As frontman of The Who, Roger Daltrey‘s place among the legends of rock and roll is well assured. It’s also a legacy he continues to build with this year seeing The Who release its first new album since Endless Wire in 2006, as well as embark upon a 29 date North American tour, beginning May 7 in Grand Rapids, MI, promoted by Live Nation.
“It’s full-blown The Who plus an orchestra. It’s going to be incredible. We’re not going to take our foot off the throttle. At the age of 75, it feels to me a way of getting to play our music that feels at least slightly dignified,” the singer told former Dire Straits manager Ed Bicknell during a lively, reflective onstage interview at the 31st International Live Music Conference (ILMC).
Held at London’s Royal Garden Hotel, Mar. 5-8, ILMC was attended by 1,800 live music professionals, including delegates from over 60 countries. The conference concludes today with a keynote talk by Dua Lipa and her father Dugi Lipa as part of its Futures Forum initiative to foster and encourage the next generation of live music executives.
In the meantime, here’s some of the highlights from Daltrey’s chat with Bicknell.
Roger Daltrey on the artists that first made him want to be a rock singer
I was a choir boy when I was about 6 or 7, so I had perfect pitch and I was a good singer. But it was only when I first heard and saw Elvis that I thought, ‘That looks good.’ But then when I heard Lonnie Donegan – [he] was the man who really made me become the singer I am. He was a singer that had a primal energy in the way that he sang that I totally identified with. You name most of the singers of my period and Lonnie Donegan was the one.
Making no money in the early years
In 1971, after touring for a whole year — we’d spent about 9 months away from home in America touring — we came back to the great news that our debt, instead of being £1.3 million had been knocked down to £650,000. We thought this is a losing game, but then we got lucky and [1969 album] Tommy hit and all the stuff that happened with that record. Finally record royalties started to come through and that saved us. But we didn’t make any money until 1971.
The importance of formative managers Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp, often called the fifth and sixth members of The Who. They were fired by the band in 1974 over missing funds and unpaid royalties.
Lambert and Stamp were pivotal to our success. They were the best creative managers any band could have wished for, especially The Who. They were incredible. But they were crooked, so what do you do? I wanted to do a thing where they would stay on, do a bit of creative work, take 10 percent and let someone honest manage the business side. But Pete wouldn’t support me on that. It wasn’t until he went back to America about 18 months later and he went into his publishing account and found a lot of money missing. Then, of course, he threw the book at them and it got quite nasty. In the end, they ended up with nothing and we lost two great creative people. I never felt great about it, but at least we ended up with a manager [Bill Curbishley] who really does the deal for us.
How Bill Curbishley became The Who’s manager
Bill Curbishley was working at [Lambert and Stamp’s record label] Track. Every day he would disappear quite early from the office. I didn’t realise at the time he was out on parole. Bill got done for a bank robbery that he didn’t do. Equally, he could have got done for one that he did do. Bill did eight years inside for someone else, but he never ever told [on them]. That spoke to me: ‘This man, if he does a deal with you, he’ll be dead straight.’So that’s how [he became our manager] and from that day we started to make money. Real money. He’s fantastic and totally honest… He’s as sharp as a razor.
Drink, drugs and Keith Moon
I was in a band with three addicts. Two alcoholics and Keith would take anything. I don’t know how he survived as long as he did. You’d say, ‘Do you want one of these Keith?’ And he wouldn’t want one. He’d want ten. He was bomb proof. He really was. But it was all hiding other stuff that he had inside him. He was so talented and he was so insecure. He would have you laughing till you had to walk out of the room because you couldn’t laugh anymore. He was the funniest man I’ve ever met in my life. But under that was this incredible frailty and vulnerability and he couldn’t channel his talent in a way that he could use creatively. He was a fantastic actor, but he could never do more than a cameo because he could never do the same thing twice. Keith had a lot of tragedy in his life and he never really came out of those tragedies. It was all buried inside him and he was trying to drown it with alcohol and the other drugs.
