The Who haven’t performed in a little under a year and have no tour dates slated for the foreseeable future, but their break hasn’t kept Roger Daltrey still. In the past few months alone he’s performed Tommy all over America with local orchestras, released As Long as I Have You (his first solo album in 26 years) and earlier this month kicked off another U.S. solo tour where he’s mixing Who classics like “The Kids Are Alright” and “Baba O’Riley” with rarities like “Another Tricky Day” and “How Many Friends.”
A couple of months ago, Daltrey phoned up Rolling Stone for a Last Word interview to discuss the many lessons he’s learned during his long life. He also spoke about the Who’s future, why he thinks hip-hop hasn’t evolved and the Who classic he’s simply sick of singing. You can also listen to this interview, along with a discussion about the Who’s history and their place in the culture, right here on the Rolling Stone Music Now podcast.
You’ve been married to your wife, Heather, since 1971. Very few rock-star marriages have lasted that long. What’s your secret?
It’s not easy. I think ours survived because I was always honest with her. At the end of every tour, however long we were away, and whatever had gone on during the tour, I’d be on the first bloody plane back to her. But underneath it all, I worshipped the ground she walked on.
You were the only member of the Who to not have to deal with a major substance-abuse problem. How did you avoid that?
I had to, so I could keep the others in line. You try getting three people on acid from the Monterey Pop Festival all the way to London! I was the one that didn’t take the acid. All I ever did was pot. None of it used to agree with me. It used to affect my singing, and all I ever wanted to be was a good singer. I was fucking boring. Hopefully I never turned into an asshole, ’cause I saw so many people coming out of the bathroom. They went in really good blokes, and they came out complete assholes.
So many bands have been taken down by jealousy. You were in a group were there was always this constant attention on your drummer and your guitarist. How did you prevent that from eating away at you?
I loved them all and recognized them for their talent. And I brought that band together. Back then, one-by-one, they joined me in my band. And [Keith] Moon was the last piece of the jigsaw puzzle. I knew the chemistry was right in the band. I mean, they were irreplaceable. Your ego then goes out the window. All I ever cared about was the band. And us all coming together was extraordinary. It felt like a bigger, universal hand was always guiding us.
What has being in a band for more than 50 years taught you about compromise?
It’s taught me how to control my temper. Early on [in 1966] I got thrown out for fighting. I’m a little guy and I used to get bullied quite a bit when I was young. My fight-or flight-instinct — if I ever felt it was going to get nasty on me, I would fight. I had an altercation with Pete one night after I flushed his drugs down the toilet. And he came slashing at me with the bells of a tambourine. We ended up having a bad fight and I got thrown out for four or five weeks. I was going to form a soul band. With the arrogance of youth I was like, “Fuck it, I’ll start another band.” They brought me back when I promised not to start any more fights.
You’re in pretty remarkable shape for 74. How do you manage that?
People don’t believe me, but I don’t do much. I do about 20 minutes in the gym twice a week, some light weights and the rowing machine. When I was a sheet-metal worker, I did build my body for a film where I played a prisoner that lifted weights. And I’ve just got that kind of body. Sorry!
Do you watch what you eat?
I do, because I don’t want to be overweight. You’ve got to remember that singers aren’t like guitarists. We’re a walking instrument. Look at [Mick] Jagger. Look at how he looks after himself. He looks magnificent for his age. He looks after his instrument. That’s what it’s all about.
You nearly lost your voice almost 10 years ago, before throat surgery. What was it like knowing it might be gone forever?
I didn’t realize I had a pre-cancerous condition, but it was getting very, very difficult to sing at the end. But I wasn’t scared. I know that one day my voice will go. There’s no point in worrying about things like that. If you get it, you might as well make it your friend. Make it your enemy, it will beat you. Before the surgery, I thought, “I might not be able to sing when I wake up, but if that’s how it’s gonna be, that’s how it’s gonna be.” It’s like Tony Soprano says, you know, “Whatcha gonna do?”
What’s the music that still moves you the most?
I like Florence and the Machine, but it’s mostly old people like Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry. The fire in their bellies, it was brilliant. Then you suddenly realize, who has fires in their bellies today? I mean, I listen to a lot of the bands that are out there, and there’s an awful amount of emperor’s new clothes.
How is your book coming along?
It’s finished. It will be out in October. It’s called Thanks a Lot Mr Kibblewhite. It’s been kind of weird and a little like falling off a cliff and seeing your life go before your eyes. It can leave you a bit wishing you’d done more, but then equally when you look back at it all you think, “Fuck me. Didn’t I do a lot!” It’s a real dichotomy.
