Jerry Lee Lewis – Piano burning in the 50’s
Jerry Lee Lewis is credited with being the man that changed the perception that the piano was not a Rock ‘n Roll instrument. Jerry was predicted to be bigger than the king of rock ‘n roll, Elvis Presley, and in late 1957 when he found out that he would be supporting Chuck Berry, he decided to set fire to his piano at the end of his set, leaving Chuck to follow an act that couldn’t be topped. Lewis is the sole-surviving member of Sam Phillips’ million dollar quartet which also featuredCarl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley.
Jerry Lee Lewis is credited with being the man that changed the perception that the piano was not a rock ‘n' roll instrument. Jerry was predicted to be bigger than the king of rock ‘n' roll, Elvis Presley, and in late 1957 when he found out that he would be supporting Chuck Berry, he decided to set fire to his piano at the end of his set, leaving Chuck to follow an act that couldn’t be topped. Lewis is the sole-surviving member of Sam Phillips’ million dollar quartet which also featured Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley.
In 1964 a new generation of instrument destruction was born. Out of frustration and possibly embarrassment, Pete Townshend began to smash his Rickenbacker to bits when the neck snapped on the ceiling of the Railway Tavern in Harrow. “So I smashed this guitar and jumped all over the bits and then picked up the 12-string and carried on as though nothing had happened. And the next day the place was packed." (April 1980 Issue of Sound International). The antics only accelerated from there, including their performance of ‘My Generation’ on The Smothers Brothers, on the 15th September 1967. Keith Moon filled his drum kit with explosions, which when exploded at the end of the show caused Bette Davis to faint and caused the onset of Pete Townshend’s tinnitus. Watch video
Word of Townshend’s antics spread quickly, and it was soon that they had inspired a scene in Michelangelo Antonioni 1966 film Blow Up. Whilst the part had been inspired by Townshend, Eric Burden had been asked to play the role, but when he declined, the role went to Jeff Beck. Though he was apparently a little apprehensive about smashing a guitar at first, Beck smashes the shit of a Gibson 175 before throwing it into the crowd. The film won the Grand Prix prize at Cannes in 1967, and was described as a “mod masterpiece” by Playboy Magazine. Watch video
While he had played around the US for years, it was in the UK where James Marshall Hendrix began to find fame, and also where he picked up some of his guitar smashing antics. It was back in this US though where his antics would rocket him up the charts. The Who and The Jimi Hendrix Experience were both slotted to play the Monterey Pop Festival in June 1967. Both were relatively unknown in the US at the time yet knew that this festival performance was a great chance to crack the US. Neither act wanted to follow the other, but eventually it was Hendrix who followed The Who on the final Sunday of the festival. With The Who having already blown audiences away with their guitar smashing, Hendrix knew he needed something special, and his infamous guitar burning incident was born. Watch video
Ritchie Blackmore carried the torch guitar smashing torch during the '70s, smashing and burning his way across the US and Europe with Deep Purple. There doesn’t really seem to be any particular reason for Ritchie to be smashing is guitar, apart from self enjoyment. And why not? Watch video
You can’t really write this article without including the most anarchic of them all, the Sex Pistols. “Actually we're not into music. We're into chaos.” Proclaimed guitarist Steve Jones in their first ever review, which appeared in NME in early 1976, following a support slot for Eddie & The Hot Rods at the London’s Marquee Club at which they smashed up the headliners gear. Guitar smashing was less a priority for the Sex Pistols however than smashing in general, which included smashing the toilet A&M offices (part of the debauchery that famously got them dropped from the label 7 days after they’d signed) and even smashing a beer mug in the face of Patti Smith’s brother Todd.
Apparently Paul Simonon only ever smashed his bass once, but that one time was enough for Pennie Smith’s to take one of the most iconic photo’s in rock ‘n roll, a photo that featured on the front of The Clash’s Elvis inspired cover for London Calling, and a photo that has been inducted into the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame. Playing and the New York Palladium on the 21st of September 1979, Simonon became so frustrated with the lack of interaction with the crowd due to the venues fixed seats, that he exploded and smashed the shit of his Precision Bass. "We used to get cheap Fenders from CBS; they were newer models, quite light and insubstantial. But the one I smashed that night was a great bass, a Fender Precision, (it cost about) about £160 (272 Euros), one of the older heavy, solid models, so I did regret breaking it."
Right from the beginning of Nirvana’s career, Kurt and Kris were partial to smashing the shit out of the bands gear unless the drummer could smash the shit out of them. After years of living tough, Nirvana finally started to make it when they signed with DGC in 1990, and in 1992 they were the toast of the music world at the MTV Awards. However even when you’re a rockstar you’re not immune to gravity as Kris found out at the awards night, see clip below. See also the You Know You’re Right clip, which gives an indication of why DGC were starting to get worried about how much money they were spending on equipment. Watch video Watch video 2
We’re not sure if anybody has been the face of the guitar smashing over the last decade more than Craig Nicholls of Sydney’s very own, The Vines. As one of the ‘The’ bands (The White Stripes, The Hives, The Strokes), The Vines were hailed as the saviours of rock at the beginning of the century, resulting in their faces on the cover of Rolling Stone in 2002, the first Australian band to do so since Men At Work in 1983. The Vines had always been a little bit partial to Nirvana and began as a Nirvana cover band, so it was only a matter of time before Craig began to torment stages with his guitar. Watch video
Rounding out some of the acts that have been the face of instrument destruction is Win Butler. It’s great to see that you don’t have to be in a Rock ‘n Roll, Psych, Punk or Grunge act to take your frustrations out on your beloved instrument, you can also play in an orchestral indie, and at times joyous and uplifting act. Here’s a short snippet of Win Butler on Saturday Night Live smashing his acoustic, and it looks like he’s had practice Watch video