Roger Daltrey interview: my life with The Who

Roger Daltrey

Roger Harry Daltrey CBE fashioned his first guitar with his own hands. He’s been a sheet metal worker, portrayed Franz Liszt on the silver screen, farmed trout and is the driving force behind the Teenage Cancer Trust charity. 

In addition to an esteemed solo career, he’s fronted The Who, interpreting the lyrics of Pete Townshend for more than half a century while trying to keep the peace in one of the most volatile bands in rock history.

Do you, or did you ever, believe in God? 

Going to church and singing in the choir was part of my life, so I must have done at some time, but I don’t now. 

What effect did going to grammar school have on your life? 

Devastatingly good [laughs]. It made my life work out like it has, but it was a devastating experience and I hated every minute of it. I had nothing in common with anyone. Arriving at grammar school, the class system hits you between the eyes and kicks you in the bollocks all at once. 

What do you think is the biggest misconception about you? 

I dunno. I don’t give a fuck. Everyone’s got their own opinion that they’re all entitled to. 

How did you feel when you were sacked from The Who in 1965? 

I knew our chemistry was fantastic, but it was all going down the toilet because they kept putting these bloody pills down their gobs. Something had to give, so I said: “Either stop taking the drugs or the band’s over.” I was trying to keep a bunch of geniuses playing to the best of their ability rather than like a load of bloody chimpanzees. 

The journey home was incredibly silent. No one spoke to me. Then I got a message from the office: “‘They will not work with you any more, Roger. You’re out of the band.” So for two days it was like: “Oh fuck, what have I done?” Then it was: “Fuck it. I started that band, I’ll start another one.” And I would have. 

What can you do that no one else can? 

I can look in the mirror and see me looking back. 

Did The Who endure because of Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp’s management, or despite it? 

Because of it. We couldn’t have done it without them. They were geniuses in their creative vision for The Who. It was incredibly painful having to get rid of Kit and Chris. I never really wanted to get rid of them, I just wanted them to take a back seat, be creative, rather than run our business.

What is your greatest regret? 

I don’t have regrets. I can’t regret any of it. I’ve made huge mistakes, but I don’t regret any of it because it’s turned me into who I am now. 

What was the lowest point of your career? 

When Pete was arrested [in 2003]. Not only did I know it was completely out of character for Pete, I felt for everyone affected by it. I know how it affected my family, and I thought about his family and the people that love him. It was an incredibly painful period for all of us. 

What was the worst thing film director Ken Russell made you do? 

Hang on to a cliff face with a five-hundred-foot drop beneath me for the end of Tommy. I was dressed in a pair of jeans, nothing on my feet, no shirt, shivering, and I heard: “Hang on, Roger, we’re just waiting for the light.” 

What was your biggest waste of money? 

Cars. They’re lumps of tin. We’re all in the same traffic jam, so who gives a shit what you’re driving. But when you’ve got the ego of youth, you want Ferraris. 

What’s the secret of a successful rock’n’roll marriage? 

A good wife who understands the business. She did, and we’re fifty years together. I never lied to her. At the start I said I’m never going to be a normal husband, and she accepted it. And because she accepted it I was nowhere near as bad as I had the potential to be. 

You’ve said Keith Moon “knew which buttons to push”, John Entwistle had a “very spiteful streak”, and talking to Pete is like “walking through a minefield in clown shoes”. So why do you love these people? 

Because they were my mates and I recognised their talent. They were brilliant. The great thing about them was that we used to fire each other up. That’s what it was all about. 

What in your life are you most proud of? 

That’s an easy one. My family, The Who and my managing to get the Teenage Cancer Trust thing out to America recognised for the work they do. I’m as driven by that now as I was ever driven by The Who. 

What will be written on your tombstone? 

‘Died and never went to Harrod’s’ [laughs]. John Entwistle lived in Harrod’s. He’d order anything just so the van could come up his drive for the neighbours.

Ian Fortnam

Classic Rock’s Reviews Editor for the last 20 years, Ian stapled his first fanzine in 1977. Since misspending his youth by way of ‘research’ his work has also appeared in such publications as Metal Hammer, Prog, NME, Uncut, Kerrang!, VOX, The Face, The Guardian, Total Guitar, Guitarist, Electronic Sound, Record Collector and across the internet. Permanently buried under mountains of recorded media, ears ringing from a lifetime of gigs, he enjoys nothing more than recreationally throttling a guitar and following a baptism of punk fire has played in bands for 45 years, releasing recordings via Esoteric Antenna and Cleopatra Records.