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Born Roger Harry Daltrey on March 1, 1944, to Harry & Irene Daltrey in Shepherd’s Bush, England. Daltrey was primarily raised in the London suburbs of Shepherd’s Bush and Bedford Park. Harry Daltrey worked for a water closet manufacturer. Irene Daltrey lost a kidney in 1937 and as a result was told that she could no have children. About a year later, Irene Daltrey was stricken with polio to be partially paralyzed with some loss of use of her hands. Daltrey was the oldest and only boy as he has two sisters, Gillian and Carol, the youngest born in late 1947.
The English public school system had the “eleven plus examinations” where 11 year olds took tests to determine their academic and vocational future. Daltrey placed at the very top of his class. Daltrey was enrolled in Acton County Grammar, an all-boys school. Irene Daltrey recalled, “I was hoping if he picked up his studies, he’d go on to university.”
Daltrey stated, “You know, I was a school rebel. Whatever they said do, I didn’t do. I was totally anti-everything. I was a right bastard, a right hard nut. I just totally closed the doors to ever wanting to know what they had to teach me. Rock & roll was the only thing I wanted to get into.”
Daltrey made his first guitar from a block of wood. At this time, Daltrey formed the band, the Detours. In 1959, Harry Daltrey bought Roger an Epiphone guitar in the hopes that Roger would return to his studies. Daltrey would become the lead guitarist for the Detours. However, Daltrey was soon expelled from Acton Grammar school.
Daltrey started sheet metal work by day and perform/rehearse with the Detours at night. The line-up of the Detours was in flux. Daltrey invited John Entwistle to become the bassist for the Detours that Entwistle accepted. At the urging of Entwistle, Daltrey invited Pete Townshend to join the band on rhythm guitar that Townshend accepted.
The members of the Detours were Townshend on rhythm guitar, Entwistle on bass, Daltrey on lead guitar, Doug Sandom on drums, and Colin Dawson on lead vocal.
In 1961, the Detours were playing at weddings, bar mitzvahs, pubs, and working men’s clubs. “We were just doing Top Ten hits and playing for about ten cents. At the time, the whole thing about groups was a joke,” recalled Daltrey.
In late 1962 and early 1963, the Detours opened for Johnny Kidd & the Pirates, a power trio with a lead singer band setup. After a change of lead singers, the Detours decided to go to a power trio plus singer with Daltrey switching to lead vocal and Townshend switching to lead guitar.
Daltrey stands about five feet, six inches tall. Affectionately (or, derisively, depending on the speaker) referred to as the “little singer,” Daltrey was combative with a reputation for fisticuffs. Daltrey stated, “When the band started, I was a shit singer. They didn’t need a singer in those days, they needed somebody who could fight, and that was me.” Daltrey got his way or you got a “bunch of fives.”
The line-up change did not affect Daltrey’s control over the Detours. Daltrey selected the music to be performed which was Beatles’ songs, Motown rarities, James Brown numbers, and older rock & roll tunes.
Daltrey’s work ethic along with Townshend’s art school social criticism would generate the source of the band’s dynamic tension that would indelibly change music history. Daltrey would clearly become a man of action and hard work, while Townshend would become a man of ideas and experimentation.
Daltrey controlled the early decisions for the band. In 1964, the Detours were in the process of changing their name. Townshend’s idea was the Hair while his roommate, Richard Barnes, suggested The Who. The next morning, Daltrey made the decision for everybody, “It’s The Who, innit.”
In April 1964, drummer Doug Sandom left the band. Keith Moon became The Who ‘s drummer.
At this time The Who were going through numerous management changes. The Who met Pete Meaden, a Mod. Under Meaden, the band’s name was The High Numbers. The band dressed like Mods and appealed to Mods even though they were not Mods. The Mods were amphetamine takers who wore tab collars and Italian shoes and drove Lambretta scooters. The Mod credo was “clean living under difficult circumstances.”
Daltrey sang on High Numbers’ recordings “Leavin Here,” “Here ‘Tis,” “I’m the Face” and “Zoot Suit.”
The Who signed a record deal that forced them to write their own material. In January 1965 Pete Townshend composed “I Can’t Explain.” As a result, Daltrey’s dominance of the band diminished notwithstanding that the follow-up single was “Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere” co-written by Daltrey with Pete Townshend, their only collaboration in 30 years.
Daltrey through his singing added a new dimension to Townshend’s lyrics. “I Can’t Explain” worked because Daltrey conveys anger, frustration, and bewilderment. “Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere” worked because Daltrey expresses Mod arrogance that can resort to violence. At this time The Who were performing in local clubs, Daltrey became known for his belligerence on stage and his ability to swing the microphone in wide arcs sometimes whistling the mike over audience members’ heads. If the sound wasn’t right, Daltrey took action to make it correct right on the spot, even if it meant interrupting the show.
As The Who were working on the single “My Generation,” The Who toured Sweden. Daltrey became incensed as he felt the band were a bunch of “junkies.” Daltrey cooled down long enough for the band to tour Denmark. Daltrey became upset again and flushed Keith Moon’s pills down a toilet. Moon protested but Daltrey flattened Moon with a single punch.
