Roger Harry Daltrey was born in East Acton, London, in 1944 and attended the local grammar school along with future bandmates Pete Townshend and John Entwistle. A model pupil and a brainy child, he became something of a rebel once rock’n’roll reared its persuasive head.
Daltrey’s first band was the skiffle outfit The Detours. Not only did he sing and play guitar with them, but he also made his own instrument, a cherry-red Stratocaster copy, and pretty much managed the band’s affairs – useful practice for later years. Entwistle soon joined the group, and was followed by Townshend and, eventually, larger-than-life drummer Keith Moon. For those guys the rest is history: ‘I Can’t Explain’, ‘Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere’, ‘My Generation’… Roger was the perfect foil for Pete’s angst, and his yowl of outrage at the end of The Who's ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ is one of the era’s most spine-tingling moments.
As the face and voice fronting the epic albums such as Tommy, Who’s Next, Quadrophenia, etc, Roger could have rested on his laurels, but his own interest in solo work and acting roles coincided on his debut, 1973’s Daltrey. The album came framed by the singer’s angelic mop of brown curls and contained an excellent set of songs produced by fellow West London pop star-turned-thespian Adam Faith and David Courtney, the latter co-writing the majority of the songs with Leo Sayer. The outstanding cuts here include ‘One Man Band’ (the lead vocal on the closing ‘Reprise’ was captured on the roof of The Beatles’ Apple Studios), ‘Thinking’ and ‘Giving It All Away’, the latter of which was a No.5 hit in the UK, and was performed by Daltrey on The Old Grey Whistle Test.
Ride A Rock Horse followed in 1975. Produced by Argent’s Russ Ballard, it was a very tasty proposition with a fine band: Ballard, Humble Pie’s Clem Clempson, bassist Dave Wintour and noted Welsh session drummer Henry Spinetti. Daltrey went back to his roots to cover the Rufus Thomas dance hit ‘Walking The Dog’, though record buyers somehow missed the allure of ‘Come And Get Your Love’ and a version of Philip Goodhand-Tait’s ‘Oceans Away’.
Courtney was back to boss the console with former Shadow Tony Meehan on 1977’s One Of The Boys (1977). Released at the height of the punk revolution, it nevertheless stands up well as an eclectic and adventurous project that is ripe for rediscovery, not least for the Paul McCartney-composed song ‘Giddy’: a grand power-pop venture that finds Roger backed by Entwistle and Moon, Hank Marvin, Eric Clapton, Alvin Lee and Mick Ronson. Elsewhere, Jimmy McCulloch, Jimmy Jewell, Andy Fairweather Low and other luminaries act as a roll call of Great British talent. Songs from Murray Head, Steve Gibbons, Colin Blunstone (check ‘Single Man’s Dilemma’) and the artist’s own pieces, ‘The Prisoner’ and ‘Satin And Lace’, embellish a proper gem.
Daltrey opened the 80s with his fourth solo album, McVicar (produced by Jeff Wayne, he of the musical version of War Of The Worlds), which doubled as soundtrack to the biopic of the English bank-robber. Excitingly for Who fanatics, it also saw the participation of all the then extant band members, as well as the prodigiously talented pop cult star Billy Nicholls, whose ‘Without Your Love’ gave Daltrey a big US hit. The album also did the business Stateside, making No.22 in the charts.
Following the well-chosen items on Best Bits, a compilation with extras, Roger decided that The Who’s increasingly metallic style was not really to his liking, so he worked on an antidote, the pointedly titled Parting Should Be Painless, choosing songs that vented his frustrations. Roxy Music’s Bryan Ferry offered ‘Going Strong’, while Daltrey also took on the Eurythmics-penned ‘Somebody Told Me’. Somewhat lost in the shuffle in 1984, the album now sounds like an engaging set that captures Daltrey at his most reflective.
The following year’s Under A Raging Moon (the title track of which paid tribute to the late Who drummer, Keith Moon, who’d died in 1978) re-established Roger as a commercial force. Townshend and Daltrey buried the hatchet on the former’s ‘Under The Fire’, while the title track featured a roster of classy kit men: Martin Chambers, Zak Starkey, Mark Brzezicki, Roger Taylor, Cozy Powell, Carl Palmer and The Police’s Stewart Copeland. Usually modest and sometimes stung by criticism of his solo outings, Daltrey said of this effort: “That was the album I really wanted to make,” Daltrey said of the record. “It got great airplay and sold an awful lot.”
