Exclusive interview: The Who’s Roger Daltrey still hopes he dies before he gets old
April 15, 2022
The days of trashing hotel rooms might be a thing of the past for The Who, but singer Roger Daltrey can still do some damage.
One moment into the impassioned chorus of “Love, Reign O’er Me,” Daltrey appears to have blown the computer’s internal speaker with his explosive, robust vocals during a video interview with this reporter.
“I can still hit the notes,” he said. “They’re still there.”
That they are, proving why Daltrey is still considered by many to be the most powerful and talented singer in rock.
Daltrey and guitarist, singer and songwriter Pete Townshend kick off their 2022 North American Tour, “The Who Hits Back,” on Friday April 22 with an intimate show at the 7,000-seat Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Fla.
Sharing the stage with various U.S. and Canadian orchestras, the band will cross the country through May and then pick up again in October before wrapping with a two-night finale at Dolby Live at Park MGM in Las Vegas.
Founded in 1964, The Who has earned more awards and accolades than can reasonably be listed and in 1990 was inducted by U2 into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Songs such as “Baba O’Riley,” “Who Are You,” “Behind Blue Eyes,” “Pinball Wizard,” “I Can’t Explain,” “I Can See for Miles,” “You Better You Bet,” and “Tommy,” a rock opera from the album and movie of the same name, are some of the most acclaimed in rock history.What Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend bring to their 'The Who Hits Back' tour
Touring with an orchestra might be a far cry from what some would expect from a group that once held the Guinness World Record for being the loudest band in the world. But the orchestra is not toning down The Who’s sound, Daltrey explained, so much as ratcheting it up.
“It leads to a sound that literally takes your head off,” he said. “Even I was astonished at the power of it.”
While it might be difficult to imagine anything more powerful than Daltrey’s vocals, coupled with the soul-shaking brilliance of Townshend’s windmill-style guitar parts, that is precisely what happens with the addition of an orchestra, Daltrey said.
“You live with the sound of synthesizers making string noises and orchestral noises, which you can do, very simply, on a few keyboards,” he said. “But then, you hear a real orchestra and a real violin, viola and cello and a couple basses going — it touches the human body, it touches our senses in a different way. It’s a big experience.”
To keep up his energy night after night and perform vocal marvels like the infamous, roaring scream in “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” Daltrey said he does breathing exercises, weight training and cardio.
“Townshend's songs are incredibly demanding for a singer,” he said. “They’re lyrically complicated, there's never two songs together in the same key, so it's moving about all over the place, and it takes a lot of stamina. Just like Mick Jagger — I’ve got so much respect for Mick, he’s incredible. And you just have to train.”
Daltrey has always been strong thanks to a physically demanding job he held as a teenager as a sheet metal worker.
“I used to have to unload, sometimes, 10 tons of steel in a day,” he said. “So, I kind of built up a very fit body, and I’ve managed to keep it going. I’ve been very lucky.
Original drummer Keith Moon, who died in 1978 at age 32, and original bassist John Entwistle, who died in 2002 at age 57, were less fortunate, both dying accidentally from substance abuse issues.
“I’ve had a few close shaves with serious illnesses that have nearly taken me out,” Daltrey said. “But I just say, ‘Well you’ve taken on the wrong one, mate.’ I come back.”Roger Daltrey's die-hard fans
Daltrey today is jovial and quick to laugh, his zest for life apparent in his constant joking and easy smile. Which begs the question as to how he feels, at the age of 78, still singing one of the most iconic lines in classic rock: “I hope I die before I get old.”
“I still do,” he said, referring to lyrics from the band’s 1965 teen anthem, “My Generation.” “I think it’s a state of mind, age ... I’ve met young people who seem to be incredibly old in their mind, and I’ve met old people that are incredibly young. You can’t measure age in years; you can’t measure a lifetime in years. A life is a life.”
And when the end does come someday for Daltrey, he said, he will never really be gone.
“I think life is eternal,” he said. “I don't think there’s many, many lives. You are never going to escape this universe. A part of you will be somewhere in it, even if it’s a tiny bit of dust on Jupiter.”
For now, Daltrey remains in prime form. He rode out the past two years of the COVID pandemic pretty easily, he said, taking long walks through the rolling, green pastures of his sprawling farm in East Sussex, England. Rural as it is, however, is not so isolated that die-hard fans cannot track him down.
“They turn up at my door here,” he said. “I always try to make them welcome. I’ve seen a lot of stars have their bodyguards, and they push the fans away. I’ve never been on that page. I don’t like that at all. They put you where you are. They pay your rent. You've got to be there for them.”
Still, there are some fans — who, almost with admiration, Daltrey calls “extraordinary, really industrial” — that take things a step further.
“We’ve had to pull them out from under the beds before,” he said, laughing aloud. “They know what time our plane lands, what hotel we’re staying at, under what name. And blow me if they’re not in the bloody room before you get there.”
There is no hint of judgment in Daltrey’s voice when he talks about the antics of star-struck fans. In fact, he said, he is occasionally one himself.
“I get very nervous,” he said. “It’s really funny ... Not so much around all the guys I’ve known from the beginning — Paul McCartney and Ringo and all those people — we’re all mates, and it’s different. But if I met someone I’ve been a fan of a very long time, even today, I go back to that little kid again.”
So, who could potentially render Daltrey speechless?
“It’s too late to meet Johnny Cash; he’s the only one I would have liked,” he said. “I’m glad I didn’t meet Elvis, cause I would have been disappointed. The time ... that I had the possibility of meeting him, he was past his best. I'd rather carry his memory with me, which is fantastic.”Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend's work with Teen Cancer America
No doubt, Daltrey has already met more stars and experienced more in his lifetime than most people could ever imagine. But today, he said, what brings him the most happiness is his work with Teen Cancer America, which he and Townshend founded in 2012 as an extension of the U.K.’s Teenage Cancer Trust.
Teen Cancer America has supported more than 106,000 patients at 43 hospital partners across the country. Daltrey said the organization focuses on those between the ages of 13 and 26 who do not fit easily into child or adult cancer programs.
“They have social habits that are completely alien to either group,” he said of the youths the charity serves. “The worst thing you can do is to isolate them with people they are not comfortable with. They’ve already got enough emotional and mental issues to deal with without doing that.”
Additionally, Daltrey said, the forms of cancers that tend to affect younger people are rarer, increasing in frequency and not well studied.
“It needs to change,” he said. “I’ve got a feeling in my bones, and always have, that some of the big secrets of cancer are going to be found in that age group. If you’re not looking, you’re not going to find them, are you?”
Today, 58 years after The Who first began smashing their instruments onstage, Daltrey and Townshend rock on, despite the absence of Entwistle and Moon. And while they still thrill playing live, Daltrey said, touring is vastly different today than in the past.
“In the old days ... it was just the four of us. We didn’t have the equipment, the hotels were Holiday Inns, which we got banned from continuously,” he said, laughing. “But we had so much fun. It is really, really, really weird. We had so much fun in those days, I can't tell you. It was such a wonderful world to be in in those days. Everything was possible.”
What is still possible today is for anyone who has never had the electrifying experience of catching The Who live to do so, Daltrey said. In fact, it is a must.
“You must try to see Townshend once in your life,” he said. “He’s fantastic — the best I’ve ever heard in my life. And I’ve heard some pretty decent music.”