In July 2008, Roger Daltrey and I spent the afternoon on the balcony of a suite at the Four Seasons in Los Angeles. The pretext was VH1’s Rock Honors tribute to the Who, which took place two days later and was predictably dire. But Roger is a friendly fellow and he gave me some great insights into his political views, investment failings and friendship with Paul Weller.
WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN DOING SINCE THE EUROPEAN TOUR ENDED IN JULY (2007)?
Delightfully nothing. I’m just kind of having fun and doing real life again.
WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY THAT? DOING THE DISHES?
Yeah, doing the dishes and doing all the things that need fixing around the house. Everything’s broken when you come back. Yeah, real life. I do.
ARE YOU DOING ANYTHING CREATIVE?
I’m working on ideas. I’ve done some things with bands, kicking some ideas around musically. Nothing really to talk about yet, though. They’re seedlings. Seedlings, dear boy!
WHAT’S THE EXTENT OF YOUR COMMUNICATION BEEN WITH PETE IN THE PAST YEAR?
Apart from when we did the Albert Hall together [a brief acoustic set that closed the annual Teenage Cancer Trust concert series on April 13], very little. He’s in a writing head and he likes to be left alone.
SO WHAT’S ON THE SCHEDULE BETWEEN NOW AND THE JAPANESE TOUR (BEGINNING NOV. 13, 2008)?
Nothing. [Actually, the Who announced a 10-date North American tour a few hours after the interview.] I’m doing some things. What’s on the Who’s schedule? Nothing. I’m thinking about doing another solo album because there’s other kinds of music I want to explore again. I’ve got a little acoustic band I’m playing around with in England. I did a charity show for my charity in March, and I just really enjoyed doing it, with a standup bass—totally different from what the Who is.
WHAT SORT OF MUSICAL GENRE WOULD THAT BE?
It’s finding the songs. At the moment, I’m doing songs that the Who have done, and I have done, and other people have done, and molding them into the band. I’d like to find some new stuff to give the band its own identity. I’m not a great songwriter. I’m a good songwriter, but I’m not a great songwriter, and sadly I’ve sung great songs. There must be some great songwriters out there who can’t fuckin’ sing.
CAN’T YOU HOOK UP WITH THE YOUNG KIDS LIKE JACK WHITE—
Yeah, but they usually keep their good songs for themselves, y’know? You can’t blame ’em! It’s the instrumentation I’m interested in. It’s just really nice to just sing in a different way, that you don’t have to roar all the time.
I GUESS YOU CAN’T KEEP ON ROARING?
Well, you can go as long as you can. There’s a lot more in me, an awful lot more in me.
THAT RAILWAY HOTEL FOOTAGE [FROM 1964, IN THE DVD AMAZING JOURNEY: THE STORY OF THE WHO] REMINDS US THAT YOU WERE A 60-YEAR-OLD BLUES SINGER BEFORE YOU WERE A 20-YEAR-OLD PUNK. HAVE YOU THOUGHT ABOUT REVISITING THE BLUES GENRE?
Yeah, we did a bit of that the other night. That was good. I get bored with it. I get bored with 12-bar. It was never enough for me. I get bored with it melodically and rhythmically so I always have to twist it. But that leads to interesting avenues. I did some the other night and it was great fun. I just did a Bo Diddley tribute, because we did “I’m a Man” [on 1967’s My Generation] which was allegedly a [Bo Diddley] song though three million black men put their hands up, “I wrote that one!” As usual, I got bored with it after five rounds of dah-DAH dah-dah-DAH!
DID YOU KNOW BO DIDDLEY?
No, I never met him, sadly. Our paths never crossed.
BEYOND JAPAN, DO YOU HAVE ANY VAGUE IDEAS ABOUT WHAT YOU WANT TO DO?
What I want to do. I’ve got some things cooking that I can’t really talk about it because again they’re embryonic ideas, and I’m just a part of the project. But they are quite exciting. There’s one coming for February. It’s terrible to talk like this to a journalist but unfortunately it’s the situation I’m in at the moment.
