The founding members of the Who, Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend and John Entwistle, grew up in Acton, London and went to Acton County Grammar School. Townshend’s father, Cliff, played saxophone and his mother, Betty, had sung in the entertainment division of the Royal Air Force during World War II, and both supported their son’s interest in rock and roll.
Townshend and Entwistle became friends in their second year of Acton County, and formed a trad jazz group; Entwistle also played French horn in the Middlesex Schools’ Symphony Orchestra. Both were interested in rock, and Townshend particularly admired Cliff Richard’s début single, “Move It”. Entwistle moved to guitar, but struggled with it due to his large fingers, and moved to bass on hearing the guitar work of Duane Eddy. He was unable to afford a bass and built one at home. After Acton County, Townshend attended Ealing Art College, a move he later described as profoundly influential on the course of the Who.
Daltrey, who was in the year above, had moved to Acton from Shepherd’s Bush, a more working-class area. He had trouble fitting in at the school, and discovered gangs and rock and roll. He was expelled at 15 and found work on a building site. In 1959 he started the Detours, the band that was to evolve into the Who. The band played professional gigs, such as corporate and wedding functions, and Daltrey kept a close eye on the finances as well as the music.
Daltrey spotted Entwistle by chance on the street carrying a bass and recruited him into the Detours. In mid-1961, Entwistle suggested Townshend as a guitarist, Daltrey on lead guitar, Entwistle on bass, Harry Wilson on drums, and Colin Dawson on vocals. The band played instrumentals by the Shadows and the Ventures, and a variety of pop and trad jazz covers. Daltrey was considered the leader and, according to Townshend, “ran things the way he wanted them”. Wilson was fired in mid-1962 and replaced by Doug Sandom, though he was older than the rest of the band, married, and a more proficient musician, having been playing semi-professionally for two years.
Dawson left after frequently arguing with Daltrey and after being briefly replaced by Gabby Connolly, Daltrey moved to lead vocals. Townshend, with Entwistle’s encouragement, became the sole guitarist. Through Townshend’s mother, the group obtained a management contract with local promoter Robert Druce, who started booking the band as a support act. The Detours were influenced by the bands they supported, including Screaming Lord Sutch, Cliff Bennett and the Rebel Rousers, Shane Fenton and the Fentones, and Johnny Kidd and the Pirates.
The Detours were particularly interested in the Pirates as they also only had one guitarist, Mick Green, who inspired Townshend to combine rhythm and lead guitar in his style. Entwistle’s bass became more of a lead instrument, playing melodies. In February 1964, the Detours became aware of the group Johnny Devlin and the Detours and changed their name. Townshend and his room-mate Richard Barnes spent a night considering names, focusing on a theme of joke announcements, including “No One” and “the Group”. Townshend preferred “the Hair”, and Barnes liked “the Who” because it “had a pop punch”. Daltrey chose “the Who” the next morning.