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Roger Daltrey Addresses Tension Within the Who

Despite public spats, 'behind the scenes we're the best of friends,' he says of guitarist Pete Townshend

June 27, 2011 4:25 PM ET
Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend of the Who
Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend of the Who
Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images

Roger Daltrey is taking the Who's 1969 classic LP Tommy on the road this summer – but he admits that he'd rather be out there with The Who. "Pete [Townshend] is having terrible hearing problems at the moment," Daltrey tells Rolling Stone. "I've also had a voice scare. There's nobody I'd rather be on stage with than Pete. But equally, I don't want to be on stage with him destroying the last bit of his hearing. That would be completely foolish. He's a composer."

In a recent interview with Intelligent Life, Townshend said that Daltrey had his own difficulties on the last few Who tours. "If I'm out on the road with Roger and he's as miserable as sin, there is a bit of me, and I know my manager Bill Curbishley shares this, which thinks 'Why are we doing this to him?'" Townshend said. "He seems to be so unhappy, he seems to be so unfulfilled. Yet when you talk to him he exalts the Who to high heaven, and exalts me. He always says it's going to be fabulous, and 'this time I'm just going to have fun,' and he always ends up distraught, sobbing in a corner somewhere, saying 'That was the worst show I've ever done and I could do so much better and I can't work out how I'm going to do this again.'"

Surprisingly, Daltrey doesn't dispute any of this. "It got to me," he says. "I felt the pressure. I was having terrible trouble hearing what I was singing and it did get to me. In fact, I've been suffering for quite a few of the previous tours. I never understood that if you sweat as much as I used to every night, you drain your body of salts. So I got very, very, seriously ill. I got to the stage where I was almost hospitalized with serious problems."

Daltrey is confident that he'll have easier time on future tours. "I'm working with a completely new sound system," he says. "For the last year I've been able to hear myself onstage, and singing is so much easier. I don't over-sing anymore, which I used to suffer from terribly because I couldn't hear myself."

If the Who don't tour again, Townshend claims that his hearing problems won't be to blame."At the beginning of the year I had decided, '66 next birthday, I think I'll just stop,'" he told Intelligent Life. "Nothing to do with my hearing, because I think I can sort that out on stage. My feeling was that I simply didn't have the enthusiasm to do reinvention.” He's since changed his mind. "I look around me and I think, 'Why aren't I suffering the way that other people are suffering?'" he said. "Is it just that I don't have to worry about paying the school fees?' I think for me it's that if you can take an artistic position and do something useful, even if it's negative, then action is the best answer."

Right now, Townshend is finishing up his long awaited memoir Pete Townshend: Who He?, which is slated to come out in the fall of 2012. "I'm not particularly looking forward to it," says Daltrey with a laugh. "When I look back to some of his interviews, he's said some weird things. I wonder, who's writing this book? But anyway, all I know is that whatever happens on the public stage, behind the scenes we're the best of friends. We're like brothers. Not to say we get on with each other all the time, but if we were ever in trouble, you know that we'd both be there for each other. That's all that matters."

Regardless of whether or not Townshend decides to resurrect the Who in the future, Daltrey knows he's not ready to retire. "We're in the last bits of our career," he says. "I feel that we owe it to the public that supported us all these years to go down with us. I had a real scare with my voice a couple of years ago, but now I'm singing better than ever. And it made me just want to use it till the day I can't . . . Look, I'm realistic about my age and realistic about the fact that there's an awful lot less in front of me than there is behind me. I've always felt that music is an art form that deserves to live the life of the artist."

He marvels at artists – like Pete Seeger and Chuck Berry – who continue to perform well into old age. "Isn't it wonderful to see them," he says. "A lot of people may not agree, but to me this is like the last time you're going to get to see any of these people. Imagine if you could go watch Mozart today, even if it's the last, crappiest show he ever played. What a thrill that would be."

Related: Relive the Who's Explosive Super Bowl Set in Photos
The Who's Townshend Reveals the Story Behind Big Super Bowl Set

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