and Peter Townshend.  There were two others who, although they did not play or sing or write, were absolutely essential to the evolution of the band into what it became.

Although this is not a biography of the individual band members, it is useful to have dates of birth (and death) of key participants.  Here they are:

Roger Harry Daltrey, 19440301 - present

John Alec Entwistle, 19440909 - 20010627

Keith John Moon, 19460723 - 19780907

Peter Dennis Blandford Townshend 19450519 -\ present

In addition, there are two other individuals who were so key to the development of the band that they should be mentioned as well:

Christopher Sebastian Lambert, 19350511 - 19810407

Chris Stamp, sometime in 1942 - present

“Kit” Lambert and Chris Stamp were instrumental of transforming the four band members into what we now know as The Who.

Of the lot, Moon was the only actual baby boomer.  The others were born before or during World War II.  I do not know what real significance that has, but I found it interesting.

The first encounter that any of the band members has with each other musically, as far as I can tell, was in the summer of 1959 when John and Pete played together as part of the band The Confederates at Congregational Church Hall in Acton.  John and Pete went to school together at the Acton County Grammar School, and that would have made them around 14 years old.  Later, the two of them joined another band, The Scorpions, when one day a member of another band, The Detours, asked John to come play in his band.  This was in 1960 and the member of the other band was its lead guitar player, Roger Daltrey.

John soon quit The Scorpions for The Detours and after about half a year they decided that Reg Bowen, the rhythm guitarist, just was not very good.  John suggested that Roger get Pete to replace him, and so the three were now playing together.  Since they had been using Bowen’s parents’ house for rehearsal, that was sort of bad move.  They ended up using Roger’s parents’ house when they were away.  The Detours were then Roger on lead guitar, Pete on rhythm guitar, John on bass, Colin Dawson on vocals, and Harry Wilson on drums.

Wilson was replaced in mid 1962 by Doug Sandom.  Now, Doug was born in 1936 and so really did not fit in with the younger members.  Besides, his wife did not go for him being out all night playing since they had a little one in the house.  But he was with them for some time, and they played a lot of local venues.  In December 1963 they actually opened for a better known band of the day, The Rolling Stones.  During that gig Pete met who would later do the recording work on Who’s Next, Glyn Johns.

On 19640201, a band appeared on Thank Your Lucky Stars, a BBC pop TeeVee show by the name of Johnny Devlin and the Detours.  That got the band thinking, since they felt that they could no longer use the name The Detours.  A guy by the name of Richard Barnes, during a think session/party suggested that they use The Who as a name.  One would think that this was it, but it was not.

Sandom’s sister in law worked for a wealthy guy and he wanted to be the next Brian Epstein, so he begin to back the band financially.  They were required to sign a legal agreement to get it, and since all of the band members except Sandom were not yet 21, their legal guardians had to sign for them.  Pete’s parents had been in show business, and they refused to sign the agreement as written.  This caused the backer to be more generous.  His name was Helmut Gorden, and his barber, Jack Marks talked with several record industry members until Chris Parmeinter, from Fontana Records, went to see them. He liked them very much but had serious reservations about Sandom’s drumming.  He played his last set with The Who on 19640413.  After that, paid session drummers were used until IT HAPPENED.

It turns out that another band, The Beachcombers, played many of the same venues that The Who played.  It turns out that a friend of the drummer for The Beachcombers approached The Who and told them that his friend could play better than the session drummer that they were using.  They said to bring him up to try, and Keith was an instant hit.  They did not ask him to join the band immediately, as is often said, but in just a couple of weeks he was a full band member.

But Barber Jack had more to offer than arranging an audition.  He was also the barber to Peter Meaden, a publicist who had worked with another, lesser known band.  He got in contact with Gorden, who hired him for fifty pounds a week to create an image for The Who.  This was the origin of their “mod” look and sound.  Becoming their first manager, he convinced them to change their name to The High Numbers.

He wrote lyrics to their first release, the “A” side of which was “Zoot Suit” and the “B” side “I’m the Face”.  The record sold around 500 copies out of only 1000 pressed, and an original Fontana label 45 rpm vinyl is quite rare.  Here is Zoot Suit, a song that I like very much.  Remember, this was released on 19640703, when all of the band members were from 17 to 19 years old.

Here is “I’m the Face”, which shows off John’s bass talents.  Note that by now the band members were in the positions that we know them with Daltrey as lead singer (not playing guitar much any more), Entwistle on bass, Moon on drums, and Townshend on lead guitar.

With only 500 sales, Fontana did not pursue the relationship and so The High Numbers no longer had a record label.  Unfazed, they kept playing clubs and gaining a following.  They were going further towards R&B, and this cover of the Miracles’ “I Gotta Dance to Keep from Crying” is typical.

In July a young filmmaker was cruising the bar scene looking for band on which to make a documentary.  On the 14th the young filmmaker, Kit Lambert, found The Who.  He was so impressed that he called his partner, Chris Stamp, and had him come (Stamp was working in Ireland on a film) to London to see them.  Stamp saw them on the 18th, and soon thereafter they took over management of The Who.

Gordon was forced out since Pete’s parents had never signed the legal agreement, and Peter Meaden was out of his brain on perks, so he was easy to buy out for 250 pounds.  Gordon sued his attorneys for malpractice, and from then Lambert and Stamp were running things.

The parents DID sign with Lambert and Stamp, and Lambert and Stamp were to receive 40% of all profits and the band the remainder, equally split.  It was the best deal that they could get at the time, so they took it.  They began doing some TeeVee appearances as well, and  Lambert did make his film documentary.  One of the songs was the Mose Allison blues number, “Young Man Blues”.  Here is the version from 1964.  Regardless of the artwork in the video, it was not released on Fontana.