I’ve enjoyed it greatly. I didn’t do a publishing deal. I just wanted to see if I had a good book in me. I didn’t know it yet because I don’t know whether my life is very different than anyone else’s life. I know it’s been an extraordinary life. I’m well aware of that. But until you actually write it all down, I didn’t have a clue whether I had a story in me or a journey or a book people might be interested in.
What I did was find a journalist friend of mine that did an interview with me for hours and hours. Then he would take everything I said and then he put it together almost like a film director, but for books. He pieced it together to see how he could build it into a story. Over a period of three years we did interview after interview. He even came to see me in the hospital. He was one of the few people allowed to see me when I had meningitis. He interviewed me when I didn’t know if I was ever coming out of the hospital. It was kind of interesting. All he had to do was write down what I said and he put it together and finally got it into a book shape. As he wrote it, of course, the spoken language isn’t what you can read comfortably. Some of the words have to be a bit different. He’d write down everything I said and we’d go over it give it more clarity.
Are there any parts of your life that were blurry and you couldn’t remember clearly?
There are quite a few bits missing since I’ve had four quite serious concussions in my life. There are a few big chunks missing. It worries me when they talk about concussion and dementia [laughs]. I’ve had four quite big concussions, like 10 minutes. The mid-1960s [I don’t remember well], less to do with the band so much but more with what I was doing when the band wasn’t onstage; maybe it’s because I was drinking a lot, but it’s kind of weird. Most of the group stuff I rememberer clear as a bell.
I interviewed Robert Plant a few years back and he was adamant that he absolutely no interest in any sort of Led Zeppelin tour. You’ve always had such a different attitude when it came to reviving the Who. Why do you think that is?
I don’t know. I’m a Townshend fan [laughs]! There ya go! I’m a fan of his music. It’s so original. I think his writing is extraordinary.
Do you think you’d ever do The Who Sell Out straight though at a concert?
Um, I’d have to listen to it again. I haven’t listened to it in years. I mean, what’s on it?
“I Can See For Miles,” “Mary Anne With the Shaky Hand,” “Tattoo …”
I could do all of those. Is “Rael” on that?
Oh no, we couldn’t do that. I don’t think I can sing up there anymore. I could probably do most of it, but I don’t want to ever sing “Rael” onstage. That was done in the studio. I think it was New York, but I don’t remember. It was all tape-looped and double-tracked on two tape recorders. Bouncing across it was layers after layers of vocals. Just trying to bloody reinvent that would be a nightmare.
I really like Face Dances and It’s Hard. Do you see them as underappreciated?
At the time, I didn’t like It’s Hard. I think there are some great tracks on it. “Cry if You Want” is a great track. I think it was a little over-produced, a bit cleaned up. But there were some things that were quite interesting.
I love The Who by Numbers even more. A dream of mine is to see you guys play it straight through.
Well, I do quite a few songs from that on my new show with the band, without Pete at the moment. I’ve done “How Many Friends” and “Dreaming From the Waist.” “How Many Friends” is a great song, especially in these days of antisocial media.
Your album is coming out the same day as the new Kanye West record. Do you know his music at all?
I do because he did a big festival in England a few years ago. It’s kind of meaningless to me, to be honest with you. I like some of the rhythms of rap. But [it] hasn’t gone anywhere from the first record [that] ever came out with those kind of rhythms, has it?
You think rap isn’t evolving?
No, I don’t think. Has hip-hop evolved? I don’t think it has at all. I do think Eminem is still one of the most creative people in that whole arena. He’s fabulous. I love him.
Better band: the Stones or the Who?
It’s like comparing chocolate and chocolate. The Stones were a rock & roll band. They are the best rock & roll band in the world, by far. The Who are a rock band. Whether we’re the best in the world, I can’t tell you, because I’m in the thing. But the Who are a rock band. We don’t do the roll. We do the rock.
Do you hope you’re still singing “Won’t Get Fooled Again” in your eighties?
That’s the only song I’m bloody bored shitless with. I don’t know why, but I’m being honest. All the others I can approach like I’m singing for the first time. I don’t know what’s happening there psychologically. Maybe it’s the song, but I never seem to be in the same pocket where I’m singing it for the firsts time.
Are the Who going to tour next year?
We haven’t planned anything, but we also haven’t ever thought about giving up. We’ve said that this is the beginning of the long goodbye at the beginning of our 50th-anniversary tour. And a long goodbye is as long as it takes. We have always been of the opinion that you don’t give this business up. This business gives you up. As long as we can do it well, we will. If it ever starts to get not good and loses that essence the Who bring to the stage, then we’ll stop.