Why he personally stayed away from drugs
I wanted to be a singer and you can’t do drugs and sing because most of them affect your voice. I tried speed in 1964 in the days when we were doing two shows a night: playing from 8 o’clock till 11 o’clock and 2 o’clock to 6 in the morning. That would be regular at the weekends. I tried the purple hearts and all they did was make me chew my lip and dry my mouth out, so I couldn’t sing. So I thought if I want to be a singer, I can’t do this and cut it out.
Getting temporarily sacked by his bandmates for flushing their drugs down the toilet
It was probably because I was straight and they were all off their heads, but it was really painful to hear this group of incredible musicians playing so badly. I couldn’t take any more. So I came off stage and flushed their stuff down the loo. [Keith] wasn’t best pleased.
Pete Townshend’s ritual of smashing his guitar at the end of Who gigs
It’s always frustrated me that when you read about The Who people always wrote about Pete smashing a guitar into an amp. They didn’t get it. It was not about the visual of it. It was about the sound it made. When Pete used to break a guitar, it sometimes used to take him 10 minutes. It would be a like a sacrificial lamb. This thing would scream. It was an incredible sonic experience. The volume would leave us with our ears bleeding. Sometimes we used to come off stage and the ringing in our ears didn’t go away for two days.
How 1969’s rock opera Tommy precipitated a move away from straight-up pop music
We’d been experimenting with longer pieces of music and that was thanks to Kit Lambert again. Kit was always in love with ballet and opera and he was encouraging us that rock music could be much more than just a three minute single. Then Pete came up with this idea of, ‘Let’s do this rock opera.’ We went into the studio and we spent two or three months there and we came up with Tommy. Thank goodness that we did because that was the record that took us away from being a pop band that produced a hit record every two or three months, which Pete was finding increasingly difficult to do, into being recognised as a band of musicians for the first time.
The genius of his bandmate Pete Townshend
People throw the word genius around pretty easily, but when it comes to music and songwriting you have to say that, Townshend, in rock music and popular music, is probably one of the most important composers of the 20th century. In that sense his music does contain genius.
Playing Woodstock festival in 1969
We did a two and half hour show and you couldn’t have arranged it better. When it came to “See Me, Feel Me” right at the end of Tommy — it had been three days of rain and everyone was up to their knees in mud — the sun popped its head through over the horizon and it was dawn. It was an extraordinary moment. It was a light show that even the Stones couldn’t afford.
Making new music as The Who
We’re just doing a new album at the moment. But it’s a very weird [time] because we’re not really a band anymore. I just love my job of being the guy who takes what Pete’s written as a solo song, looking at it and thinking, ‘How do I make this work to move an audience?’ It’s that process for me that makes making records still worth it. Otherwise it’s two guys in two different studios. We don’t go in and make records like we used to. I wish it was that way but we’re not a band. Since [bassist] John [Entwistle] and Keith died we’re not a band in that sense. But equally, we can make music and as long as I can put a vocal on that has elevated a song from: there was a Pete Townshend song, to: there is a Who song, I’m happy.
Why he and Townshend no longer record together in the same studio
He don’t like the look of me. I don’t like the look of him.
His advice for young musicians starting out
Music has got a different position in society than it had. I don’t know what it means now as I’m old… I can’t give any advice to young people because the world has changed so much. It seems to me that being a celebrity on YouTube is much more important than it ever is to be a musician these days. I think until music can start to take that over, it’s lost that place.
His pride at being honorary patron of The Teenage Cancer Trust and the important work the charity does
The music business wouldn’t be a business without the support of teenagers, so we should look after them. If you think about life, you’re 12 years a child and you’re a teenager, adolescent and young adult until you’re 25. That’s the same amount of years that you’re a child. So why is there only children’s and adult hospitals when we know that our teenagers are totally psychologically and socially different than children and old geriatrics like me? It is almost an immoral act to put them in with kids or geriatrics. It’s bad for the kids. It’s bad for the teenagers. And it’s bad for the older people. Mental health is incredibly important in the healing process, especially with serious illness and we can fix this.