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Daltry ready for life after the Who

Front man, 80, still passionate about singing, performing

By George Varga, The San Diego Union-Tribune
Published: May 18, 2024, 5:07am

“Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!”

Considering that he has devoted much of the past 60 years to his career as the lead singer in the Who, you wouldn’t expect to hear Roger Daltrey laughing uproariously over the apparent demise of the band long synonymous with his name. Especially not just a day after Who co-founder Pete Townshend stated in a podcast he was “not doing” a farewell tour that he himself had proposed only three weeks earlier.

But Daltrey, who performs a solo show May 6 at the Shell in San Diego ahead of a June tour, laughed so hard during a recent interview you might have thought he was watching a favorite film comedy. The singer’s long burst of “ha ha has” was in response to his interviewer noting that — more than anyone — Daltrey knows just how prone the mercurial Townshend is to changing his mind in a near-instant.

After pausing to contain his laughter, the veteran singer grew more serious.

“If Pete doesn’t want to tour, I don’t want to be back with the Who on the road, at 81, with someone who doesn’t want be there — if that’s what he’s saying,” said Daltrey who turned 80 on March 1. “But you know, every dog has its day and it was a wonderful ride.”

Whether this dog has truly had its day remains to be seen, particularly since Daltrey — in a 2000 San Diego Union-Tribune interview — referred to Townshend as “a habitual liar.”

Regardless, Townshend sounded less than enthused when he told the New York Times in March: “I don’t get much of a buzz from performing with the Who. If I’m really honest, I’ve been touring for the money. My idea of an ordinary lifestyle is pretty elevated.”

Such statements don’t encourage Daltrey to think another reunion trek seems feasible. With the Who down to two members — drummer Keith Moon died in 1978, bassist John Entwistle in 2002 — touring as a one-man version of the Who, minus Townshend, is not a viable option.

“I won’t do it with someone who is halfhearted about it,” Daltrey said. “The music is too important to me. The reason the Who was so powerful is because we meant it. We took your face off when we played; we didn’t swan about on stage.”

‘Putting me in a corner’

What if Townshend changes his mind and expresses enthusiasm to reunite with Daltrey for one final Who tour?

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“You’re putting me in a corner,” he replied. “I’d be up for it if the reason Pete’s doing it isn’t just to make money. I’ll do it to make good music and to show people what we were, before we leave the stage forever. You can’t just half turn up for a tour.

“Singers can’t dial it in at concerts, because it shows immediately. I’m doing it because I love it, and it’s what I do … I’ve got a voice and I want to use it. I have never toured only for the money. Yes, the money is very useful. But I couldn’t do it just for that; you can’t. You need to be passionate about what you do and you really need to connect with the audiences. If you don’t, you’re failing. “

But Daltrey’s San Diego concert will feature him sharing the stage with Townshend. That is, Simon Townshend — Pete’s younger brother — a longtime touring member in both Daltrey’s band and in the Who.

“I always use Simon Townshend; he’s been with me on my tours since 1994,” Daltrey said. “We go back a long way — I used to change Simon’s nappies! He’s a sweetheart and he’s a great musician. There’s something about his voice when we sing harmonies, because it’s a (Pete) Townshend derivative. We work great together and I love him dearly.”

In June, Daltrey and a predominantly British band will undertake a nine-city U.S. tour he is billing as “semi-acoustic.” It is designed to focus on songs from his solo albums, along with some Who favorites.

But Daltrey’s May 5 show at the Shell will — apart from him and Simon Townshend — feature an otherwise all-electric band of American musicians. And their repertoire will, he said, lean more towards Who songs than his solo work.

‘Kind of ridiculous’

Daltrey’s most recent concerts took place at London’s historic Royal Albert Hall, where six performances were held between March 18 and 24. They were held to raise funds for the Teenage Cancer Trust, which has raised more than $39 million since he founded the charity organization in 2000. He is stepping down as its head this year but will still be involved.

Last month’s first two Royal Albert Hall concerts were headlined by the Who, in what may end up as the band’s final appearances. The concluding March 24 show included a version of the Who’s classic “Baba O’Riley” that featured vocals by Daltrey, Robert Plant and Pearl Jam singer Eddie Vedder.

