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Roger Daltrey on His New Solo Album, The Personal Power of ‘Tommy,’ The Who’s Originality and More (The Interview)
Listening to the Who’s debut 1965 album, My Generation, and the new Roger Daltrey solo album, As Long As I Have You, with a mere 55 years in between, one can hear the stylistic ground that connects both together.
There’s a wide range of material on Daltrey’s new solo effort, his first since 1992, which finds the legendary singer revisiting his formative soul/blues roots, culling several strong original compositions alongside carefully selected tracks by Stevie Wonder, Stephen Stills, Nick Cave, Boz Scaggs and others.
Enjoy Rock Cellar’s chat with Daltrey below.
Rock Cellar: The Who’s first album, My Generation, found you in total soul singer/blues mode, inspired by legends like James Brown, Bo Diddley and others. Does this new solo album, As Long As I Have You, which shows you embracing your roots, feel like a full-circle moment?
Roger Daltrey: Well, yeah, that was the whole point of it. This solo album came from an idea I’ve had for a long time, about ten years ago. We were searching for ideas for The Who to make a record — Pete (Townshend) didn’t have any material written so I said, “What about if we do what we used to do before you used to write the songs?”
But Pete didn’t go for that idea, so I was given the opportunity to make this solo album and I thought I’d try it for myself. It’s just been great coming back to that stuff. In those early days with The Who, I was singing those songs and I was singing the words, in a lot of ways it’s something that you need to live a life before you can really put the meat and potatoes into the songs, so to speak.
I feel that now I can do that. I’m very happy with the rest of it and I feel it’s achieved what I wanted to, which was to touch people and move them.
Rock Cellar: You’ve said your past solo albums were a “hobby,” but this one you took seriously, is that correct?
Roger Daltrey: Well, that’s really true; my solo albums were always a hobby. Singers have to keep singing. We used to have huge gaps off in The Who with Pete and John writing the material and we’d have these layoffs from touring and that would have destroyed me as a singer if I didn’t keep my voice in shape and keep singing — so I started doing solo albums.
But on these records I always had trouble with material and direction because I only really wanted to be the singer in The Who, but obviously that wasn’t quite enough as far as my voice was concerned. So that’s basically where that kind of statement comes from.
This new solo album I did take seriously because I wanted to show the bits of my voice that people never ever get to hear in The Who.
Rock Cellar: I was surprised to hear you initially were thinking of shelving this album, why? What changed your mind as to it worthiness?
Roger Daltrey: I started the album about four years ago and I was in the sketch stage of it with the songs. Then Pete and I got together to do the Who’s 50th Anniversary tour, which is part of the long goodbye as we call it. So that took about 18 months out of it, and at the end of that 18 months I walked into a bout of meningitis which nearly killed me. t took a long time to recover from that.
When I went back to listen to the stuff I had recorded, I kind of lost my enthusiasm for it because I was listening to the sketches as I call them; I just thought it was rubbish and I just wanted to shelve it and that was it. But unbeknownst to me, the producer sent it to my management who then sent it to Pete who loved it and he got a hold of me and said, “Roger, you’ve got to finish this, it’s great!” And he said, “I’d like to play guitar on it.’ By him agreeing to play guitar on my album he gave me the confidence to revisit it.
And having Pete play guitar on it was an absolute hono,r because he is my favorite guitarist of all time of the rock guitarists. He is the most original one of the lot.
Rock Cellar: As you mentioned, you had a serious bout with meningitis, which almost robbed you of your life. Did surviving that and having a new lease on life change your way of thinking about things?
Roger Daltrey: Not really changed it, no. I still wanna do more. (laughs) What was weird about it, I was really at death’s door and it was like falling off a cliff. I thought of all the things I’d done in my life and how lucky I’d been; God, I could never imagine doing all the different things that I have done.
But equally what’s done is it’s stopped me fearing death, that’s for sure, and it’s also driven me on to do more. (laughs) That might be ridiculous at this age but I don’t care. (laughs)
Rock Cellar: “Certified Rose” is a wonderful song that you wrote, which appears on the new album. Was that originally intended for The Who’s Endless Wire album?
Roger Daltrey: Yeah, it was. I could never hear it working for The Who, that was the problem. Pete always loved that song but I could just never hear it as a Who song. I couldn’t hear it working for us. I have this strange mental thing about what a Who song should be, I don’t know why. I originally wrote it with a friend; I came up with the lyric and some of the melody, we worked together as a team on it.
We wrote it with Rod Stewart in mind, believe it or not. That song was written about my daughter, Rosie. I suddenly work up literally right near the end of making this album, “Always Heading Home” and “Certified Rose” were added to the album ‘cause they were two of my songs. I just woke up one morning hearing “Certified Rose” in my head as a soul record. It just came to me and I thought, that’s how to do it!” (laughs) The version on my new album wasn’t like it sounded originally; the demo sounded much more kind of early Rod Stewart.
Rock Cellar: Was the choice of “You Haven’t Done Nothin'” by Stevie Wonder directed at one person?
Roger Daltrey:I chose to do that Stevie Wonder song because it applies to what’s happening in the world today. We are frustrated with our leaders. But there again, it ain’t easy to do what they do. But I sang it with quite a lot of venom and maybe I overdid it a bit but I was happy with the end result.
