Roger Daltrey is definitely busier than you. Despite having just turned 70, the legendary frontman of The Who is still ambitious, still rebellious, and still the King of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Scream. This April marks 50 years since Keith Moon (Patent British Exploding Drummer) joined forces with the band, completing the lineup that made them unstoppable. Even though the tragic deaths of Moon and thundering bassist John Entwistle have reduced the original four to two, Daltrey and guitarist Pete Townshend are still out on the road, defending their title of Rock’s Best (and loudest) Live Act -until now.
The surviving members of The Who have confirmed that their upcoming 2015 tour will be their last, but that doesn’t mean Roger has swung his last microphone. A brand new album with British blues great Wilko Johnson is due out April 8th on Chess Records. The aptly titled Going Back Home harkens back to the James Brown shrieks and Muddy Watters growls of Daltrey’s early days on the Mod club scene. Clearly the man holds his roots near to his heart.
And he never forgot the people who helped bring him rock superstardom. Half a century since snarling through “My Generation,” Daltrey continues to be a spokesman for the youth. After years of representing the Teenage Cancer Trust in the U.K., Daltrey is taking the charity stateside by launching Teen Cancer America, which seeks to provide a comfortable and supportive place in hospitals for adolescents afflicted with the terrible disease. He’s currently offering support to Hernan Sebastian Barangan, a teen cancer survivor traveling across the country to film the stories of fellow young sufferers.
With so much going on, Mr. Daltrey still found time to speak with us about his past, his present, and what’s on the horizon…
VH1: There’s lots to congratulate you on these days. You had a birthday not too long ago, an album with Wilko Johnson is on the way, and we’re in the midst of celebrating 50 incredible years of The Who. What are your thoughts when you look back on it all? Are there any moments that really stand out?
ROGER DALTREY: There are none in particular. The whole thing just seems like a dream. It almost feels like someone else lived it. When I look back on those early days, it’s amazing that any of us survived it in some ways. It’s very weird. I mean there’s obviously thousands of memorable moments, but I’m just so relieved that some of us made it. Because we lost so many on the way, mostly through ignorance. It’s like some other energy is guiding it all. It’s weird. No four people can have that much luck in some ways, when you think about it. It’s ridiculous. We got very, very lucky in so many ways.
I’ve always been fascinated by how you were able to give such passionate performances of lyrics that you didn’t personally write. What is your process for interpreting Pete Townshend’s words?
Well, I kind of understand where Pete comes from a lot of time. I also understand that some of his ideas are very wacky, but I also have got a deep, deep belief in his courage and the fact that he writes from a very deep, personal place. It’s always been my aim to kind of be a portal for that in the song. So basically, I treat it like it’s an acting job. There are some songs of his I haven’t sung, and indeed there’s a couple that I wouldn’t sing. I don’t think they would be right for me. I don’t think I could live them with the same intensity that he had to live to write those particular songs. But the ones I do sing, I try to get inside it. And by getting inside those lyrics, you take them inside of you and every time you sing them they do come out as yours. It’s a strange process, and I always have attempted on literally every show, I don’t think there’s ever been a show that I’ve ever done where I’ve gone through the motions of singing those lyrics. When I sing those words and the meaning of that line or that particular song, I mean it and I sing it as if I’m singing it for the first time.
How do you keep the intensity up for each of those shows? You were actually my first concert when I was 14, and I remember, even at that young age, thinking how exhausting that must be.
Well, what year was that?
Oh, when we were old chaps. [laughs] You should have seen us when we were young! The Who was something else to watch. I mean really, really…The musicality of the group was extraordinary. There was no one to touch us in that period. I don’t care what anyone says. I mean, you can have varying taste in music. You know, a lot of Led Zeppelin music is much more commercial than most of The Who songs, and The Who songs were always lousy to dance to. So they were party killers in a way. They demand you to listen. But when you saw The Who live on stage, I don’t care who you were, they’re wasn’t a band that could go on stage after The Who and not be a letdown. And not because of anything other than there was some kind of energy that flowed between us. The songs are classically structured and use voicings that create other sounds. So there’s an enormity to the music that doesn’t exist in most rock ‘n’ roll. It just doesn’t exist, you know? So there’s a size and a scale to The Who that was impossible to follow. Even Mick Jagger said after the 9/11 [tribute show at Madison Square Garden], “I broke my golden rule. I went on stage after The Who.” That’s what he said. And he’s very honest about it. And I’m not saying we’re better than the Stones—fantastic, the Stones, I love the Stones—but it’s just to do with the scale of the music. Its enormity and its power, it’s just f–king impossible to follow it. You can’t top it. It’s as high as it goes in energy and power level. And it’s not just four to the floor rock power, there’s just something else going in it. Just like great classical music. That’s the same thing.
The passion and intensity you give can’t be easy. I know it’s not easy because I still have a scar on my hand from when I tried to windmill like Pete Townshend. I tried it myself after I saw you live.
He’s got scars on his hands, too.
I feel a little better then.
Especially the time when his whammy arm went right through it and the guitar was hanging on his hand. That was nasty looking.
Have you seen other shows since?
No, but I know I need to when you come through next year.
Yeah. Well, there won’t be many more chances!
So I’ve heard.
We’re doing the never-ending last tour before the last one…after the last one. [laughs]
Bob Dylan style, a 20 year-long farewell tour?
Yeah, that’s what we’re going to do. The never-ending last tour before the last one. [laughs]
How do you feel about this being your last tour coming up? What’s going through your mind right now when you think about it?
Nothing. I love to play music. I play music for free. I get paid for the schlepping around, for the traveling. That’s what I get paid for. The music is just a joy to be able to do. It’s a joy to be with my friends on the road. The hotels could be a bummer and all that, but when I think back on what my life could have been, eight until six in a factory five or six days a week, how much worse could it have been? We’re absolutely privileged. So I just look forward to it. I mean, I don’t know what it’ll be. If I don’t think we can do it well, we won’t do it. It’ll be as simple as that. But we’re still going. We’re still making music now. Our last tour of Quadrophenia was so well received and so well reviewed and we’ve got a DVD coming out of that show. And, you know, we might be older and we might be wrinkled and we might be, physically, totally different. But what’s coming out of it and the heart that’s in it and the sound of it is as good as it ever was. So why stop?