As Daltrey stated, “Once I got off the pill thing, I realized how much the band deteriorated through playing on speed. Musically, it really took a downturn.”
Late September 1965, The Who tossed Daltrey out of the band. A couple of days later, Daltrey swallowed his pride and promised no more violent outbursts and assaults. Daltrey recalled, “I thought if I lost the band I was dead. If I didn’t stick with The Who, I would be a sheet metal worker for the rest of my life.”
Daltrey expressed that The Who was more important, collectively, than any one member’s opinion or desire. To Daltrey, The Who was a band with serious potential that was not to be squandered on pills and pot. Daltrey wanted a commitment to hard work from everybody whether they liked it or not.
In December 1965, The Who released the My Generation album with Daltrey singing ten songs. The angry and defiant title track featured the lyric “Hope I die before I get old” with Daltrey stuttering, yet explosive, anger that conveyed sympathetic depth. Daltrey created the persona of a Mod on the verge of a revolution.
Summer 1966, Daltrey divorced his wife and the mother of his infant son after a two-year marriage.
Winter 1966, The Who released the album A Quick One (Happy Jack in the U.S.) with one Daltrey song, his only song to make an album release. Daltrey’s “See My Way” was written in order to collect an advance. “See My Way” is a slight song with one verse and one chorus that needed more work. Daltrey used the advance to buy a Volvo similar to the TV’s “The Saint.” Daltrey’s vocals stood out on “So Sad About Us.” Daltrey’s vocals on the title track are varied and excellent. Live versions of “A Quick One” evidence Daltrey’s vocal dexterity.
Spring 1967, The Who release the single, “Pictures of Lily.” The Who play nine Murray the K shows in New York City. Daltrey broke 18 microphones during this engagement.
Summer 1967, The Who played the Monterey Pop Festival where at the conclusion of their set Daltrey twirls around with his cape flowing and knocking over the microphone stands. Daltrey also wrote “Early Morning Cold Taxi” with Cyrano Langston which was unreleased until 1994’s Thirty Years of Maximum R & B box set.
Winter 1967, The Who released the album The Who Sell Out which is the only Who release where Daltrey doesn’t sing a vast majority of the songs. Daltrey displays depth and range in the ethereal “I Can See For Miles” from the triumphant “Oh yeah” to the declarative “I can see for miles.” On the album cover, Daltrey is rib cage deep in Heinz Baked Beans in a bathtub. As a result of the cover shoot, Daltrey contracted pneumonia.
May 1969, The Who released the double album Tommy. Daltrey nearly sings all of the songs. Some of Daltrey finest singing is on “Amazing Journey,” “Pinball Wizard,” “Go to the Mirror,” “I’m Free” and the finale “See Me Feel Me.” Tommy is a deaf, dumb, and blind kid who becomes a Messiah and later is forsaken by his followers. Daltrey becomes the character Tommy in a fine vocal performance of nuance, defiance, independence, enlightenment, and remorse.
Daltrey became the seeker of Townshend’s creation. Daltrey stated, “It was though I was just singing Who songs until the second time we played it onstage, and then, I realized that I was becoming something else.”
Tommy changed Daltrey’s look. Daltrey would wear an open, fringed vest over a bare, sun tanned, chest. Daltrey let his hair grow out to become shoulder length and curly. Daltrey, despite his obvious masculinity, had almost become androgynous. Daltrey, through Tommy, had become a recognized sex symbol and a pop star.
Summer 1969, The Who played Woodstock which Daltrey described as “the worst gig we ever played.”
February 1970, The Who played at Leeds University for a live album. Live at Leeds is considered rock & roll at its finest such as on “Substitute.”
Spring, 1970, The Who released a single called “The Seeker.” The B-side was Daltrey’s composition, “Here For More,” a pop song with spiritual underpinnings.
Summer 1971, The Who released the album Who’s Next with Daltrey singing seven songs. Who’s Next featured the opening “Baba O’Riley” with Daltrey declaring “I don’t have to fight/To prove I’m right/I don’t need to be forgiven” and “It’s only teenage wasteland.” Daltrey’s singing is legendary on the closing cut, “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” Daltrey, after conveying the various stages of revolution, gives the definitive rock & roll scream, “Yeeeeaaaaah,” after an extended synthesizer passage. Daltrey closes by derisively claiming “Meet the new boss/Same as the old boss,” that establishes angry cynicism but in an emotional and sympathetic way.
Daltrey’s singing had improved immeasurably from Tommy with Who’s Next establishing Roger Daltrey as the premier rock & roll singer of his time.
In 1972, Daltrey started living on a farm in East Burwash. Also, Daltrey starred as Tommy in a stage production of the rock opera
In 1973, Daltrey released his first solo album, Daltrey, featuring the single “Giving It All Away.” On his first album and its impact on The Who, Daltrey firmly stated, “My big ambition in life is to keep The Who together, and under the surface, it needs a lot of attention. I get accused all of the time of being a breadhead, but it’s just that the other don’t care- and I mean don’t care.”
