Without a doubt one of the biggest rock bands of all times, The Who are worshipped by music lovers of all ages from every corner of the world. They have sold more than a hundred million records over their career and released over 49 albums (16 of them live). On the occasion of the launch of their 2021 album The Who Sell Out – Super Deluxe Edition, our Editor Julia Pasarón and Deputy Editor Lavinia Dickson-Robinson had the pleasure to interview lead singer Roger Daltrey at his house in East Sussex.
Not at all what you may expect from rock royalty, Roger is a down-to-earth man, genuine and with a warm smile that puts you immediately at ease, something we both needed since we were a bit nervous about this interview.
If any one member of The Who can be said to be the group’s founder it is lead-singer Roger Daltrey. Born in the West London suburb of Shepherd’s Bush in 1944, Roger first put together the band that would become The Who in 1961 while at Acton County Grammar School, recruiting John Entwistle and later Pete Townshend. 60 years later, they’ve just released a Super Deluxe Edition of The Who Sell Out featuring 112 tracks, 47 of which are unreleased, and lots of extras to delight fans of all ages. “It’s a really good set for fans that don’t know our history,” explains Roger, “it fills in the gaps.”
The original The Who Sell Out was released in December 1967. The album was originally planned by Pete Townshend and the band’s managers Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp, as a loose concept album including jingles and commercials linking the songs stylised as a pirate radio broadcast. Two years later came Tommy – a double concept album about a deaf, dumb and blind kid that made history.
The Who in 1965 when they transformed from a Mod group into a Pop Art band…
The Tommy era saw Roger mature enormously as a vocalist and develop his sense of showmanship, reflected on his famous twirling of the microphone lead as if it was a lasso. On Quadrophenia, Pete’s second and more ambitious rock opera, Roger was able to bring all his newfound abilities to bear on rockers like “5.15” or power ballads such as “Love Reign O’er Me”. Roger Daltrey had become a rock idol and a sex symbol with his golden curls, bare chest and fringed suede jackets.
He assumed the role of Tommy in Ken Russell’s movie adaptation of the rock opera in 1975, for which he received a Golden Globe nomination. This in turn led him to develop quite a fruitful concurrent career as a film actor while continuing to sing with The Who.
Other film credits over the years include Ken Russell’s Lizstomania, the title role in McVicar, Lightning Jack with Paul Hogan, Teen Agent, and numerous roles in TV dramas, among them C.S.I. – which uses The Who songs as its theme music, Lois & Clarke, Highlander, and The Bill. He tried his hand at musical theatre, appearing on stage in 1995 as the Tin Man in a production of The Wizard Of Oz at The Lincoln Centre, and as Scrooge in A Christmas Carol at Madison Square Garden in 1998.
He has also cultivated a prolific solo artist career beginning in 1973 with his album Daltrey, followed by many more. His 1994 solo concert at New York’s Carnegie Hall, with The Juillard Orchestra, was the fastest selling event in the venue’s history. Standing still is not what Roger does best. Between November 2012 and March 2013, The Who toured an arena production of Quadrophenia & More in the US and UK with added shows in Paris and Amsterdam. Roger directed the staging and visuals of the show himself, a role he continued to play during The Who Hits 50! Tour of 2015-16.
In 2017 and 2018 he continued his solo touring in the US with members of The Who touring band including Simon Townshend. The summer of 2018 saw Roger, the band, plus a 45-piece orchestra perform The Who’s Tommy to sell-out audiences across the States whilst at the same time releasing his first solo album in 26 years, As Long As I Have You. That same year his autobiography Thanks A Lot Mr Kibblewhite was published to great acclaim.
The Who have always responded quickly to charitable crises. In the past two decades or so the band has specially helped the Teenage Cancer Trust (of which Roger is a patron), raising millions of pounds to provide specialist teenage cancer wards. In February 2005, Roger was awarded a CBE by the Queen for his services to music and good causes. As the modest man he is, Roger says, “The important thing is to raise awareness and to put yourself on the line for something that needs to be addressed.”
I think it is fair to say that we have all experienced certain level of emotional stress through the three lockdowns…– Roger Daltrey
In November 2011, Pete and Roger, supported by Robert Plant and Dave Grohl, held a benefit concert in Los Angeles to kick start Teen Cancer America. A year later, The Who gave a complete performance of Tommy at a Teenage Cancer Trust show at the Royal Albert Hall, London, supported by imagery which he commissioned from students at Middlesex University. Over the next year, he toured Tommy in the US, Europe and Japan.
An excellent example of his indefatigable efforts to raise money for the Teenage Cancer Trust was the auction of his bespoke Rolls-Royce Wraith in 2017. The car was a one-off “Tommy” created earlier that year as part of a series of custom Wraiths “Inspired by British Music”. It was designed in collaboration with Mike Mclnnerney, the artist responsible for a number of The Who covers, including the 1969’s Tommy album. “It was fantastic,” Roger recalls, “I think it raised over £4million for the charity.”
Although Roger’s life at his farm has not been affected much by the restrictions and limitations imposed around Covid – “The rhythm doesn’t change with farming, it doesn’t matter what. You have to take the cows out to graze, you need to bring them in for winter, calving in spring…” – Covid has been a disaster for the world of performing arts not to mention for charities. Not even a band like The Who have gone unscathed.
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