In 1956, on the Lawrence Welk Show, a zoot-suited performer billed as "Rockin' Rocky Rockwell" did a mocking rendition of Elvis Presley's hit song "Hound Dog." At the conclusion of the song he smashed an acoustic guitar over his knee. US country musician Ira Louvin was famous for smashing mandolins that he deemed out-of-tune.
Jerry Lee Lewis may be the first rock artist to have destroyed his equipment on stage, with several, possibly erroneous, stories of him destroying and burning pianos in the 1950s. Several contemporary musicians, including Annea Lockwood, Yōsuke Yamashita, and Diego Stocco, have incorporated piano burning in their compositions.
Nam June Paik "One for Violin Solo" 1962: Over the course of five minutes, Paik very slowly and intently lifts up a violin in this on-stage action on 16 June 1962 and then smashes it with one blow on the table. Simultaneously, the lights go up in the auditorium. After the long drawn-out suspense, only one, final sound has been produced by the instrument.
In London, 1966, a group of artists from around the world came together to participate in the first Destruction in Art Symposium (DIAS). According to the event’s press release, the principal objective of DIAS was “to focus attention on the element of destruction in Happenings and other art forms, and to relate this destruction in society.”2 Events were scheduled to occur throughout London. During the course of the symposium, Raphael Montañez Ortiz performed a series of seven public destruction events, including his piano destruction concerts, which were filmed by both American Broadcasting Company and the BBC. Two years later, New York City hosted the second Destruction in Art Symposium at Judson Church in Greenwich Village. The artists who gathered around this art movement and its development were opposed to the senseless destruction of human life and landscapes engendered by the Vietnam war.
In the mid 1960s, guitarist Pete Townshend of the Who was the first guitar-smashing rock artist. Rolling Stone Magazine included his smashing of a Rickenbacker guitar at the Railway Tavern in Harrow and Wealdstone in September 1964 in their list of "50 Moments That Changed Rock & Roll". A student of Gustav Metzger, Townshend saw his guitar smashing as a kind of auto-destructive art.
Keith Moon, the Who's drummer, was also known for destroying his drum set. The most famous episode of this occurred during the Who's debut on U.S. television on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in 1967. Moon overloaded his bass drum with explosive charges which were detonated during the finale of the song, "My Generation." The explosion caused guest Bette Davis to faint, set Pete Townshend's hair on fire and, according to legend, contributed to his later partial deafness and tinnitus. Moon was also injured in the explosion when shrapnel from the cymbals cut his arm. VH1 later placed this event at number ten on their list of the twenty Greatest Rock and Roll Moments on Television.
Jeff Beck, then a member of the Yardbirds, reluctantly destroyed a guitar in the 1966 film Blowup after being told to emulate the Who by director Michelangelo Antonioni. Jimi Hendrix was also known for destroying his guitars and amps. He famously burned two guitars at three shows, most notably the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival. In an effort to out-do the Who's destruction of their instruments earlier at the same event, Hendrix poured lighter fluid over his guitar and set it on fire, even though "I'd just finished painting it that day" as he would later remark. In 2004, Rolling Stone Magazine included this in their list of "50 Moments That Changed Rock & Roll" alongside Townshend's first guitar smashing in 1964.
Instrument destruction has also featured in other musical genres than pop and rock music. Towards the end of Peter Maxwell Davies's monodrama Eight Songs for a Mad King, first performed in 1969, the vocalist seizes the violin from one of the musicians and smashes it.
In 1968 a piano was dropped from a helicopter near Seattle, WA to publicize an outdoor concert. In 2019 it was exhumed by Jack Straw Cultural Center and displayed in a gallery. Several local composers and musicians performed on the recovered instrument.
Paul Simonon of the Clash famously destroyed his Fender Precision Bass only once at the side of stage, out of frustration over the bouncers at the show not allowing the audience to stand up from their seats. A photograph taken by Pennie Smith of the event became the iconic cover to their London Calling album.
