Roger Daltrey: A Who Sings His Heart Out in the Country

The frontman discusses his solo record

Roger Daltrey
Michael Putland/Getty Images
Roger Daltrey
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LONDON — John Keene, who used to be Speedy Keene of Thunderclap Newman, loped around the office of Track Records looking for a screwdriver. An acetate of Roger Daltrey's solo album was on the way in a taxi from Apple, but the office hi-fi equipment was missing and John was fixing up a hastily bought replacement set. Daltrey arrived from the taping of a TV show where he performed, with acoustic guitar, a couple of numbers from the album.

A year ago Daltrey said he'd never do a solo LP. "What'd be the point?" he asked. "If it sounded anything like the Who, even 1% like the Who, I wouldn't bother." That all changed for him after performing Tommy recently at the Rainbow Theatre. He got the taste, as he puts it, for "working outside of the group environment. . . . I'm keen on being a good singer, you know, and one of the problems with working only with the Who is you tend to stop developing."

The hi-fi was now in place and Keene bent down to plug it in. In one instant, there was a loud pop, a blue flash, and the room was plunged into darkness. "I can't see, I've gone blind!" moaned Keene theatrically. Voices groaned in the dark. "Blimey," someone said, "he's the feller who built the studio downstairs. Gawd knows what'll happen when he switches that on."

Fuse boxes are checked, switches clicked, wires pulled. Roger lit a Benson & Hedges from a candle and sat down in the office foyer, illuminated horror-film fashion by street lamps outside.

"As I was saying, one of the problems with the solo thing was sounding like the Who. If it was like that it would be taking something out of the group. As it is, not in a million years would the Who do the songs on the LP, so it can only help me as a singer, which in turn helps the group."

Roger kicked a number of ideas around before deciding the album's format. One idea was to record some of the songs that the Who used to do in the days when they were called the High-numbers. Roger used to choose the material before Pete started writing and it was mostly obscure Motown stuff. "It would have been nice to have done that 'cause I've always felt there's part of the Who's history missing on record. All we got is the 'Generation' period, which really represents the changeover to Pete's writing. But then I realized to do it properly we'd need a drummer like Moon, a guitarist like Townshend and a bass player like Entwistle. So I scrapped that idea."

As for a producer, Roger chose Adam Faith, the British singer, now actor, who was hitting the charts in the late Fifties with songs like "What Do You Want" and "Poor Me" – at a time when Roger was 14 and in a local school group.

100 Greatest Singers of All Time: Roger Daltrey

They met when Faith booked the studio at Daltrey's country home. They're both the do-it-yourself working-class London breed, cheerful and naturally sharp. "Adam's on the ball," said Roger," he's survived, kept in touch. Like when he wanted to learn golf he locked himself away for nine months then comes out a great player. And he wanted to learn the piano so he gets a tutor to come and live with him for a year and now he can work his way 'round a piano. He's the sort of feller I like."

Faith had booked the studio for Leo Sayer, a singer-songwriter he's managing. The talk often turned to Daltrey's LP. "In the end," said Roger, "they'd heard me talk about the bloody thing so much that they knew where I was at. And as we'd never discussed them being involved with it, all the talk was objective. So it seemed natural to say to Leo and Dave Courtney, who writes with him, 'go and write me the songs and let Adam produce it.' "

Six weeks later the album was in the can. "I learned a lot from it. I learned new kinds of songs and different techniques of singing. One thing I've felt with the Who recently – really ever since we haven't had a producer – is that I tended to throw things away, like by starting off a number too powerful so there was nowhere else to go. This has taught me about these dynamics. My album's really laid back. You see, without sounding big-headed, I used to be a fuckin' terrible singer with the Who, but I've got so much better recently . . . No, I don't listen to other people, I'm the world's worst at that; never buy records. That's not the reason. It's something inside – keeping your insides healthy and clean. You don't look up in the air for your answers, mate, you look down here."

Nothing to do with living in the country? "No . . . and don't start with that 'village squire' thing." Roger bristled for a moment. "That pisses me off. I'm not the pop star with the big country mansion. I bought that place when it was falling down – it needed me. I like building and that. I used to live in a two-up, two-down place and I built so many rooms onto it that it became a bloody great house! Now I've got a place that'll never be finished."

Opposite Roger in the foyer was a brash, colored poster for the Who. At the top was a photograph of Keith Moon. Keith? "That's the Japanese for you," Roger chuckled. "We just signed a deal with CBS-Sony in Japan and that's one of their posters."

Who signs with whom and for what is Roger's business. "My big ambition in life," he said, "is to keep the Who together, and under the surface it needs a lot of attention. I get accused all the time of being a breadhead, but it's just that the other three don't care – and I mean don't care – and somebody's got to look after it. Keith spends five times as much as he earns, though I wouldn't have it any other way. I won't sit on my arse and get ripped off. And I hate to see money wasted. I like to keep what I earn and give it away where I want it to go . . . it's like these charity performances we're doing of Tommy in New York. I wanted it to be big, really big so we could earn a million dollars and give it all to a new charity. But what happens?—the scale of the thing gets reduced 'cause nobody could get it together. I bet if it was a commercial thing, it could have been done. Now that annoys me."

What's in the Who's future? "Well, Pete's come up with another biggie, which we're going to steam back in with. I'm not going to talk about it too much 'cause when that happens things never seem to come off. But we need a new show. The old one had reached the point where we felt we were cheating people 'cause even if they wanted to see and hear it, we'd done it for so long that our hearts weren't in it anymore. Pete had got bored with playing the guitar, understandably, and was into synthesizers and so on and it got a bit far away from what the Who's about. We're going to get a new LP out by June and then tour the world for at least a year."

The lights go on and a stage cheer comes from the studio below where the fuse has been mended. We go down and Roger's album is put on the deck. At the sessions were Russ Ballard and Bob Herrit from Argent, bassist Dave Winter and Dave Courtney on piano. "It was straightforward to do. Great fun as well. There's not much of that left in the rock world, is there? They've all gone so bloody serious, it makes me sick. I can't stand that 'oh, someone's farted, let's do another take.'"

Roger sings his heart out on the album. Out of the Who context, his singing is more exposed but it stands up to the extra attention. "Don't you say it, too," Roger smiles after one track. "If anyone else tells me I sound like McCartney. . . ."

This story is from the April 26th, 1973 issue of Rolling Stone.

From The Archives Issue 133: April 26, 1973
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