“My career has been … kind of ridiculous, really, when I think of about it,” Daltrey said, speaking from his home in the English countryside. “There’s something in me, this identity, that only comes out when I’m singing. I just love singing, it’s as simple as that. I love connecting with my voice in a different way than when I’m speaking. I just love it!”

Daltrey discussed music and his ridiculous career with the Union-Tribune for nearly 45 minutes on April 17. Here are highlights from that conversation. His quotes have been edited for clarity and length.

You turned 80 on March 1. So, happy belated birthday. Does music mean something more or different to you at 80 than when you were 20, 40 or 70?

No, it doesn’t. I’ve always sang — from the age of 6, when I started in the church choir — until now.

How do you maintain your voice and how often do you practice?

I never practice. And I think, at the moment, I’m singing, possibly the best I ever have in my life. I had a very rough period in the late 1990s and early 2000s, where I had — it turned out I was OK — but it was a potential vocal cord cancer and I managed to get it sorted. I also managed to hear myself singing for the first time, which was a luxury for me. In the ‘60, ‘70s, and ‘80s, it seemed to be the mission of the rest of the band to drown me out. It felt like it anyway! They were so loud that it became hard work to hear myself.

What happened that enabled you to hear yourself better?

In-ear (audio) monitors that let you get the mix you want — like, if the guitar’s too loud! — and always hear yourself. That makes an enormous difference to a singer. Also, and I didn’t realize it until the ‘90s, but I’d been deaf for a long time in my life. And I don’t think it was caused by the band.

When I think back on it, it was caused by working in a sheet metal factory when I was a teenager, grinding welds down every day, with no hearing protection. I think that’s what definitely took the top (range) out of my hearing, rather than the band. It’s one of those things I’ve managed to survive.

In 1993 when I was covering the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductions, the drummer from the Doors, John Densmore, said to Doors’ guitarist Robby Krieger: “Do you remember when we were playing at the Fillmore, and Jim (Morrison) thought he was Roger Daltrey and swung the microphone cord around and hit Bill Graham in the head?”

Ha ha ha ha ha!

Did you ever have a mishap with the microphone when you were swinging it around on stage?

I usually hit myself! I’ve only ever hit one person deliberately with the microphone. Every time there’s been some mishap, the microphone has always swung back and hit me, either in the kneecap — which is very painful — or, even worse, in the crotch. I twirled it because the Who was such a manic band, with Moon and Townshend, that it enlivened my side of the stage.

I’ve got to ask: Who was it you deliberately hit?

I don’t know who it was. All I know is that they’re sorry that they threw something that nearly took my eye out on stage. I happened to see them do it. They were trapped in the crowd. And I was quite a good shot with that microphone …

Unlike Keith Moon, you never drove a car into a hotel swimming pool or threw TVs out hotel windows. Were you ever tempted to?

I thought then — and still think now — it was very much puerile behavior. You know, I was born during an air raid in World War II. I was older than the other members of the Who and came from a different area of London, which was much, much poorer — I can still remember food rationing if you can believe that. At the age of 15, I was kicked out of school and I went to work as a sheet metal worker.

To make it in the band, I was working eight hours a day doing sheet metal work, then coming home, swapping my clothes for something a bit cleaner, and going out working in the band at night. So, it’s always been (dismaying) for me to see something so puerile and distracting as (hotel room destruction). I found it quite stupid, to be honest.

You were a very young man when the Who recorded “My Generation,” with its famous “hope I die before get old” lyric. Do you put yourself in a young man’s frame of mind when you sing it now?

I sing it as a singer delivering it. I talk in the song, and I say: “Now, you talk about your generation, I’ll talk about my generation.” I don’t pretend to be young. I sing the song.

A big disappointment about the Who is how infrequently the band has made albums since the 1970s.

Well, you can’t go back. It’s always been a little bit of a weight on my shoulders that (Pete and I) have never managed to go into the studio and bang things around between us. I’ve written songs and laid them down — I’m not a slouch — and who knows what could come of them if we could collaborate?

What would it take to make that happen?

(laughing) An earthquake!