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Allen Hill Pits Hefty Knowledge of The Who Against New Interview Tome

The Who in Chicago in 1975: Roger Daltrey, John Entwistle, Keith Moon, and Pete Townshend.EXPAND
The Who in Chicago in 1975: Roger Daltrey, John Entwistle, Keith Moon, and Pete Townshend.
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The Who on the Who: Interviews and Encounters
Edited by Sean Egan

Chicago Review Press, 432 pp., $30

For something different, today the Houston Press is boldly going where no book-related article has dared to tread. One Allen Hill, Houston music legend and "King of the Oldies," is a massive, massive fan of The Who, so both he and we read this particular tome, a compendium of many interviews with members of The Who between 1966 and 2014 (well, mostly with Pete Townshend doing the talking).

What follows is our correspondence one fine recent muggy August evening…

From: Bob Ruggiero
Sent: Monday, August 21, 2017 7:09 PM
To: Allen Hill
Subject: Re: Allen can you hear me? Can you feel me near you?

Bob Ruggiero, 7:09 p.m.
OK, well first Allen Hill, Houston Music Gadfly, how did you become such a big Who fan?

Allen Hill, 7:13 p.m.
My cool sister turned me on to The Who during their first of many farewell tours. The local radio station 97 Rock and tons of other rock and roll stations did a simulcast of a concert from Canada (Toronto?), and we were at the stereo with blank cassettes with our hands on the “Record” button!

Bob Ruggiero, 7:15 p.m.
What was your overall impression of this book, in that it’s a compilation of previously-published interviews and not a standard rock bio?

Allen Hill, 7:25 p.m.
The chronological interviews definitely give the feel, frustrations, and triumphs of the Who over their long career. Since Townshend wrote the most, it makes sense that he talks the most. I love his never-ending search even when there are dangerous turns. As a member of bands since high school who’s worked with a ton of different musicians, I could relate to Daltrey, Entwistle, and Moon’s differing priorities, actions, and visions from the person that is the primary architect of the sound. The songs were great coming in, and once those guys all got on the same page, they created the legacy as a unit where the whole exceeds the sum of the parts. Their aggressions in and out of the music are essential to the power of The Who!

Bob Ruggiero, 7:26 p.m.
I got the sense that, in Townshend’s case, the pieces come off almost more as personal therapy sessions than interviews.

Allen Hill, 7:34 p.m.
Totally – it’s also apparent that he, like Neil Young and so many other greats, love the moment that a great musical idea originates. There’s certainly magic in the recording process with the band but you can never re-experience or even accurately duplicate the magic moment when the songwriter receives the song from the universe. Townshend is so prolific and meticulous in creating demos that by the time The Who banged out the tunes in the studio he’d created another 50 pieces of music that excited him more. Everything after Live at Leeds was a total struggle that required Townshend to have his work raked over the coals by his bandmates. The results inspire me but I also empathize with the giant tasks of constantly keeping a top band with world-class material. No wonder he talks so much!!

Allen Hill, 7:34 p.m.
You are now learning that I’m a very slow writer!!!

Bob Ruggiero, 7:35 p.m.
No shit! Goddamn, Hill! Take a typing lesson or two! Anyway, as a music journalist, I am so jealous of the questioners in this book who get to spend hours, even days, talking to the band for one feature. Today, if I got an interview with Townshend or any current rock star, it would be a 10-15 minute phone call, sandwiched between a bunch of other interviews, conducted from a hotel room.

Allen Hill, 7:36 p.m.
Different days for sure!

And Then There Were Two (Who): Daltrey and Townshend in Philadelphia, 2008EXPAND
And Then There Were Two (Who): Daltrey and Townshend in Philadelphia, 2008

Bob Ruggiero, 7:38 p.m.
Something else that’s also interesting to me is that in a book like this, you get the bandmembers talking about their work when it’s just come out. Townshend breaks down Tommy and Quadrophenia as brand-new works of art that the reader might not have even absorbed yet, rather than looking at them with the weight of history and analysis as “classic” works.