Fall 1973, The Who released the double album Quadrophenia composed by Pete Townshend in its entirety with Daltrey having significant singing parts on 13 songs. Quadrophenia is about the four-faceted Jimmy, a Mod from 1964-1965, who climbs on The Rock to examine his life. Each member of The Who had a theme. Daltrey’s theme was “a tough guy, a helpless dancer” about Daltrey’s violent determination to avoid spending his life as a sheet metal worker. Daltrey has fine vocal performances on “The Real Me,” “The Punk and The Godfather,” and “5:15.” When performed live, Daltrey would receive a standing ovation for his singing on the gut wrenching finale, “Love Reign O’ er Me.”
During rehearsals for the Quadrophenia tour, Daltrey and Townshend had a verbal name-calling episode. Townshend swung at Daltrey with his guitar and fists. Daltrey casually dropped Townshend with one punch.
In 1975, Daltrey starred in the feature film release of Tommy. Daltrey gave a commanding performance that was the highlight of the movie. On the strength of his acting in Tommy, Daltrey starred in the movie, Lisztomania. Daltrey released his second solo album, Ride a Rock Horse.
Fall 1975, The Who released The Who By Numbers with Daltrey singing seven songs. The songs range from the campy, “Squeeze Box,” to the angry, “Dreaming From The Waist.” The Who’s tour to support this album in 1975-1976 was described by Daltrey as “back to basics.”
During the recording of the album, Daltrey pushed forward the litigation against The Who’s management discovering that, “we found that we had been screwed up the fucking alley.”
In 1976, Daltrey released his third solo album, One of the Boys.
Summer 1978, The Who released the album Who Are You with Daltrey singing seven songs. Daltrey’s singing on “Music Must Change,” Guitar & Pen,” and the title track is extremely powerful and vitriolic.
September 8, 1978, Keith Moon, Who drummer, died in his sleep. Daltrey was deeply hurt by the personal tragedy and loss.
In 1979, Townshend and The Who continued with a tour. Unfortunately, a concert in Cincinnati resulted in 11 deaths due to a pre-show stampede for festival seating. Daltrey, when informed of the deaths, openly cried.
In 1981, The Who released the album Face Dances with Daltrey singing seven songs, notably “You Better You Bet” and “Another Tricky Day.” Daltrey starred in the feature film, McVicar, which had a successful soundtrack album of the same name.
In 1982, The Who released the album It’s Hard with Daltrey singing nine songs.
In 1984, Daltrey released his fourth solo album, Parting Should Be Painless
In 1985, Daltrey released his fifth solo album, Under a Raging Moon, in dedication to Who drummer, Keith Moon. Daltrey sang a Townshend song, “After the Fire,” that became a successful single. Daltrey toured the East Coast of America in his first solo tour. Daltrey with The Who performed at the benefit concert, Live Aid.
In 1987, Daltrey released his sixth solo album, Can’t Wait To See The Movie
In 1989, Daltrey sings on the Pete Townshend solo album Iron Man on “Fire” and “Dig.” Daltrey with The Who toured which included two benefit performances of Tommy.
In 1991, Daltrey released the solo retrospective album, Best of Rockers & Ballads.
In 1992, Daltrey recorded and toured with the Irish folk band, The Chieftains. Daltrey also released the solo album, Rocks In The Head.
In 1994, Daltrey for his 50th Birthday played Carnegie Hall in a show Daltrey Sings Townshend. The show featured Daltrey with guests covering Pete Townshend songs with a band and a symphony orchestra. Daltrey enjoyed himself so much that he toured, which lost a million dollars, with the orchestra and Who bassist, John Entwistle.
In 1996, Daltrey and The Who revived Quadrophenia as a theater piece for 1996-1997 tours.
In 1997, Daltrey released Martyrs and Madmen: The Best of Roger Daltrey, another solo career retrospective.
Summer 1998, Daltrey was the guest singer and headliner for a tour called British Rock Symphony, with Daltrey singing various British artists’ songs as well as Who songs.
Daltrey’s contribution to The Who and thus music history is simple. Daltrey willed The Who to succeed and refused to let The Who and rock music be compromised in any way as long as Daltrey could. His commitment to The Who is permanent.
Daltrey is the only rock & roll singer on the planet who could sing the songs that comprise The Who’s catalog, such as, “My Generation,” “I Can See For Miles,” “Young Man Blues,” Tommy, Who’s Next, Quadrophenia, and “Who Are You.” Daltrey is the perfect voice and man of action for Pete Townshend’s lyrics and ideas. As Townshend stated at Daltrey’s 50th Birthday, Townshend ‘s songs are about fear and it takes a man (Daltrey) to sing about fear.
Outside of The Who, Daltrey has established himself as a fine actor as a leading man in movies, acting in Shakespeare and playing television bad guys.
Roger Daltrey is married to Heather Daltrey, and is the father to a son, from a previous marriage, and two daughters, Rosie and Willow, and a son, Jamie, with Heather Daltrey.