Pete Townsend, guitarist extraordinaire for The Who, wasn’t the first artist to destroy a musical instrument on stage. Jerry Lee Lewis is said to have destroyed a few pianos by setting fire to them, Jimi Hendrix destroyed a few guitars in his short time on this earth. And other big names, including Keith Moon, band mate of Townsend, got a kick out of blowing up his drum sets.
It’s been said that Townsend smashed his guitars, and sometimes even costly acoustic amps that were built to suit his specific style of acoustic guitars, as a performance stunt and thought nothing of it. But those around him these days say that he is rethinking his disrespect for the instruments that helped rocket him to stardom. Why? Because his past has come back to haunt him, or rather, Les Paul, famous guitarist and guitar designer has come back to haunt him.
Townsend claims that last September in a hotel room in Pittsburgh, he was awakened by a cold draft that swept across him as he slept. When he opened his eyes, he saw a dark figure sitting in the corner of the room hugging a perfectly gorgeous one-of-a-kind Gibson Les Paul guitar to his chest and shaking his head as if in mourning. Townsend claims the figure then looked him straight in the eye and told him “You have little respect for the instruments that made you famous. You must atone for your disrespect of the guitar or suffer the remainder of your life.”
Townsend claims that instead of being haunted, he immediately thought he was being robbed. He told reporters that he reached for the closest heavy object he could find and started swinging at the would-be robber, hitting instead a table, a chair and the wall behind it. Of course, in all the commotion, the ghostly apparition disappeared and, after a moment, Townsend collected himself and turned on a light to assess the damage.
When he saw no body where he had been randomly swinging his weapon, he made the realization that what he experienced must have been a haunting. Ironically, the weapon he chose to battle the messenger? A very expensive Gibson Les Paul he had used that very evening in a performance at an intimate gathering of friends.