One of the privileges of my generation is the opportunity to watch the once-mighty play small clubs, but seeing someone of Roger Daltrey’s stature didn’t seem possible. But it’s happening. In preparation for a flurry of activity by the Who in 2010, Daltrey is participating in a two-month jaunt where he promises to mine his own catalog for rare gems, and pull out Who songs that have not seen the light of day for some time. If the purpose is to get ready to grease the tracks for the big Who train, the most dedicated fans will have a chance to hang around the station for awhile.
After a long static period Daltrey and the Who are hardly over the hill. Three years ago they released Endless Wire, the rare occurrence of an old band making new music that actually matches the strength of their earlier efforts. On the side Daltrey has continued acting, such as an episode of CSI where he played a character that assumes four different disguises. And last year, The Who was honored at a Presidential ceremony at the Kennedy Center.
Not so long ago we didn’t really expect much more from The Who, aside from another victory lap. So it is nice to know there are still some surprises left.
Sonic Boomers: How are you preparing for the tour?
Roger Daltrey: I’m just sorting through material that I can represent, old solo stuff that I have never done live, and songs that the Who haven’t played for years. The idea is to get out there and sing, have some fun, and give people a good time during these miserable economic times.
SB: Do you need to play certain songs that you don’t like, or that people will be disappointed to not hear?
RD: There will always be people who will be disappointed, with a catalog like the Who. I want to do songs that the Who haven’t done in the last ten years, or if I do them it will be totally different, my version of what they should be. There is a lot that I haven’t done live, like from my last solo album (1992′s Rocks in the Head), which has four good rock songs that I want to play. With all this material it’s more like: “what do I leave out?” People will be disappointed that I won’t be doing “Won’t Get Fooled Again” and I won’t. Or “My Generation.” If they shout loud enough it will be easy enough to slip them in, but artistically I want to do stuff that is more of a challenge.
SB: What about playing in small clubs?
RD: I’m looking forward to the intimacy and talking to the audience, which is something that I don’t really do with the Who. There will be a change in the amount of energy, and ability to reach out and touch the back wall, if you like.
SB: What are you usually thinking onstage?
RD: When I’m onstage with the Who I am always trying to get my brain together for the next song. You live all these words, and play the song as if it were the first time. It takes me to a space where things come naturally and subconsciously, which is much better than having something planned out. I don’t think in a real sense. If I start thinking too much about it I lose my way. I forget the words.
SB: Do you use teleprompters?
SB: You’ve played more guitar with the Who lately. Does that take away from your singing?
RD: No, it’s easier for the phrasing and the rhythm, if I am playing guitar. There are a lot of acoustic guitars on Who records, so it’s nice to put some of it back. I don’t swing the microphone as much, but the old eye and the old shoulder aren’t good for that kind of thing anymore. I’m a bit worried about missing it, and whacking someone.
SB: You and Pete were honored last year at the Kennedy Center, where George Bush read a tribute. What were you thinking, then?
RD: I was thinking “what the fuck am I doing here?” It was not a political event, and it was a not a place to drive in your politics. It was totally surreal. Everyone was very gracious. I just went for the party. It was great to have two days of people entertaining me rather than me having to entertain them. It was a wonderful event, especially with the history of the band over the last ten years, with John going. It’s been a hell of a roller coaster.
SB: But when he introduced you Bush didn’t seem to know who you were.
RD: It didn’t matter. That’s all personalities and politics. I don’t give a shit about that. It was nice to be honored by America, which I have a great affection for. With all those other people, Morgan Freeman, Barbara Streisand, Twyla Tharp, all who are at the top of their professions, I wondered, how did I end up here?
So we accepted it, graciously. I didn’t ever do anything great to deserve this, it’s just what I do. I was wonderful to be honored by your country, and I was really proud of Pete. He is one of the great popular music writers of the twentieth century. He’s made his mark, that’s for sure. And I had the good luck to be the voice for that. And I have never forgotten how lucky I have been. During that time have I added something to the mix? Yes, there’s no doubt. The two of us together have always had a lot more strength than either one of us individually.
SB: There has been some friction, though.
RD: There is still a tension between us. We respect each other, but we don’t always agree. We have the courage to challenge each other all the time. It’s a fiery mix. When Pete and I hit the stage together it’s like, “fuck me, there’s something dangerous going on here.” We just know if one of us makes a mistake the other will jump right in. There aren’t so many arguments anymore, they’re just differences of opinion. We don’t have the same drive to argue as we did when we were younger, but in some ways we will always be tied to our past.
SB: What about this rumor that Charlie Watts has left the Rolling Stones?
RD: If Charlie leaves the Stones, the Stones are all over. I hope that they do another tour, where they strip down and be like when they started. For me, that would be magic. They’re a great band. I hope that Keith can still move his fingers enough to play the way he plays. Mick is singing better than ever. But he should stop running around on those big stages. They don’t need the circus anymore. They are great musicians.
SB: What is the future of the Who?
RD: It’s very bright, which is the reason why I am doing this tour. We are going to be demoing stuff for a new album in December and I want to be in top voice for that. When we recorded the last one we hadn’t been out for three years. But the Who will be gigging next year, we have some big events lined up. We could play Quadrophenia, or Tommy, or go with the show we have now, which is greatest hits with some more obscure ones put in. My dream would be go on the road and do Tommy for a week, Quadrophenia for a week and then the hits show the week after. With the Who we are never short of material.
SB: You could go on tour but not tell the fans what they are getting at a particular show.
RD: That’s worth a try, isn’t it?
SB: What is Zak Starkey’s role in the Who? Is he is an official member?
RD: He’s not a full member, but he is our drummer of choice. He fits so well into the Who. It’s one thing to have someone who musically fits, but Zak’s personality fits totally into the band. We have a very cohesive family on the road.
SB: Your CSI appearance was quite a showcase.
RD: I‘ve never seen it, although it was great fun. It was a most extraordinary week. I got to sing Frank Sinatra’s “That’s Life,” which is a great song. I got the script and had some notion what to do with the characters, but had no clear idea until after they put on all the prosthetics. If you don’t know what the character looks like it’s hard to give them a body language and mannerisms. Then they put in the colored contact lenses, you look at yourself, and you are a complete stranger. I’m not sure that I’ve ever even seen CSI all the way through. It’s not that I am not a fan of CSI. I’m just not a fan of TV.