As a songwriter, Pete Townshend merged great rock and roll with a novelist’s sense of narrative on such masterworks as Tommy and Quadrophenia. Similarly, his interviews often read like works of art themselves, filled, as they are, with provocative commentary on everything from the power of the three-minute pop song to brilliant dissections of the guitar styles of Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and himself. Next fall, Townshend’s much-anticipated memoir, Who He?, will at last see the light of day. In the meantime, we scoured an array of past interviews to uncover some of his most revealing insights.

On writing for The Who, as told to Performing Songwriter in 2002:

“I always wrote toward the strengths of the band. On ‘My Generation,’ I made the demo with a six-string bass and played a solo because I knew that would suit John. I put in a stutter because Roger and I were both huge fans of John Lee Hooker and Johnny Cash, and both of them occasionally stuttered. When I started to employ drums on my demos, I tried not to overplay, but I certainly would have played like Keith sometimes if I could.”

On what led him to SGs, as told to Premier Guitar in 2010:

“I decided to concentrate much more on chordal work, trying to give a beat backbone to Moon’s flailing and undisciplined drumming. Pretty soon, by accident, I discovered the Gibson SG with P-90s. And because I was using a mix of Sound City (later Hiwatt) and Marshall amplifier stacks, I landed the Live at Leeds sound that stayed with me almost all the way on from there – at least onstage.”

On the “Hope I die before I get old” philosophy, as told to Rolling Stone in 1980:

“I’ve always been fascinated by the period of adolescence – and by the fact that rock’s most frenetic attachments, most long-lasting attachments, the deepest connections, seem to happen during adolescence, or just post-adolescence. Rock does evolve, and it does change … but [listeners] tend to listen in the same way. You expect – and you feel happiest when you get – an album that does for you what your first few albums did. [You’re] always chasing that same feeling, that same magic.”

On his initial impression of Hendrix, as told in the documentary, The History of Rock and Roll, in 1995:

“He did things which were magical. I don’t think he knew he was doing them or that he could do them, but he’d do things with his body that were very, very beautiful to look at, yet accompanied by these incredibly wild noises. It was some kind of strange alchemy. He demonstrated that there was actually such a thing as physical poetry in rock, something that was very close to ballet.”

On the success that came with Tommy, as told to Guitar World in 2009:

“In some ways it was wonderful. We went from being a band with a predominantly male following to one where Roger seemed to be a kind of Rock Sun God, and we had a few women in the audience for a change. But in other ways it was disarming, because the natural easy connection between me, as the writer, and the audience, was broken. The feeling I had was that we were starting to become in a way like Tommy: we started to become more deeply deaf, dumb and blind to what was actually happening to us.”

On the guitarists who influenced him most, as told to Premier Guitar in 2010:

“Wes Montgomery, Kenny Burrell (in his work with Jimmy Smith), Jim Hall (with Jimmy Giuffre), Buddy Guy, Leadbelly, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Snooks Eaglin, Big Bill Broonzy, Hubert Sumlin (with Howlin’ Wolf), Albert King, Steve Cropper, Don Everly, Bruce Welch (with The Shadows), Eddie Cochran, James Burton (with Ricky Nelson). Among my contemporaries, it was Dave Davies, Jimi Hendrix and Neil Young. At art school I met Bert Jansch, and realized folk guys used tricks (tunings)!”

On the hazards of windmill-style power chords, as told to Guitar Player in 1989:

“The right method is to bleed, you know? Your hand and the pick have to connect with the [expletive] strings. You don’t open your fingers up and just sort of slap. And you have to be able to do it in a downward direction as well as an upward direction. Doing it from the top is right easy, but coming up from below ... you know, you’re going around, the string catches under your fingernail, carves it back, pulls it out and then goes poing,backwards.”

On the first time he smashed a guitar, as told to Sound International in 1980:

“I was very frustrated because I couldn’t do all that flashy [guitar] stuff. So I just started getting into feedback and expressed myself physically. And it just led to when, one day, I was banging my guitar around making noises and I banged it on this ceiling in this club and the neck broke off. Everybody started to laugh. I had no other recourse but to make it look like I had meant to do it. So I smashed the guitar and jumped all over the bits. The next day the place was packed.”

On music as his personal salvation, as told to Guitar World in 2009:

“Music for me has always been more than entertainment. Entertainment came out of this thing called a television, and it was gray. Most of the films that we saw at the cinema were black and white. It was a gray world. And music somehow was in color. And that’s where I discovered me; I found me in there. And that accounts for a lot of my passion and optimism. It’s what has kept me going, and [what’s] kept The Who coming back.”

On his favorite off-stage acoustic guitar, as told to Premier Guitar in 2010:

“My latest rave is an old J-200 with a Tune-o-matic bridge. This is the model I used on Tommy, Who’s Next, Rough Mix and Empty Glass. It’s also the model Keith Richards used on the Stones’ acoustic tracks like “Wild Horses.” Glyn Johns knew how to make it sound perfect with a Neumann mic at least two feet away from the sound-hole.”