A switch to a more polished London-meets-LA sound accompanied 1987’s Can’t Wait To See the Movie, which boasted David Foster and Alan Shacklock’s production expertise. However, Daltrey’s solo career went on a small hiatus to make way for more Who-related activities before he had time to put together the Best Of Rockers And Ballads compilation in 1991. It was swiftly followed by 1992’s terrific Rocks In The Head, on which where Gerard McMahon produced and got Daltrey back into songwriting mode. In great voice (when is he not?), Daltrey stepped up to the plate with some of his best songs, of which ‘Everything A Heart Could Ever Want (Willow)’, dedicated to his daughter Willow Amber, became a firm favourite.
Finally, there came the type of album that was always in the pipeline: A Celebration: The Music Of Pete Townshend And The Who (aka Daltrey Sings Townshend). Recorded during a record-breaking two-night slot at New York’s Carnegie Hall, in February 1994, this star-studded affair features guest turns from Townshend (on ‘Who Are You’) and Entwistle (‘The Real Me’), with an appearance from The Chieftains on ‘Baba O’Riley’ and ‘After The Fire’. Other featured players include jazz saxophonist David Sanborn, arranger/conductor Michael Kamen, and New York’s Juilliard Orchestra. If you haven’t discovered this classic then put that right. It is a complete triumph.
As an overview, the 2005 compilation Moonlighting: The Anthology covers all the bases. For something completely different, 2014’s Going Back Home was a rollicking collaboration with Wilko Johnson. A No.3 album in the UK, it has since gone gold and boasts the back-to-basics beauty of the Johnson/Mick Green title track, along with a cover of Dr Feelgood’s ‘Sneaking Suspicion’ and a superb take on of Bob Dylan’s ‘Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?’. The main participants are perfectly attuned, and The Blockheads’ rhythm section, Norman Watt-Roy and Dylan Howe, hold down the beat with Mick Talbot adding tasty keyboards throughout.
Never discount the possibility of new Who material, but for Roger Daltrey it’s more a case of: what’s next?
Early in 2013, Wilko Johnson received the news that he had terminal pancreatic cancer and had maybe ten months to live. Instead of whiling away his final days, Johnson set out on a final tour and, finding himself still standing at the end of it, received an invitation from Who singer Roger Daltrey to go into the studio and record an album of whatever songs the guitarist wanted. Wilko had a few new originals, plus the idea to cover Bob Dylan's "Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window," but he mainly stuck to the Dr. Feelgood songbook: the hard R&B and rock & roll songs he wrote and recorded in the '70s that continued to resonate decades later. Supported by his touring band, Johnson entered the studio with Daltrey and knocked out Going Back Home in a week, just like the Feelgoods and the Who did back in the old days. That twin connection is important, as Going Back Home isn't merely a return to Wilko's roots, it's a homecoming for Daltrey as well, marking the first time in decades that he's sung such tough, blues-based, three-chord rock & roll. It may seem that a generation separates the two rockers -- Johnson's first album with Dr. Feelgood, 1975's Down by the Jetty, appeared nearly a decade after the Who's 1965 debut Sing My Generation -- but the singer is only four years older than the guitarist, so they share many core American blues and R&B influences, speaking a common language from a different perspective. Both musicians are notably older than they were back then -- Daltrey doesn't bother reaching for the high notes and Johnson's playing isn't as manic as it was during the Feelgoods -- but that's what makes Going Back Home special: neither are bothering to hide their age, nor are they desperately attempting to recapture their youth, they're reconnecting to their roots and seizing the present. Johnson penned the handful of originals not long after receiving his terminal diagnosis, but there isn't a shred of self-pity or sadness here. He's making noise while he still can, and Daltrey matches Wilko's abandon, sounding liberated to be singing songs that aren't racked with Pete Townshend's self-doubt. Roger's lower register is gruff, wearing the scars and weight of his years, while Wilko's guitar slices, pushing and accelerating the beat with alternating precision and recklessness. In the other, each musician has found a sparring partner who rivals their famed original partner: Daltrey has the gravity and menace of Lee Brilleaux and Johnson hits back with the savagery of Townshend. It's tough stuff but it's also enthusiastic, infectious fun, a record of three-minute songs that blazes by in just over a half-hour. That velocity is crucial to the creation of Going Back Home; it was made with the realization that the clock was about to run out, that Wilko Johnson might not live to see its release. That rawness also makes it a fitting coda to not only his career but also to Daltrey's: by finding sustenance in the music they originally loved, they've made a testament to the enduring power of music and how it enriches and strengthens a life. Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Parting Should Be Painless is the fifth studio album by Daltrey. It was originally released in February 1984, and was his first solo album since the first breakup of The Who, and the first by any member of the band. The album included the songs 'Walking In My Sleep', 'Parting Should Be Painless' and 'Going Strong'.