Bucks Burnett's Namedropper: How I Reunited Binky Phillips and Pete Townshend
Pete Townshend and Binky Phillips (center) were reunited by Bucks Burnett (not pictured) in March.
Bucks Burnett isn't a journalist. He's a namedropper. He may not have met every one of his music idols, but he's met 90 percent of them. And he's here to tell you all about it, however he sees fit.
I love it when people say I have good stories about The Who. I’ve met everyone in the band except the late, great Keith Moon, and have enjoyed written correspondence with Pete Townshend and had several backstage encounters with him since 1982. So I'm in a good position to tell you who really has good Who stories. Binky Phillips has good Who stories.
Pete Townshend likely has better ones than Binky, but that would be about it.
Among Binky’s tall tales of his encounters with The Who, one looms larger than all the rest combined. In 1970, at the New York Metropolitan Opera House, a teenage Binky was crushed against the stage with hundreds of other Who zealots during the encore while Pete smashed his trademark red Gibson SG. Or at least, he was trying to. The guitar was not breaking. Out of frustration, Pete braced the guitar upside down and, with his booted foot, forced the headstock from the neck, ripped the strings off the guitar and pulled off the bridge.
It was a wild day all around that saw the Who play two shows, as Binky recalls. “Moon and Ox when back to the Navarro on 59 St. to fuck some groupies between shows,” he says. “The energy level of the evening show reflected that decision.”
Out of all the kids pressed against the stage, Pete looked at Binky and gave a simple nod. Binky was confused, but nodded back. There is a chance he recognized him — the two had met a couple of years earlier at the legendary Manny’s music store, where a gawking young Binky watched Pete buy three SGs.
Pete nodded to Binky again, and flung the guitar high up into the air, at an angle which landed it straight into Binky’s outstretched hands. He caught it by the two horns of the guitar’s classic shaped body.
“The silly fan-boy truth is I had dreams about Pete Townshend giving me a guitar from stage for years before it happened. So...I had already experienced it several times,” says Binky. He estimates Pete was a good 25 feet away from him, even being in the front row. “His toss was Zen-perfect. The guitar just materialized in my arms.”
Binky never sold that guitar. He added a new headstock and bridge, and then gigged with it a few years later with his band the Planets. They played CBGB’s, warming up for new bands like Talking Heads and the Ramones. Even in this environment of new music, Binky never abandoned The Who. He saw the band with Keith Moon about 30 times, and became great friends with the group, especially Pete.
Burnett (left) made sure to get a picture in with Townshend (right) as well.
But by the time I became acquainted with Binky — during a visit to New York in 2012 to see The Who play at a benefit concert and attend a Townshend book signing — Binky was estranged from The Who. His last encounter with Pete happened in a hotel in 1982, when an approaching Pete Townshend unceremoniously knocked Binky unconscious with a direct hit to the nose.
I’m still not clear why this happened, but to me it speaks to the closeness of the two. Pete doesn’t deck you unless you mean something to him.
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My part in this story is less spectacular. I wrote Pete a bunch of letters starting in 1977, and he replied a few times, and in 1982 had me backstage at the band’s Cotton Bowl performance. He was pissed because his Telecaster had clipped the skin off of one of his knuckles during a windmill. He showed me his bloodied hand and said, “It hurts like fuck!” At least it resulted in a rare 1980’s smashing of a perfectly good guitar. See how dinky my stories are compared to Binky’s?
In May 2015 I was backstage at The Who in Dallas. As Pete began leaving the hospitality room, I walked up to him and announced that I had an offer. “Let’s have it,” he responded. I informed him that he had two choices. For 5,000 English pounds, I would promise that Binky and I would be nowhere near the band’s Madison Square Garden performance. Or, for free, we would get tickets, and say hello to him backstage. It was a fair offer. I wanted to reunite Pete with Binky. Pete thought about it briefly, looked at me, and said, “No, yeah, bring him. See ya up there.”
So on March 3, 2016, I found myself on The Who’s guest list plus three with All Access laminates. Binky was my guest of honor. After about 20 minutes Pete made his way into the room and began chatting and shaking hands with admirers. When he finally made his way to our group, I said, “Pete, this is Binky.” He looked at Binky and grinned. “I know who you are!”
I backed away as the two caught up for a few minutes. I took a photo of them hugging and filmed a bit of their conversation. We all had pictures taken with Pete and then he was gone.
“As crazed a fan as I've been since 1966, I had never dared to try to get backstage,” says Binky. “It was like seeing your absolute favorite teacher from high school again, decades after graduation. A poignant thrill.”
We lingered for quite awhile and finally left. Walking away from the venue in 30 degree weather, I realized I wasn’t wearing my prized leather jacket. I had left it in Pete’s room. By this point, Madison Square Garden was in the final stages of lockdown for the evening. I somehow Houdinied my way back in and a guard reluctantly walked me back to the room where I found my jacket. As I walked back out I unexpectedly bumped into Zak Starkey and had a quick conversation. This justified my blunder considerably.
But Binky; you really must hear him tell his Who stories sometime; they’re amazing, and no one tells them like The Bink, a born storyteller if ever there was one. I’m in discussion to bring him to town and present him in my new Broken Word series. He won’t have the SG with him though. It’s on tour in a traveling rock memorabilia exhibition, insured for $750,000. Almost as priceless as the stories. And it’s still not for sale.
But the Namedropper wouldn't be happy with just one photo with Townshend. Unfortunately.
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