“My playing owes so much to him - razor-edged monoliths crashing angrily, biting rhythmic hammer blows which changed me forever. I can’t imagine rock guitar without Pete Townshend. He basically invented it!”: Brian May lavishes praise on Who icon

Brian May is a fan of Pete Townshend. A huge huge fan, as it turns out.

Listen to Substitute for a tour de force of gigantic rhythm playing

Brian May

In an Instagram message he posted on Monday, the curly-mopped Queen legend shared a pic of himself and Townshend and described the Who man as a “hero” who is “the master of mood change, a master of the suspended chord.”

He continued, “I owe so much to him... Pete Townshend’s a god of guitar and always will be! I’d seen him stand there and let the guitar explode into life on its own.”

In a sidebar, May emphasised his admiration for the man: “I’m glad I said this – I probably don’t say it enough,” he said. “I can’t imagine Rock Guitar without Pete Townshend. Looking back, it seems to me he basically invented it!”

“My playing owes so much to him. I’m not talking about the blues-influenced playing which also underpinned the evolution of 70s and 80s rock music - Townshend brought to the scene a blistering clang of super-amplified but not over-saturated chords - razor-edged monoliths crashing angrily through our brains, biting rhythmic hammer blows which would change the likes of me forever.”

And he offered some recommended listening for his younger followers: “Listen to Substitute for a tour de force of gigantic rhythm playing and a lyric ten times as deep as anything out there. Finally listen to the Who’s first chart smash - ‘[I] Can’t Explain’ - along with their version of the classic Summertime Blues. It transformed Rock and Roll into ROCK!!!”

It’s not the first time May has expressed his love of the Who. Talking to Radio 2 last year, he recalled seeing the band on their home turf of Shepherd’s Bush as a teenager. “It was mayhem let loose. It was just so loud, dangerous and anarchic, I guess. This was long before punk. So I think The Who kind of wrote the recipe for punk, if you like. So they played local to us and we went to see them a lot. We followed them, we loved them. They ripped out the rulebook.”

Townshend himself celebrated his 79th birthday last Sunday and an interview in the current edition of Mojo magazine reiterated that “The Who are not done yet.” Though he and Roger Daltrey have no current plans to work together, the guitarist stated “I don’t want to do what I did before and say we’re never going to work again.”

Daltrey, for his part, recently stood down from his role curating the annual Teenage Cancer Trust concerts and has expressed doubts about recording again with the Who. “What's the point of records?” he asked in an NME interview last year. “We released an album four years ago, and it did nothing. It's a great album too, but there isn't the interest out there for new music these days."

Will Simpson
News and features writer

Will Simpson is a freelance music expert whose work has appeared in Classic Rock, Classic Pop, Guitarist and Total Guitar magazine. He is the author of 'Freedom Through Football: Inside Britain's Most Intrepid Sports Club' and his second book 'An American Cricket Odyssey' is due out in 2025