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Roger Daltrey Explains Solo ‘Tommy’ Tour and Future Who Plans

Roger Daltrey
Hutton Archives, Getty Images

We can (and will) argue endlessly over who is the greatest frontman of all time. What we won’t debate is that Roger Daltrey of the Who is in the Top 5. Maybe Bono, probably Mick, definitely Plant. Whatever your Top 5, if you don’t have Daltrey in it you need to listen to ‘Who’s Next’ again.

Hundreds of upstarts take the stage every night to challenge Daltrey, but he’s not ready to step aside yet. Unwilling to retire, or even take much of a break, the Who lead singer is touring ‘Tommy’ without partner Pete Townshend. Right before starting the tour, the legend chatted with us about his current two-month U.S. trek, his vocal troubles and the future of the Who:

You take great care of your voice now, but what kind of care did you give it in the ‘60s and ‘70s?

Um, well. (Laughs)

You didn’t take good care of it at all did you?

No, I brutalized it, didn’t I? I managed to be naturally lucky that I even sang properly in the first place. Not that scream in ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again.’ But generally I’ve sung properly… Singers just do not have the luxury of stopping. The voice would just go. I’m like a runner, if a runner stops running that’s the end of it.

Why ‘Tommy?’

I do seven nights of charity shows every year at the Royal Albert Hall and I was stuck for a Tuesday night. I couldn’t find anyone who wasn’t working or on holiday or in the studio. I thought, “What I can do?” I said to the promoters who help me with it, “What do you think about me doing a gig? Maybe if I did ‘Tommy?’” They said, “Great idea!” It was as simple as that. So I got my band with together and we rehearsed for two weeks. It was the first time I’d ever done a solo gig in England.

Wait, that can’t be right.

No, it’s true. I’d never done one. I didn’t know if I’d even have an audience. We only played one warm up gig two nights before. Then there we were at Albert Hall. But as they say, fortune favors the brave, and it was incredibly well received. I just rediscovered it as a piece of music and I was passionately driven to take it further.

When the voice came back, were you in a rush to get back to work – solo album, solo tour, Who album, Who tour – are you trying to cram as much as you can in while you have time?

I’d love to do another Who thing if the songs were there. I know if Pete and I went into the studio we’d come up with something great between us. But do we have that much time left in our lives to do it? I don’t know.

The last Who album, ‘Endless Wire,’ received some mixed reviews, but I thought–

I love it.

Yeah, I thought it stood up well against the ’70s stuff.

I love it. I do. It works on loads of different levels for me. I’m very proud of it.

Is there Who stuff you don’t really care for?

The only album we’ve done that I’ve never been proud of is ‘It’s Hard.’ Mainly because I feel we were kind of jumping through hoops on that album.

Keith’s death was still fresh and it came so quickly after ‘Face Dances.’

Very weird time for the band. (Pauses) Very weird.

I guess it had a fitting title then.

(Laughs). Yeah.

So is ‘Tommy’ your favorite?

It’s not my favorite, but when you play it you see how classically structured it is. It’s like no other music that’s out there. And the harmonies. When you hear the voices, it’s extraordinary. I get a similar feel when I go see Brian Wilson play. You hear those wonderful harmonies, there’s just something about them. And these harmonies are patently overlooked in modern music.

Why not do a solo album, a re-invention like Robert Plant has done?

I toyed with doing an album in the last five years but he beat me too with with ‘Raising Sand’ with Alison Krauss. But I think whatever I did would have a little more fire than that album. I did some songs in my solo show that are going toward where I’d want to go, a couple of songs off an album called ‘Largo’ (a 1998 project produced by Rick Chertoff and Hooters Rob Hyman and Eric Bazilian), one sung by Taj Mahal and the other sung by Levon Helm. They’re kind of rhythmically different, very different instrumentation. They’re not dissimilar to what Robert’s been doing but with more fire. I don’t see myself ever being that laid back. (Laughs) But he does it very well.

Well, ‘Tommy’ certainly isn’t very laid back even if it is as close to classical music as rock ‘n’ roll can get.

It’s like Keith Moon said, “Shut the f— up and show a little respect. It’s a bleedin’ opera.”

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