After eighteen years together, the Who will make a farewell tour across America this autumn. They’ll continue to record, they’ll even play an occasional concert, and they’ll do solo projects, as they have in the past. But Roger Daltrey says they’ve gotten too old to put up with the daily grind of road tours.
“I feel that our type of rock & roll is prehistoric. And the sooner we get out of it, the sooner people are going to listen to new stuff,” the Who’s thirty-eight-year-old singer is saying at the band’s New York office. “Led Zeppelin were great, but then we get all the soundalikes – Van Halen, I mean, the worst load of shit I’ve ever heard in my life.”
As Daltrey goes on to bemoan American radio’s failure to play records by new groups that don’t make the same old noise, an aide passes him a small square of paper. It has the figure 30,000 written on it, and Daltrey rocks in his chair like a boy on a wooden horse. Only a few hours earlier, as Daltrey laid out the Who’s plans at a press conference – that the tour would begin September 22nd in Largo, Maryland, and would wind around the U.S. for nine or ten weeks – 58,000 tickets went on sale for the band’s New York concert at Shea Stadium (which, like several other dates on the tour, will feature the Clash as an opening act). Daltrey was keeping an anxious accounting of ticket sales, and 30,000 meant the seats were going quickly.
“You don’t know if it’s going to sell out,” he says. “Every time you release an album, every time you get onstage, it’s dangerous. I’ve loved the Who for the danger of it. It gives life another spark. You’re never sure of any of it. The guitarist might throw a wobbler one night or something.”
The guitarist is, of course, Pete Townshend, and he and Daltrey have had a contentious relationship for most of the twenty-two years they’ve worked together. Only eighteen months ago, in fact, things were so strained that the band put on what Daltrey recalls as one of its worst shows ever. “Townshend was pissed as a newt. It was terrible. It was just one person doing a solo act and three people wondering what the fuck they were doing there.”
Townshend has since given up drinking and drugs, which is why, when asked if this farewell tour will feature anything special, Daltrey lets loose with a hooting laugh. “Yeah, Townshend’s going to be sober.” Has Pete gotten preachy about taking the cure? “He was preachy about doing it for ten years before he did it.”
Daltrey looks menacingly amused when tossing out lines like, “Pete’s life would have been totally empty without the Who,” or “I believe that Townshend is incomplete without the Who.” He believes their music suffers when the friction between the two of them isn’t there. “We had a period when we were getting along really well, and it was a disaster.”
Another aide comes to the doorway: should they add a second New York date? Daltrey is happy. The Who have sold out the 58,000 reserved seats for Shea Stadium in a matter of hours. (The following week, the band sells out the reserved seating for an additional Shea show. They also sell most of the 95,000 tickets offered for an October 29th performance at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, and most of the 90,000 tickets for a concert at Philadelphia’s JFK Stadium on September 25th.)
A concert film for cable TV may come out of the tour (which will not include a performance in Cincinnati, where eleven kids were trampled to death at a Who show in 1979), and so may a live album. “I’d like to find two or three standards, rock & roll songs, and maybe if Pete could come up with a few new songs that we’d never played on record, then there might be a live album. But just to come out with the Who playing ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ and ‘Baba O’Riley’ – what is the point?”
The Who tour, their first across the U.S. since 1980, will promote their latest album, It’s Hard. The band recorded the album in three months, after Daltrey, playing rhythm guitar with Andy Fairweather Low on lead, rehearsed them while Townshend was away. Did Daltrey, in effect, become the group’s leader? “We’ve never had a leader,” he says. “I think that’s one of the bloody problems.”
Daltrey hopes the band will be more adventurous in the studio – “just throw things at the wall” – when its days as a touring act are over. And he’s looking forward to working with director Jonathan Miller on an opera for the BBC, as well as spending his money. Claiming never to have met anyone who had inherited great wealth and was happy, Daltrey does not plan to leave his own wealth to his five children, who range in age from eighteen months to eighteen years old. (The oldest is working in a factory.) “I’m not going to die the richest man in the graveyard. I want to die owing lots of money.”
One wonders why there’s even going to be a final tour, if touring is so bad and family life so good. “I don’t want to just fizzle out,” says Daltrey. “The gesture of a last tour is a good, positive thing. If we don’t say this is our last one, in two years’ time people are going to say, ‘What happened to the Who?’ Whereas this way it’ll be, ‘Oh yeah, they packed up.’ I’ll be very happy when we’re through with these nine weeks of touring.”
Maybe, it is suggested, he’ll have a good time “stepping back and being a rock star again,” as he puts it. Maybe he’ll enjoy the tour. Daltrey laughs. “Well, yes. That’s why we are calling it the first farewell tour.”
This story is from the September 30th, 1982 issue of Rolling Stone.