Monday, April 15, 2024

The Who’s Pete Townshend Gets the Les Paul Award in California


Before the week gets away from us: last weekend, Pete Townshend received the Les Paul Award in Anaheim, California. Julia Fordham performed, Paul McCartney sent a video message (in our home page video player), and there was a lot of rocking going on.

The gregarious and dependable Martin Lewis not only helped put the whole thing together, but then he wrote it up for me. Since I can’t improve on Martin’s recollections, here’s his version:

Rock And Roll Hall Of Famer and Kennedy Center Honoree Pete Townshend of The Who has received one of the music industry’s highest accolades – the Les Paul Award. Named in honor of guitarist and multi-track recording pioneer the late Les Paul, the trophy is presented annually to honor “individuals or institutions that have set the highest standards of excellence in the creative application of audio technology.”

Townshend was the 22nd recipient of the award that was first established in 1991.  Past winners include:  Peter Gabriel • Brian Wilson • Neil Young • Sting • Paul McCartney • Robbie Robertson • Bruce Springsteen • David Byrne • Steve Miller • Al Kooper • Lindsay Buckingham • Steve Vai 

The award was presented to Townshend in Anaheim, California – the same city in which Townshend’s band The Who kicked off their 2013 US tour this past Monday (January 28th).

Among those toasting Townshend at the presentation were rock legends Slash, John Sebastian of the Lovin’ Spoonful (who emceed the awards show) and Eric Burdon of the Animals (friendly rivals to the Who in the 1960s).  Townshend was presented his award by an old friend, producer and humorist Martin Lewis – who recruited and produced Townshend for his ground-breaking acoustic performances at Amnesty International’s first “Secret Policeman’s Ball” in 1979.

In Lewis’ speech presenting Townshend with the Les Paul Award, he surprised the honoree by showing two special messages he’d arranged from two of Townshend’s oldest pals who were in the UK and unable to attend the event – Rolling Stone Sir Mick Jagger and Beatle Sir Paul McCartney.

Following Townshend’s heartfelt acceptance speech – the evening was brought to a crescendo with a five-song, 30-minute musical salute produced by Lewis and Musical Director Larry Batiste that climaxed with an unscheduled on-stage performance by Townshend who was moved to join the grand finale.

Backed by the event’s house band – The 2Cold Chilibone TEC Band – Townshend and the 1,000 industry professionals in attendance in the Pacific Ballroom of the Anaheim Hilton heard these songs:

“I Can’t Explain” – the Who’s first hit – written and recorded in 1965.  Performed by a 19-year-old newcomer from Los Angeles, Bree Kennedy. Guest bass player on this performance was former Jeff Beck & Rod Stewart bassist Phil Chen – whose friendship with Townshend dates back to 1965.  (Chen was a member of “Jimmy James & The Vagabonds” – a Jamaican ska-soul band who often supported the Who in 1965-1966.)

“Won’t Get Fooled Again” – Townshend’s 1971 classic performed as a finger-picking acoustic solo by multiple Grammy-winning guitarist Laurence Juber – who shared his first Grammy with Townshend when both were among the multiple guitarists on the studio version of Paul McCartney’s 1979 track “Rockestra”.  (They also performed together at the 1979 “Concerts for the People of Kampuchea”)

“The Seeker” – Townshend’s 1970 song about his spiritual journey was performed by 71-year-old Rock And Roll Hall Of Famer Eric Burdon – vocalist for the Animals.  Apart from their musical paths crossing frequently in the 1960s and 1970s, the two worked together in a literary vein in the 1980s when Townshend commissioned and edited Burdon’s autobiography “I Used to Be an Animal But I’m All Right Now” for British book publishers Faber & Faber.  Playing bass on this performance was 26-year-old Australian bass prodigy Tal Wilkenfeld who currently plays for Jeff Beck.

“Lifehouse Medley” – L.A.-based British chanteuse Julia Fordham brought Townshend to his feet to applaud her vocals on a medley of two key songs from Townshend’s famous 1971 “Lifehouse” project (originally conceived as the follow-up to “Tommy” – but subsequently abandoned and not released till 1999.)   Martin Lewis – a longtime admirer of Townshend’s “Lifehouse” – conceived the medley consisting of “The Song Is Over” and “Pure And Easy” and arranged it with Musical Director Larry Batiste.

“Let My Love Open The Door” – led by Grammy-winning David Pack – formerly vocalist/guitarist for 1970s/1980s rock band Ambrosia – all the evening’s musicians assembled on stage together – with Eric Burdon, Julia Fordham and Bree Kennedy providing backing vocals. The performance of Townshend’s 1980 Top Ten solo hit brought the night to a rousing end.

Midway through the song, Townshend left his table to join the musicians on-stage – bringing the entire audience to its feet in salute. Townshend embraced Burdon and after joining in on the chorus – delighted the crowd by singing several verses from the song – taking evident pleasure in delivering one of the tongue-in-cheek lyrics in the song “you’re so lucky I’m around…” to the crowd – a sentiment that the cheering ballroom appeared to endorse.

The ceremony was the highlight award of the 28th Annual TEC Awards (Technical Excellence in Creativity) – often referred to as the “backstage Grammys” – awards that recognize excellence in the professional audio world.   (  The awards night was held under the aegis of the world’s largest annual music products trade fair – the NAMM Show (first established in 1901).   The TEC Awards were established in 1985.  They are executive-produced by TEC Foundation founders David Schwartz and Hillel Resner.

The TEC Foundation for Excellence in Audio is a 501(c)(3) public benefit corporation. Proceeds of the TEC Awards have been donated over the years to organizations that educate both sound professionals and music listeners about hearing health. The Foundation has also funded scholarship endowments at a number colleges and universities for students of the audio arts and sciences.

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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