This song became extremely popular, and was done very well on Live at Leeds.  And here.

Here is a live rendition of “Ooh Poo Pah Loo” probably from either August or September 1964.  Look closely at the man who snaps the mortarboard.  This is Kit Lambert.

They played throughout the Acton area until the fall, when they were able to get a regular Tuesday night spot at the Marquee Club in the West End.  That began a long (16 week) run there, and at about the same time they were getting a new record label.  It was both good news and bad news for them, because they fell into the clutches of Shel Talmy, a record producer who had success selling The Kinks to Decca.  He was a freelancer, so was essentially a hired gun.

That was the origin of their first Townshend song, “I Can’t Explain”.  They cut the demo at the studio at Pye Studios, and Townshend had written it especially to sort of sound like The Kinks style to suit Talmy.  Talmy had a backup guitarist in place because he did not think that Pete could play very well.  He did play on the “B” side of the record, “Bald Headed Woman”.  Townshend would have played that one, too, but it required fuzzbox and Jimmy Page would not lend his to Townshend!

We have heard “I Can’t Explain” lots, but few of us have heard Jimmy Page play with The Who.  Here is the original version of “Bald Headed Woman”:

Decca agreed bought the record, and Talmy tricked Lambert and Stamp to sign a one year production deal with Orbit Music, Talmy’s company.  What he did not tell them was that the US Decca was a different company that the UK one, so they were not getting what they thought.  In addition, Talmy had written the contract such that he got a four year option to extend the contract.  It turned out that the record was indeed released in the US on Decca, but in the UK by Brunswick.

“I Can’t Explain” did chart, and made #8 in the UK.  Gross sales were about 35,000 pounds, with around 10,000 going to the retailers, 16,000 to Decca, and 5,000 to taxes.  Townshend got 2,000 pounds for writing it, and, like the other three band members, 250 pounds for the performance.  In other words, the band got a total of 1,000 pounds.  Now Lambert and Stamp got 1,500 pounds but their productions costs were much greater than that.  They were losing money with a hit record!

The next single was “Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere”, released in the UK on Brunswick 19650521 with the “B” side “Daddy Rolling Stone”.  It charted at #10.  Here is “Daddy Rolling Stone”.  Note the the end of “The Ox” goes until about 25 seconds in:

In the US, it was released on 19650605 with a different “B” side.  It failed to make the Top 100.  Here is the “B” side, “Anytime You Want Me”:

The next single was “My Generation” with a UK “B” side of “Shout and Shimmy”.  It was released 19651025 and charted at #2.  Here is “Shout and Shimmy”:

In the US, the record was released on 19651120 with the “B” side being “Out in the Street”.  It charted at #74.  There is a pattern of hits in the UK and slow sales in the US.  The reason is that Decca just did not do marketing very well if at all.  In addition, the TeeVee shows with them were airing only in the UK, so the US market was largely unaware of them.  They were not being ignored by the public, they were being ignored by Decca.  Here is “Out in the Street”:

The next release was somewhat controversial.  One of their best songs, “Substitute” was the “A” side, and in the UK the “B” side had “Circles” aka “Instant Party”.  It was released on Brunswick 19660304 in the UK and charted at #5.  However, The Who and Talmy were getting serious about rights, and it was released again in the UK on Reaction Records on 19660314 with the “B” side being “Waltz for a Pig”.  Guess who they meant as the pig?  It was also released in the US by ATCO on 19660402, and again on 19670719 after they got away from Talmy.  There was lots of legal action after the Reaction and ATCO releases, and The Who were banned for a while from releasing recordings other than those already in the can for Brunswick and Decca.  Here is “Waltz for a Pig”, and it was not performed by The Who but rather the Graham Bond Organization.

“A Legal Matter” was released in the UK on Brunswick on 19660307 with the “B” side “Instant Party”.  It was not released in the US, and charted at #32 in the UK.  Here is “Instant Party”:

In June of 1966 there was finally a deal struck to get Shel Talmy out of the affairs of The Who once and for all.  It involved some subterfuge, but it worked.  Do you remember Allen Klein?  He was an American businessman who became heavily involved with British talent, working with The Beatles, The Rolling, Stones, and many others.  They got Klein to take over from Talmy and offer a half million deal to them through his record label, ABKCO.  Lambert and Stamp had learnt well from Talmy, because they used an obscure clause that they had written into the agreement with Klein to delay the consummation of their end of the deal for 21 days by leaving the country.  The deal died, and Klein did not get control of The Who.  But Talmy was out, except for getting a 5% cut for the next five years of all gross receipts from record sales from The Who.  Considering that some of their best selling albums came out during that time period, Talmy did have sort of a last laugh.

We shall stop this part of the tale here.  I should mention that the album My Generation (in the US, The Who Sings My Generation) was released in December of 1965, but we talked about that here.  I should also mention that Roger was married on 19640328 to Jacqueline Rickman, and their son, Simon was born 19640822.  They divorced in 1968, but were estranged long before that.  As a matter of fact, he lived in the van to carry their equipment for some time.  She wanted stability, and the life of a struggling rock performer (they were far from stars in those days) did not suit her.  He is reported to have said something like, “I knew that if I did not get away from her, I would be a sheetmetal worker for the rest of my life”, alluding to his day job at the time.

As always, comments are encouraged.  Some of the details that I have told are a bit difficult to glean from conflicting sources, but I believe that I got it essentially right.  If I have misinterpreted anything, please set me straight.  And again, I have had to leave lots of stuff out due to space constraints.

Warmest regards,


Crossposted at The Stars Hollow Gazette,

Daily Kos, and



  1. being an amateur historian?

    Warmest regards,


  2. I very much appreciate it.

    Warmest regards,


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