Gold waves to the crowd on the giant screen above the stage at a massive concert
Loren Gold playing with The Who in 2015 (Photo/Hiroki Nishioka)

‘Be a mensch,’ says keyboardist for iconic rockers The Who

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How does a nice Jewish boy from Palo Alto end up joining The Who? By paying his dues. And more dues. And even more.

When the iconic British band hits Chase Center in San Francisco next week on a nine-city North American tour, it might be easy to miss the mild-mannered keyboard player, Loren Gold, amid the gaudy array of rock ’n’ roll royalty.

Led by its two surviving founding members — guitarist-composer Pete Townshend, 74, and vocalist Roger Daltrey, 75 — the band nowadays also includes drummer Zak Starkey (son of Ringo Starr) and rhythm guitarist Simon Townshend (younger brother of Pete).

Gold had no family connections to bring him to the attention of Daltrey when he first auditioned for him in 2009. But he did have a sterling reputation on the Los Angeles scene as a consummate professional who had served as music director for a bevy of young pop stars, including Selena Gomez, Demi Lovato, Hilary Duff and “American Idol” winner Taylor Hicks.

A friend tipped him that Daltrey was putting together a new touring band, and when he got the list of songs that might be requested in the audition, Gold dutifully overprepared by mastering classic rock staples by The Who such as “Baba O’Riley” and “Going Mobile.”

“But when I got to the audition, Roger said, ‘Let’s just jam,’” Gold recalled. “I got the gig and we went on the road for a few years doing ‘Tommy’ and The Who’s greatest hits. In 2012 he asked me to join The Who. I didn’t believe him at first, but I’ve been with them ever since.”

It was heady stuff for a kid who grew up in the hair-metal 1980s, largely eschewing Mötley Crüe, Def Leppard and Quiet Riot in favor of the previous generation’s idols. Smitten with the Beatles in grade school, his record collection included the Kinks, the Rolling Stones and The Who.

Loren Gold on keyboards (Photo/Courtesy Brian Kehew)
Loren Gold on keyboards (Photo/Courtesy Brian Kehew)

“I was late to the party on ‘Quadrophenia,’” he said of The Who’s 1973 rock-opera album. “But I listened to ‘Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy’ and ‘Who’s Next’ all the time.”

When asked for advice today by young musicians, one tip he offers is something he says he learned when studying for his bar mitzvah at Congregation Kol Emeth in Palo Alto: Be a mensch.

“It’s a small network,” he said of the music industry. “The cream rises to the top, the good players and good people. You often get jobs by word of mouth.”

Gold played in various bands while attending Gunn High School in Palo Alto, and he studied music briefly at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills before deciding he’d rather be on stage than in the classroom. As he made a name for himself in the Bay Area music scene, he ended up joining the well-established hard-rock band Strange Toys. The group decided to try its luck in Los Angeles, but within a few months Strange Toys fell apart and Gold returned to the Bay Area.

In many middle- to upper-class families, this would be the moment for the talk about career Plan B. But his father, a computer scientist at SRI International, and his mother, a dance therapist who still lives on the Peninsula, never seemed to doubt his path. “I was very lucky,” Gold said. “They supported me. There was never any talk about something to fall back on.”

Landing the gig as music director for Hilary Duff was something of a breakthrough, and he became a respected player in the entertainment industry.

Gold, who played “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” on the organ at a San Francisco Giants home game this summer, said he never aspired to be a frontman eliciting ecstatic shrieks from a stadium full of delirious fans. But he does get a few minutes of rock ’n’ roll glory every time he takes the stage with The Who.

Townshend, a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of The Who, has encouraged him to try new ideas on classic songs “as long as it works musically,” Gold said.

“On this tour, we do ‘Love, Reign o’er Me’ and I compose a new intro for the song, so I’m writing and playing an original two-minute ditty for The Who every night.”

The Who in concert, 7:30 p.m. Oct. 9 at Chase Center, S.F. $49-$304.

Andrew Gilbert
Andrew Gilbert

Los Angeles native Andrew Gilbert is a Berkeley-based freelance writer who covers jazz, roots and international music for publications including the Mercury News, San Francisco Chronicle, East Bay Express, San Francisco Classical Voice and Berkeleyside.