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IPR Roots Revue: Kevin Bowe

The Who, 1972
The Who, 1972

This is the second installment in a series of posts exploring the artistic interests and influences of the staff and faculty of IPR.  The posts will dig deep into our childhoods and explore the roots of our tastes in music, literature, and film. They will lay naked the forces that shaped us as educators, artists, and consumers of media. As an added resource, companion packages are available in the IPR library to further explore the topics discussed in this series. 

In this month’s post, Audio Production and Engineering Associate Chair Kevin Bowe writes about The Who, Live at Leeds, and his first guitar. 

If there is one piece of music that influenced me the most and the earliest it would have to be Live At Leeds, a live album that The Who released in 1970. I first heard it in 1973 or so, when I was about 12 years old. At the time I was trying to figure out what kind of dude to be and I knew it wouldn’t have anything to do with sports. Sports were NOT happening for me and up to that point they had seemed to be the only game in town.

The first thing I noticed about The Who was that Pete Townsend was no pretty boy. He was short and had a nose the size of Kansas…… but I had the strong suspicion that he tooled around in a limo full of girls and that somehow appealed to me. I assumed that he had acquired this limo and these girls because of that guitar and the way he played it and when I heard this album at the neighbor’s house my theory was confirmed.

Kevin Bowe, 1981
Kevin Bowe, 1981

I bought a Les Paul because he played a Les Paul, simple as that. I learned how to play it by listening to that album over and over. The Who were a great band to learn to because their music is not that sophisticated chord-wise, it’s brilliant but not jazz-brilliant. No one learned how to play guitar by listening to a jazz/rock fusion record- it just doesn’t work that way. The other reason this album was so perfect as an initial inspiration is that it is a truly LIVE album. There are no overdubs, so the guitar he played is the guitar you hear, nothing covering up the one-take real deal. PERFECT for learning!

The last thing that made this record perfect for this kind of thing is the way it was mixed – in the early days of stereo there were no “rules” like “drums go wide, bass and vocal are up the middle, guitars go to either side…” They just did whatever they wanted, and in this case, the engineer put the guitar on one side, the bass on the other and the drums and vocals up the middle. So if you panned the knob on your Pioneer stereo (that you caddied at the golf course all summer to pay for) all the way over to the guitar side, you got almost ALL JUST AUDIO OF THAT ONE GUITAR PLAYED BY PETE! Amazing!
So, I just panned it over and played to the record over and over, until I figured it out.
And, there are things on Live at Leeds that I still use today in my work as a musician, songwriter, and production engineer.