LONDON — "If I wanted to get anything out of this business," Roger Daltrey says, "it was never to have to go back and work in a factory again. And I've got that. But the one thing I've learned is that money never buys you out of being working-class. The middle classes don't ever let you forget where you come from."
Daltrey has no intention of forgetting. Despite the 12 years that have passed since the Who's apocalyptic "My Generation" and the criticism from today's punk rockers that the Who have lost touch with their roots, Daltrey is adamant that – as the title of his latest solo album insists – he's still very much One of the Boys. The album's title track, written for Daltrey by Steve Gibbons, begins: "He speaks with a terrible stammer/Doesn't have much to say," and, sure enough, the song is marked by the Who's classic amphetamine stutter. Daltrey, in fact, describes the song as "a 1977 'My Generation.'"
Daltrey's conflict with the middle class also stems from a more immediate personal experience. When he recently erected an eight-foot penis (a prop from the film Lisztomania in which he starred) on the grounds of his 200-acre farm in Sussex, complaints from outraged neighbors led to a visit from high-ranking police officers who requested that the offending organ be removed. "It could only happen in England," sighs Daltrey. "There were probably banks being robbed and people being murdered, and the police force were concentrating their efforts on my eight-foot penis." Unbowed, the singer simply planted another next to it.
Today, lounging in his £90-a-day luxury hotel suite in threadbare jeans and a silk shirt, Daltrey looks tanned and healthy from time spent on his farm. But suggest that he is merely a land-owner after all and Daltrey holds up hands that have obviously been turned to hard labor: "Do these look like they belong to a gentleman farmer?"
Daltrey has taken advantage of a six-month sabbatical from the Who to work his farm and record his third solo album. While his previous two LPS were commercial successes (the last, Ride a Rock Horse, went Top Ten in Britain and America), Daltrey feels that One of the Boys will be the first to establish a coherent musical direction for his solo career. "It's always been difficult for me to do that up till now," he says. "I've always said that if I wanted to make a rock & roll album I'd do it with the Who, because that's the finest rock & roll vehicle in the world. It would be pointless to do second-best to that. But there are all kinds of music the Who don't touch."
Certainly the album showcases an eclectic and well-balanced collection of songs – ballads, tough rockers and even some country-flavored tunes (although Daltrey insists he is "too British" to consider a full-fledged Nashville album) – by such writers as Andy Pratt, Colin Blunstone and Paul McCartney, whose "Giddy" was written especially for Daltrey. The album's three original compositions, which mark the singer's belated songwriting debut, were done in collaboration with the album's producer, Dave Cortney. Daltrey says he was always inhibited by Peter Townshend's prolific output, "but a solo album seemed a good opportunity to put my own material to the test."
His first attempt as a lyricist includes a song about life in jail, "The Prisoner." It was inspired by the autobiography of John McVicar, who is currently serving a 26-year term in an English prison for armed robbery. Daltrey was so taken with McVicar's account of prison life that he acquired the film rights to the book. "McVicar doesn't make any excuses," he says. "He is a criminal, no question of it. But the book really illustrates how prison isn't the answer to anything. It really made me think what it must be like. I've been in the nick for a maximum of a week out of my life, and every day of that week seemed like a year. To think of a guy who's doing 26 years, and nobody cares . . ." Daltrey leans forward on the leather couch, his voice rising with intensity as he pummels his leg with a clenched fist. "Where I come from, anyone with the least bit extrovert tendencies either became a footballer, a boxer, a rock musician or a thief. If I hadn't found rock & roll I would have ended up like McVicar," he allows a laugh," 'cause I'm not very good at football."
Daltrey is currently having McVicar's book scripted, and filming should begin sometime next year. Daltrey is keen to play the lead role himself, but insists that neither future film work nor his career as a solo artist will detract from his commitment to the Who:
"When the Who are working I'm totally involved with them; when they stop working I get into my own things. I've come to terms with the fact that I'm never going to be a big solo artist; to be that I would have to be 100% self-indulgent. I would never go out and perform live on my own; I'm not prepared to do the things that go with being a solo artist, like Rod Stewart did for instance. In the end he had no choice but to leave the Faces. I wouldn't want that situation to arise; I won't do anything that would infringe on the Who."
With Peter Townshend also having completed a solo album (in collaboration with Ronnie Lane) and now working on a new batch of tunes for the Who, Daltrey anticipates a renewed burst of studio activity from the group within the next couple of months (in Switzerland or France, to avoid England's tax laws) and a tour by September. "If anybody's got any sense, we'll be back in Holiday Inns for the next tour," he says, glancing around the room. "I feel more at home in them than I do in some poncy place."
Never a band to have enjoyed the closest of personal friendships offstage, the members of the Who, according to Daltrey, have been mixing more frequently of late – although personality conflicts have not lessened because of it. "We're just fighting more often," he laughs. "Conflict has always been an important part of the group's makeup." He points to the last album, Who by Numbers, by way of illustration. "Pete was incredibly down when he first played us those songs, and very cynical about what he had written. When I first heard them it made me unbelievably angry. His cynicism and my anger combined made Who by Numbers a good Who album, although I didn't think so at the time. Without the anger it would have been unbearable."
The stability of the group has not been helped by the self-imposed exile of drummer Keith Moon, now a resident of Los Angeles. "It doesn't feel so much like a band with him over there," Daltrey admits, "and it's not doing him any good either. He's the only guy I know who's not over there for tax reasons. He always wanted to be a 'silver surfer' and now he's doing it, but I really feel it's killing him. He should be back here with us."
Despite the air of pessimism and doubt that pervades much of Who by Numbers, Daltrey insists that the group is as potent a force as ever. "I think the Who have sustained their credibility more than any other band I can think of. We've always been an accurate reflection of what's happening socially. The one thing we've always had is an instinct, mainly from Pete. Keith, John and I are all working-class, but Pete never really was; he came from a musician's family. Because he wasn't working-class he could stand back from the whole Mod thing in the Sixties and look at it objectively – and he's always done that. The Who's rock & roll is still really working-class, and Pete still has amazing perception as to what people are thinking and what they want nine months before they realize it themselves."
Nonetheless, Daltrey seems gladdened by the upsurge of enthusiasm and anger among English punk bands. "It's taken the pressure off us in a way," he says. "We'll still be aggressive, but maybe we can explore other areas of music we've never dared to up until now. If we look old now it's because we've been waving the fucking flag for the last 15 years. We were the punks of the Sixties. They're like I was; I was trying to find me. I've found me now; it's not perfect, but I'm very happy. I'm not going to cut off my hair and dye it pink; that wouldn't prove anything. I feel the same inside as I always did. To me, the importance of the punk thing is what they're angry about – the fact that there's a lot of people on the fucking dole and getting a rough deal." Again Daltrey's voice rises and again his fist pummels his leg as he drives home his final point: "And I'm still angry about the same fucking thing . . . ."
This story is from the June 2nd, 1977 issue of Rolling Stone.