How Pete Townshend Said Led Zeppelin ‘Copied’ The Who

Pete Townshend has never been shy about giving his opinion about other bands. When an interviewer asked him about The Beatles in 1966, The Who’s guitarist and primary songwriter replied that the Fab Four’s music sounded “flippin’ lousy.”

But Townshend has also been one to give credit where he believes it’s due. Looking back at the Monterey Pop Festival of ’67, he recalled asking Jimi Hendrix to play after The Who because Townshend thought Hendrix was “a great artist” while he wasn’t.

In an interview published December 2019 in the Toronto Sun, Townshend reiterated his praise of Hendrix, saying Jimi’s Experience did The Who’s act “far better than we did.” But he didn’t have the same type of praise for Led Zeppelin.

As he has in previous interviews, Townshend merely included Zeppelin among those who “copied” The Who’s heavy sound.

Townshend said Zep copied the heavy sound of The Who

Singer Robert Plant and lead guitarist Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin perform in concert. Bassist John Paul Jones plays behind Plant. | Jay Dickman/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

Townshend was feeling good about his legacy in this particular interview. In fact, he said The Who “sort of invented heavy metal with ‘Live at Leeds’ (1970).” As he said in the past, other heavy bands with an instrumental trio (guitar, bass, and drums) followed in his footsteps.

“We were copied by so many bands, principally by Led Zeppelin,” Townshend told the Sun. “You know heavy drums, heavy bass, heavy lead guitar.” And he noted how Cream and Hendrix stole The Who’s thunder working with that formula.

But Townshend has taken shots at Zeppelin in the past. “I haven’t liked a single thing that they’ve done,” he said of Zep in one classic interview (circa 1995). “I hate the fact that we’re ever even slightly compared to them.”

You might be able to chalk some of that up to resentment. Townshend admits he may have a block because Zeppelin “became so much bigger than The Who.” He’s also spoken admiringly of the guitar playing of Jimmy Page, who actually played rhythm on The Who’s first single.

Page nearly started Led Zep with The Who’s Keith Moon

The Who perform on the set of the Rolling Stones ‘Rock and Roll Circus’ on 11th December 1968. | Mark and Colleen Hayward/Redferns

As a guitar player who saw Page called in for his first record date, Townshend had reason to be wary of Zeppelin’s guitarist and primary songwriter. Townshend has spoken of what it was like with Page and other guitar gods around in the ’60s.

“You have to remember that I knew Jimmy Page,” he said in a 1990 interview. “Led Zeppelin weren’t formed then but I’d seen him in various bands and if anything his playing slowed down as he got older! He was an extraordinary player, arrogant, flash.”

But it went beyond Page’s talent. In ’66, Page and Who drummer Keith Moon played together at a session led by Jeff Beck. (They recorded the explosive “Beck’s Bolero.”) And afterward (while The Who slogged along) Page and Moon spoke of starting a band together.

So Townshend watched as Page nearly stole his band’s drummer then had otherworldly success with Led Zeppelin. (The name was a suggestion of Moon’s.) In a word, the two Londoners have quite a history. And it just got another entry.

Also see: The Who Album Paul McCartney Was ‘Really Raving Over’ to Pete Townshend