When on tour, "Weird Al" Yankovic frequently performs a novelty acoustic ballad, "You Don't Love Me Anymore", holding an acoustic guitar, but never actually playing it. At the song's conclusion, he smashes the guitar, emulating the conclusion to the song's music video.
In the famous toga party scene in the movie National Lampoon's Animal House, John Belushi's character Bluto comes across a folk singer (portrayed by singer-songwriter Stephen Bishop, who is credited as "Charming Guy With Guitar") performing "The Riddle Song" for a group of college girls. Bluto abruptly takes the singer's acoustic guitar out of his hands and smashes it against the wall, then hands a splintered piece of it back, simply saying "Sorry."
Kings of Leon frontman Caleb Followill famously smashed his 1972 Gibson ES-325 on stage at the 2011 T in the Park festival out of frustration over a recurring sound problem. He later asked the audience to return the pieces and had the guitar put back together by Gibson's Repair & Restoration department. After its restoration, Followill continues to play the same guitar on stage and in the studio to this day.
In 2012, Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong destroyed his guitar along with bassist Mike Dirnt, with drummer Tre Cool smashing his drum set at the end of a live performance of iHeartRadio music festival in Las Vegas as a sign of outburst of not given enough time for his performance.
Besides destroying instruments, many rock musicians have also been famous for vandalizing hotel rooms.
- Rockwell, Rockin' Rocky (1956). "Hound Dog". The Lawrence Welk Show.
- Gardner, Lee (2012-02-01). "Satan Is Real: The Ballad of the Louvin Brothers". Baltimore City Paper. Archived from the original on 2012-02-14.
- Fontenot, Robert. "Did Jerry Lee Lewis really set his pianos on fire onstage?". About.com.
- Wynn, Ron (1994), "Jazz Venues", in Ron Wynn (ed.), All Music Guide to Jazz, M. Erlewine, V. Bogdanov, San Francisco: Miller Freeman, p. 717, ISBN 0-87930-308-5
- Friedlander, Paul (1996). "The Who: People Try To Put Us Down". Rock and Roll: A Social History. Westview Press. Archived from the original on 2011-09-27.
- "The Who – Biography". The Marquee Club. Archived from the original on 2007-10-02.
- "50 Moments That Changed Rock and Roll: Townshend Smashes It Up". Rolling Stone. 2004-06-24.
- "The Who, Smothers Brothers, 1967". Ready, Steady, Go!. Archived from the original on 2009-01-06.
- Neill, Andy; Kent, Matt (2005). Anyway Anyhow Anywhere: The Complete Chronicle of the Who 1958-1978. Sterling Publishing. p. 66.
- "Hendrix's burnt guitar for sale". BBC News. 2007-08-25.
- "50 Moments That Changed Rock and Roll: Otis and Jimi Burn it Up". Rolling Stone. 2004-06-24.
- Schell, Michael (March 8, 2019). "Piano Drop at Jack Straw". Sequenza21.
- "Gallery of Guitar Destruction". Parade. 2007. p. 4.
- "Gallery of Guitar Destruction". Parade. 2007. p. 6.
- Marin, Rick (1993-10-31). "The Ax Murders". The New York Times.
- "Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain's smashed guitar sold for $100,000". NME. 2008-12-26.
- "Most guitars smashed on tour". Archived from the original on September 27, 2013.
- Modell, Josh (2007-03-14). "Interview: Win Butler of Arcade Fire". The A.V. Club. Archived from the original on 2008-06-19.
- Gladwell, Amy (2012-09-23). "Newsbeat – Green Day lead singer smashes guitar on stage in Vegas". BBC. Retrieved 2013-02-02.
- Scapelliti, Christopher. "Guitar Smashers: The 11 Deadliest Ax Wielders of All Time". Guitar World. Future Publishing Limited Quay House, The Ambury, Bath BA1 1UA. Retrieved 16 January 2019.
- Caroline Sullivan (3 June 2010). "Why don't rock stars trash hotel rooms any more?". Guardian. Retrieved 15 January 2017.