The Who's Roger Daltrey will talk to you, with no hesitation, about career mortality. "Obviously within the next five years I think my voice will go," he tells Billboard. "Age will get it in the end."
But, he quickly adds, "It's still there at the moment," and Daltrey is working like a guy who plans to do the most with the time he has left.
Last year Daltrey released his first new solo album in 26 years (As Long As I Have You) and a memoir (Thanks A Lot, Mr. Kibblewhite) and embarked on a tour performing the Who's iconic rock opera Tommy with symphony orchestras. Last month he released a live album recorded during that trek, and he's been on the road with the Who since May, the band's first outing backed by an orchestra. Daltrey and Pete Townshend are also making a new Who album, the group's first since Endless Wire in 2006.
The Who is between legs of its North American Moving On! Tour, with a special show on July 6 at London's Wembley Stadium. Daltrey, 75, took a moment during the tour break to reflect on what's going on — and what's ahead.
The Live Album
Daltrey is glad The Who's Tommy Orchestral, recorded in Budapest and at the Bethel Woods Center — where the Who performed Tommy at the first Woodstock festival 49 years prior — is out to chronicle a tour he's still very proud of. "It's not the same times we live in now, and of course there's a few years under the belt," Daltrey says, with a laugh, about the Bethel show. "But it was a magical night."
Working with arranger David Campbell, Daltrey says he wanted the Tommy performances "to push the classical arena, for want of a word. Normally when I've seen rock bands with orchestras, everything could've been done on a synthesizer. This is not like that at all. And there's so many great classical musicians who play in these orchestras, and they're bored shitless with playing the classics. They're so happy to be playing some new music that's got some kind of serious orchestrations, other than (synthesizer pads)."
Among Daltrey's favorites in the orchestral Tommy is "1921," on which he feels Campbell's arrangement channels "the period Tommy was born in. The Beatles were finishing off Sgt. Pepper's, we were starting to record Tommy. It's all reflected in the orchestrations. You can hear some of that Indian/Arabic influence the Beatles and George Martin were playing with in those days. It really evokes the era Tommy was born in.
Back to the Garden…
Speaking of Bethel and Woodstock, Daltrey's memory of the festival remains "a struggle." But there was a payoff, too. "Once we got to 'See Me, Feel Me' it was sunrise and the sun just peeked itself over the horizon," he recalls. "You couldn't have planned it better. It was just magical."
Daltrey's other great memory — in addition to the mud and drugs, of course — was Abbie Hoffman's infamous talk about the imprisoned John Sinclair, and his subsequent dismissal Townshend's guitar. "You're in the midst of it and Abbie Hoffman got up and Pete had that little crack-up with him and gave him his comeuppance. That kind of interrupted the concentration for a second, but we carried on."
The Who Tour
Daltrey isn't taking full credit for providing the impetus for the Moving On! Tour with his Tommy shows. "Pete came to me and asked if I wanted to tour. I said, 'Great. I don't mind touring, but what do we tour?' After doing the Tommy thing I thought it seems like the natural progression from where the Who have been the last sort of eight years on the road. We're playing better than ever, but where do you go from there? You can't keep trotting out the same old show."
He says the orchestral production is indeed "very different, and it's having a fantastic effect on the audience, doing the Who tour with an orchestra. They're really experiencing the music in a whole new way." Daltrey also acknowledges that the orchestral show is "harder work with the concentration needed. You're up there with 50 people. You've all got to keep time — and our hearing isn't of the best order after 55 years of this racket!" But Daltrey is having a great time — "It's joyous, it's exhilarating, it really is," he says — and adds that Townshend is coming around after some initial apprehension.
"When we started I thought, 'I've made a terrible mistake even suggesting it to him,'" Daltrey says. "His hearing's even worse than mine, and he was having terrible trouble keeping time. But it's working, and he's now starting to enjoy it. He's having to work harder than he's worked for a long time, and of course there's a few different disciplines to learn. But it's been good for us." The tour returns to North America on Sept. 1 at Madison Square Garden in New York, and Daltrey is hoping that there will be more shows in 2020 as well.
"It's always very difficult getting us to do anything; Pete's on different projects and everything else. I just want to get this tour done and the second leg to be even better than the first, and let's see where we are once we've done that. I mean, we're obviously coming to the twilight of our live career, and I'm glad we're getting to do something like this before it's over."
The New Album
Daltrey says the set, which has no title or release date yet, "is turning out really much better than I ever thought it could be." He reports there are nine tracks "that are absolutely fabulous," some of which will also be orchestrated, and he expects the group to add one or two more songs before it's finished.
"It's typical Townshend," Daltrey says. "He's still got the bite and that knack of creating songs with the earworm that climbs into you. How it fits in the modern market I don't know, but I don't care. I know inside me it's good stuff."
The combination of a new album and a new kind of tour have also reinvigorated the pair as the Who, it seems. "It obviously helps," Daltrey notes. "I think it's been important for Pete 'cause he doesn't want to be seen as someone going out peddling what he did 50 years ago. He's still current, and the stuff he's writing now will prove that."
Daltrey says he's been presented with "a couple ideas" for future solo albums — one with "a certain style of music that I've never done before" — which he's currently evaluating. "I've said, 'Let's explore where we can go, whether you can even get it recorded,'" he explains. "It costs money to make records, and it's very difficult to see windows of opportunity to make that money back. The business model is kind of broken for an artist like me. So we'll see."
Daltrey is also awaiting a new script for the Keith Moon biopic, which is being penned by Jeff Pope (Stan & Ollie). "I’m never giving up on that," Daltrey promises. "(Pope) says this is the hardest project he's ever worked on, but he recognizes that if he can get it right it'll be a film of significance, the antithesis of Bohemian Rhapsody" — which, by the way, is not to unduly dog his friends in Queen.
"The scrip was a little thin to my liking — very, very thin. But, listen, you can't knock it. Look at the commercial success it was. And Rami Malek deserved to be rewarded. He did incredibly well with a thin script."