The icon who fronts The Who is one of the biggest, most successful and best loved rock’n’rollers of the past 50 years.
The band he and Pete Townshend led with bassist John Entwistle and drummer Keith Moon became one of the most influential rock bands of the 20th century as they sold more than 100 million records.
They developed the Marshall Stack, opened the doors to hard rock, punk rock and mod and in addition to creating Tommy and Quadrophenia made iconic appearances at Woodstock, the Isle of Wight and in Leeds.
Pearl Jam singer Eddie Vedder best described their influence on rock music when he said: “The one thing that disgusts me about The Who is the way they smashed through every door in the uncharted hallway of rock’n’roll without leaving much more than some debris for the rest of us to lay claim to.”
Among those they influenced were MC5, The Stooges, The Ramones, The Sex Pistols, Green Day, The Jam, Blur, Oasis and even Guns’n’Roses.
So on a quiet day in autumn, Rock’n’Roll Hall of Famer Roger Daltrey could be doing anything other than settling down to chat about his forthcoming tour: Who Was I?
Yet he’s eager to discuss a project that was due to start in November 7 at Birmingham Symphony Hall. In fact it has now been rescheduled until July 4 next year.
“The truth is singers need to sing,” says Roger. “Use it or lose it. Throughout my life I have sung with so many great musicians, from the heavy rock of The Who and Wilko Johnson, to the Irish lilt of The Chieftains. On this tour I want to take the audience on a musical journey through my career as a singer, with a show of songs and sounds that explores and surprises.
“I look forward to having closer contact with my audience than festivals and arenas allow. Leaving time to chat. It’s important to get our road crew working again, without these guys the halls would go silent.
“It’s also clear that live music is an important part of all our lives, something to free us from the groundhog days that life has become.
“This pandemic has brought home to me what an important part of me singing is and it’s made me determined to get back on stage asap.”
The show, which will comprise of a unique mix of music and conversation, is built around Roger’s musical journey and encompasses nearly every style imaginable – including blues, rock, country, soul and metal.
During the evening he will dig into his incredible back catalogue pulling from his nine solo albums, his album with Wilko Johnson and even reinterpreting a few Who classics and rarities.
It’s a show for real music fans and will give a unique insight into how all these great songs came about; what the influences were and where the sounds originated.
As with everything Roger does, it will be totally real and authentic and lots of it – a plethora of songs with some questions answered and rock’n’ roll stories along the way – nothing phoned in.
Daltrey is thrilled that the project has given him a reason to delve into his back catalogue. He’s been journeying in recent years into parts of the past that might otherwise have been forgotten.
“I started playing back my old catalogue from my very first solo albums. That started as a hobby, something to do while The Who weren’t working. And that led to me thinking I’d go out and do a tour.
“It can’t be The Who without Pete, it’d never be quite the same. But I thought I’d go out and do some Who songs differently, so that people feel they are hearing things for the first time.”
The show won’t only be a return to his glory days in The Who. He’ll also explore his remarkable record with Wilko Johnson, Going Back Home, which was released in 2014.
There’ll be the opportunity for the audience to interact, too.
“I’m going to take questions from the audience, if they want to drop one in a hat. We’ll pull them out when we’re on stage to see what they come up with and if they are answerable.
“It’s going to be great to be playing places that aren’t stadiums or arenas. I’m looking forward to making contact with the audience.
“I’m pleased to be getting the road crew working again because they’ve had a really hard time. And my number one priority is to get the voice working.
“The Who aren’t booked to go out until next spring and I can’t promise you I’ll have a voice if I don’t sing between now and then. So I’m going to do my best with it. I’ll go in with my eyes closed and sing my heart out and have fun. It should work out. We have great music to pick from.”
Daltrey has enjoyed a remarkable career. He broke through with The Who in early 1965 when their first hit single, I Can’t Explain, crashed into the charts. For a while, he was exiled, after beating up drummer Keith Moon for supplying drugs to Townshend and Entwistle.
Later, he was readmitted to the band, but only on the proviso that he agreed there would be no more violent outbursts or assaults. He fell into line, figuring he’d end up a sheet metal worker rather than a rock’n’roll star if he lost the gig.
“I remember us getting a record out and that was all I ever wanted to do.”
His success with The Who led to a solo career, though he never had any intention of severing ties. “I’d never had the intention of leaving and doing a Rod Stewart, the way he left The Faces.”
Recording with Wilko was a highlight. “That Wilko album was great. You can’t make that rock story up. It was at a time when Wilko was potentially in the last two or three months of his life. He wasn’t in a good way at all, poor Wilks. He could still play but he was suffering. He had cancer and the tumour was really, really showing.
“They got their tracks done in about six days of recording and I got the vocals done in a day or two. The whole thing was made within a period of three weeks.
“We didn’t have a record deal. I’d been talking to him about doing an album for a long time prior to this. When I heard he was ill, I understood what he was going through mentally. The most important thing for him was to have something to put his mind on, rather than sitting at home dwelling.
“So we did the record without having a deal and to cut a long story short, I think that record saved his life.
“The story goes that we did a Radio 4 show, Front Row, with John Wilson interviewing us. We were talking about it and John asks how Wilko was. He’d got cancer and he looked nine months pregnant.
“Then John said to him ‘What did the doctor’s say?’ Wilko told him he’d been given nine months to a year but was still there.
“Then Wilko told him that he’d been told he was going to die so he hadn’t gone back to the doctors. He’d just got on with his life.
“Listening in was an oncologist from Cambridge who got in touch and said maybe Wilko had been misdiagnosed and maybe there was a chance he could be saved.
“The guy told him he could carry on and be dead in six weeks or he would operate and give Wilko a 15% chance of survival.
“So he did it, Wilko had no choice, and he survived, too. It made him a diabetic but he got lucky. So that record saved him. It’s kind of miraculous. It was very, very touch and go for a couple of months.”
Such stories – and legions of tales from his years with The Who – will feature when Daltrey hits the road.
“I’m looking forward to these shows. The Who will be back in arenas next year – we’re booked to go out in late March, early April in America – so it’ll be good to do these first.
“We had three tours cancelled because of Covid. We wanted to get back this year but the trouble was all the venues were stacked up. It was like waiting for a bus and three million came along at once.
“The earliest we can get in is next year. We’ll bring the show over to the UK. I’ll be 79 then. I’ll do it if I can sing, but not to just take money off people. I wouldn’t do that. That’ll probably be our swansong.
“I don’t really think about what we’ve done. I get wonderful letters from people. But most people are doing what they can in life. The truth is, most people in life are wonderful. It’s only the bad stuff, though, that makes the news. I’d rather focus on the good.”