Allen Hill, 7:41 p.m.
Absolutely. It’s always a risk to put out new music. They had no idea that these songs or the band would last this long, yet always strove to break new ground. Breaking new ground also doesn’t mean you create lasting art but the greatest artists never stop trying.

Bob Ruggiero, 7:45 p.m.
So one thing I also found really interesting is that in interviews from the mid to late ‘70s, how intimidated Townshend seemed to be of the punk movement and bands. He was deathly afraid of being obsolete at 30. Yet, the Who were one of the few ‘60s groups who mostly escaped punk’s wrath and even garnered some admiration. It’s not like the Who were CSN or ELP or Pink Floyd in a punk’s eyes. Why do you think that just ate at him?

Allen Hill and his accomplices in the Allen Oldies Band
Allen Hill and his accomplices in the Allen Oldies Band
Photo by Matthew Sturdevant/Courtesy of Allen Hill Entertainment

Allen Hill, 7:53 p.m.
Well, Pete is rarely lacking in the thinking department and spares himself very few jabs. The guy is rough on himself, and that is an essential part of the art he creates. I’ll speculate that he dug a lot of the energy of punk rock and was perhaps a tad jealous that these bands were able to do whatever the hell they wanted to without regard to many, if any, past works. Roger Daltrey was the scrapper that came in handy when the fighting required fists, but Townshend’s words are also blunt, sharp, powerful weapons.

Bob Ruggiero, 7:56 p.m.
In one quote, he is flabbergasted at even the concept of a 50-year-old Mick Jagger onstage, much less that he could possibly even want to perform and anybody would possibly pay to see him! Yet, here in 2017, a 72-year-old Pete Townshend and a 74-year-old Mick Jagger are out there playing to tens of thousands at a time. Was the idea of an “old” rock star just impossible to fathom until recent decades? I remember an interview with Ringo Starr in which he said when this pop music thing was done, he seriously wanted to own a string of ladies' hairdressing salons. This was in 1964!

Allen Hill, 8:02 p.m.
Yes, guys were feeling obsolete and out of touch in their late teens and early twenties. That was before rock and roll was an INDUSTRY. Very few folks back then thought it would last this long. Some sage career advice for bands even today is if you get hot, you’ve 24 months to make the money to carry you for the rest of your lives.

Bob Ruggiero, 8:06 p.m.
‘Dat true, Mr. Hill. You are wise beyond your years and the mental capacities of most Gingers. So, final question: What was the most interesting, bizarre, or offbeat thing you learned about the Who or their music from this book? For me, it was reading Pete’s impassioned defense of the marriage in the ‘80s between the soul classic “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” and dancing California Raisins in a commercial as long as it paid. He obviously later took his own advice, since “Won’t Get Fooled Again” was the theme song for all 17 CSI TV series. What about you?

Allen Hill, 8:20 p.m.
That Musician interview is so incredibly tense and telling. The battle between Townshend and writer Charles Young over legal versus moral property and benefits is fascinating. It also shows how far apart the members of the band were on a specific question. On one hand, Townshend is thrilled with the artistic opportunities that became possible with corporate cash. Then a few pages later, Daltrey flatly denies that they are looking for a tour sponsor after following Entwistle’s clarification that the band’s Schlitz beer ads from 1982 never asserted that they themselves drank Schlitz and he said instead “If someone wants me to sponsor Remy Martin, I’ll jump on it.”

Bob Ruggiero, 8:23 p.m.
Well, thank you for your time, El Rey de Oldies. I can assume that we both recommend this book! It was fun – let’s do it again sometime. But you might want to take some speed typing lessons first. I could have listened to the entire uncut sessions for Lifehouse in the time I was waiting for you to finger your keyboard.

Allen Hill, 8:25 pm.
It’s the thankin’ part that gets me! Also getting lost in Live at Leeds!

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