Who Is Roger Daltrey
And Why Is He Going Solo?

by Jason MacNeil

IN HIS EARLY YEARS as the lead singer of British rock legends The Who, Roger Daltrey sang about hoping to die before he got old in the hit “My Generation.”

But now, some 44 years after the song was released, Daltrey is older but has no plans of fading away from the spotlight or stage anytime soon.

Spending the last four years working and touring with The Who’s Pete Townsend behind the band’s 2006 studio album Endless Wire, Daltrey could have had some down time as Townsend is in the process of creating new material.

Yet while Townshend is busy doing that, Daltrey is hitting the road on a North American tour he’s dubbed ‘Use It Or Lose It’. The title of the tour comes from Daltrey’s belief that any inactivity at age 65 would result in him losing his proverbial pipes.

“I just want to keep singing and The Who is going to be off this year so I have to do something. Singers need to work,” Daltrey says on the telephone a week before the tour opener. “I’m not like a guitarist, I can’t change strings. So how else do I do that outside of The Who? So I decided to form a band and go out on tour. It’s something I’ve been doing my whole life. If I stopped now it would be over within a year because of the age that I’m at. You can’t really have that much time off really without the voice suffering.”

The ‘Use It or Lose It’ tour comes to the Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall in Fort Myers on November 27.

Daltrey says that while he might include a question-and-answer portion during the show, the set list will consist of various cover versions and some solo material as well as rarities from The Who.

“It’s not like I’m hard up for material,” he says. “I’m not particularly interested in doing my solo stuff. A lot of my solo stuff now sounds dated, but some of it is working extremely well. And we’ve still got loads and loads of Who songs that The Who don’t do and I’ll see what I can do with them. So it should make for a very eclectic show. It’s very interesting.”

As for cover songs, Daltrey doesn’t quite know what it is that attracts him to certain numbers but sees certain “sounds and rhythms” as playing a role. He also has hinted in previous interviews a yearning to perform the Johnny Cash staple “Ring Of Fire.”

“He was one of my idols,” Daltrey says. “Him, Elvis, Eddie Cochran, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry and Little Richard were the first people that I liked in the business and I love singing Johnny Cash. It’s the man more than the music. I love ‘Ring Of Fire.’ I don’t know why, but you play it to an audience and they immediately start singing it. It always makes for a good time and that’s always what I’m interested in doing.”

Perhaps the biggest difference with this tour — his first solo jaunt since 1985 — might be the fact it will be slightly less demanding on Daltrey given the smaller, more intimate settings he’ll play.

“That’s going to be nice — to actually see the audience and not have to push out to the back row of an arena every night,” he says. “It demands an awful lot of energy. The stuff from Quadrophenia is incredibly demanding. None of it’s easy. But this tour we’ve approached songs like ‘Cache Cache’, which is like a lost gem when I’m listening to it now. The Who haven’t played that since 1979, but it’s just so punky and reflects the era really well.”

What also seemed to work really well recently was The Who’s Endless Wire album, their first proper studio album since 1982’s It’s Hard. Daltrey says he loved Endless Wire and thought it was a “great album,” believing it brought the band to a new generation of fans while also rebuilding their fan base.

Yet with touring behind Endless Wire done, fans are now looking forward to more new material. Townshend is reportedly in the midst of composing songs for a new musical entitled Floss, which concerns the universal topic of getting old. Some of those numbers will apparently be part of the next studio effort from The Who.

But believing media reports and being part of the inner circle are two entirely different things.

“Well, allegedly,” Daltrey says with a laugh. “I take that (media reporting) with a grain of salt. All I know is Pete is always working out and thinking things over in his head and one day whatever he’s up to will emerge. But in the meantime we just have to be patient and wait.”

Having worked with Townshend for nearly half a century is also something Daltrey can’t truly explain.

“It’s just something that goes on. It’s the chemistry between he and I. It’s always been there and it still is. It makes the show exciting. But I don’t know what it is — I’ve never seen us play,” he says with a laugh. “And the music is fabulous, the songs haven’t aged. It’s something about the music that hasn’t aged or sounds dated like so much of the other music out there.”

With their songs covered literally hundreds, if not thousands, of times, Daltrey doesn’t have a particular favorite cover version of a Who song, but he does mention Patti Smith’s take on “My Generation” as well as Limp Bizkit’s “Behind Blue Eyes” as two which are quite good.

Yet nothing compares to the spine-tingling magic that The Who live in concert still possess. And while they’ve played several huge festivals this decade alone, perhaps one 30-minute set mere weeks after September 11 stands high above anything they’ve done in recent memory.

Although playing on a bill featuring Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Elton John, David Bowie and Eric Clapton, The Who’s stirring performance at The Concert For New York City at Madison Square Garden left many in attendance and millions watching at home misty-eyed and with a huge collective lump in their throats. It would also turn out to be the final American show with The Who’s late bassist John Entwistle, who died in 2002.

“It was hard, it was such an emotional night,” Daltrey recalls. “Emotional just looking at the first five rows of people. You could see the kids wearing their dad’s firefighter helmets and their dads were killed. It was hard to hold it together, I’ll put it that way. It was the first time they had a chance to let their hair down after breathing in all that stuff. It was tough. We do what we do — which is play rock ‘n’ roll — and tried to make it uplifting for those people, their family and friends working in that crap.”

As the final few seconds of the telephone conversation pass, one question must be asked: Is Daltrey looking forward to playing any particular venue on this tour, perhaps Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium?

“I’m looking forward to playing all of it.” he answers. “Whether I’ll be looking forward to it by the end of it is something else.” he says laughing.” •

from the November-December 2009 issue

"I just want to keep singing
and The Who is going
to be off this year so
I have to do something.
Singers need to work."