It’s not one of the greatest songs Stevie Wonder has ever written but it seemed to fit the mood of the day so well. I thought if you can vent the anger in music it’ll help.
Rock Cellar: What were your career goals early on and how have those goals changed over time?
Roger Daltrey: Aha!…Just to get to tomorrow! (laughs) The Who is a remarkable period in our lives for Pete and I, and sadly it’s only the two of us left. But we’ve had the best time in the last few years on the road together. Our band is fabulous and the reviews are better than they’ve been since the ‘70s and our audiences go from 85 years old down to eight years old.
And that’s just wonderful to feel that music can be that broad, like a church, and can bring those people together for an experience. We’re really experiencing this together. We’re not looking at a bloody screen or pushing a button. This is real life! This is humanity at its best.
Rock Cellar: The Who: Live at The Fillmore East ’68 has just been released 50 years after it was recorded. Thinking back, what are your memories about that show and period of the band’s career?
We were learning our chops. We were green in a lot of areas but equally we had a fire in our bellies. We were relying on a lot of cover material because we didn’t have the catalog that we have now. But it was a great place to play. We played with some great people, artists like Buddy Guy and Buffalo Springfield. It was a fantastic time in our lives.
And of course any band we played with whether they supported us or were headlining, you’d learn something every night a little bit different. It was all about mixing the cake before it went into the oven.
Rock Cellar: In the Amazing Journey film, there’s exciting footage of The High Numbers playing at the Railway Hotel. Your singing sounds like a 50 or 60 year-old black blues singer.
Roger Daltrey: That’s who I thought I was when I was sixteen (laughs). That’s exactly what I thought I was, a black blues singer. Those guys used to come and play with us. Sonny Boy Williamson and Muddy Waters used to stand on the side of the stage and ask us if they could do a song with the band. And there we were in awe of these people. We emulated them.
If you understand the class system in England, we totally understood how black America felt and where their music came from. We got it. We understood it. And I think that’s what English rock music was founded on.
During those days at The Railway Hotel, we were doing covers but we were doing original covers. (laughs) That was it. We very quickly tired of copying people. We found that we could add to this music. Let’s put it this way, the way we were copying it was as good as it ever was gonna be and it couldn’t be better. But what we could do was add to it and change it and make it something that was a bit of left field, and that’s where our sound came from.
Rock Cellar: There’s a curiosity in The Who’s singles catalog, a song I really like but I know you’re not keen on, “Dogs,” what the story behind that one?
Roger Daltrey: (laughs) I’m not fond of “Dogs” because that was The Who trying to out-Small Faces the Small Faces. (laughs) In my opinion that’s what we were trying to do. Around that time they had the song “Lazy Sunday” just before that, and of course it was kind of chirpy, cockney chappie and it felt to me we were kind of mimicking a kind of area and ground that they were standing on so it was never one of my favorites.
Rock Cellar: By the time of Tommy, it seemed you’d really come into your own as a singer. What do you attribute this to?
Roger Daltrey: That came really from Tommy.
The years previous, the original material I was singing was a person who had a lost identity searching for home. Tommy brought me home.
I’d been the deaf, dumb and blind kid, and that music took me home. All of a sudden I knew exactly what I was doing. I knew exactly who I was. I didn’t fear anything. Again, it was all about, I’m over that hurdle of the previous four years. My singing style changed because of the type of material I was singing. It was no more mimicking; it was a real British thing. It was its own thing. I didn’t think about doing it. It’s just how it happened.
I can think about what happened to me thinking back on it. But when you’re in it it’s part of an ever-evolving process.
Rock Cellar: What was the experience like putting together your autobiography, Thanks A Lot, Mr. Kibblewhite? did you come to a new perspective on your career, events, relationships?
Roger Daltrey: No, not really. The band side of my life I find really easy to remember. Maybe it was because I was the only straight one with three addicts. My memories of the days with The Who is still so sharp in my brain.
It’s left me sometimes a little melancholic because you wish you could go back and do it again but you can’t, of course. It was joyous working on the book. I worked with a very good friend who is a journalist who interviewed me extensively; I did interview after interview after interview and he just wrote out what I said and then organized it into a structure that would make the book and then I wrote over it. That was the process that we did because spoken language isn’t the same as written language, as you know.
So I wrote over it and the book is very much in my voice and that was the process we used.
Rock Cellar: Lastly, had we gone through your record collection back in the ’60s when The Who broke big, what vinyl albums/singles would have received the most time on your stereo?
Roger Daltrey:Back in the ‘60s?…If it’s the early early ‘60s it would have been Chuck Berry and all those early blues people and then I graduated on to The Beatles’ Rubber Soul, which I really loved when that came out; I loved that album when it came out. Then of course The Band, Dylan and then someone like Cat Stevens. I loved Cat Stevens.
I also loved Tim Hardin, Harry Nilsson, all those people, the real songsmiths, they were brilliant. But then slowly but surely I stopped listening to other people. It was starting to interfere with my originality. Too much of what I was hearing was me trying to mimic others. (laughs)
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