IS THIS A WHO-RELATED THING?
No … I’ve been offered a few theater things and I’m looking at theater, but there’s nothing great out there at the moment. I haven’t seen anything great.
I THINK YOU’VE ALWAYS WANTED TO DO BROADWAY?
I’d like to do Broadway. I’d like to something really good on Broadway … There’s a lot I can’t talk about, really. Not really a lot of news for you guys, is there?
I THINK YOU’VE SAID BEFORE THAT YOU DON’T LIKE THESE LONG HIATUSES?
I don’t mind them. They’re necessary. The main trouble for me, which is probably different from a guitarist, is that you just don’t know how long your voice is gonna last. Voices change as you get older. It’s not like picking up a guitar every day.
BUT EVEN GUITARISTS CAN GET ARTHRITIS. LOOK AT KEITH RICHARDS’ FINGERS
Yeah, but generally if they look after themselves they’re usually all right. Like I said, I’ve got a lot more in me. I love the expression of singing. I think I’m one of the more expressive ones that are out there. The kind of singing that we came from and we do. There’s not many people doing that any more. It all seems to be stage school-learned these days, innit?
DO YOU GET ANXIOUS THAT YOUR VOICE MIGHT RUN OUT BEFORE YOU GET TO FULFILL YOUR POTENTIAL?
I don’t get anxious about it. I just want to make sure that when it runs out, I can say, “Thanks very much. Here, I’ve done it.”
DO YOU HAVE ANY SPECIAL VOCAL TECHNIQUES? DO YOU LIMIT THE NUMBER OF WORDS YOU SAY EACH DAY?
Oh no. It’s the old thing. If you don’t use it, you lose it. It’s as simple as that. It’s like fighters. You can do all the warmup exercises you want, but it’s not like getting on a stage and doing a show.
IF YOU LOOK AT A MAP OF THE PLACES THE WHO HAVE PLAYED, THERE’S AN AWFUL LOT OF GAPS. HAVE YOU THOUGHT ABOUT PLAYING SOUTH AMERICA?
We’re thinking of it now. We are thinking of it. Sadly it’s the economics, at the moment, of getting down there. But it’s worth looking at, and it’s whether we’ve got an audience down there. We’ve never been there. [And, as of May 2014, they still haven’t played Latin America.]
YOU’VE DONE MEXICO AND THAT’S IT
No, We didn’t do Mexico. I got sick and we missed it!
I THINK YOU’VE BEEN TALKING ABOUT GOING BACK TO AUSTRALIA?
I’d like to go back to Australia. [The Who toured Australia in 2009 for a third and final time. They have never been to New Zealand.] Australia you do for the vacation. It’s that kind of place. The trouble is, there’s no people there. There’s 15 million people [sic] in the whole country, and the cost of schlepping any kind of production around. That’s if you want to do a production show. I don’t particularly care how we go out. Go out in an old van and put the gear in the back and follow in a bus. That will do me.
IT’S NOT LIKE YOU’RE THE STONES WHO HAVE TO HAVE 70 OTHER PEOPLE ON STAGE
That’s what I mean. To me, ultimately, it’s all about the music. Does the rest matter?
YEAH, A COUPLE OF GUYS ON STAGE PLAYING GUITAR. THAT’S ALL YOU NEED
Yeah, I think we should do an austerity tour at the moment!
SO WHAT IS YOUR LEVEL OF FAMILIARITY WITH THE ACTS ON THE BILL FOR THIS VH1 TRIBUTE SHOW?
What do you mean? Have I fucked any of them? No, I have not!
I THINK EDDIE VEDDER WOULD LIKE TO!
Well, I’m familiar with all of them, I’m quite looking forward to seeing what they do with it. I’ve heard Eddie Vedder do “Love Reign O’er Me” before. It’s just gonna be great to see other people doing Who songs. I’m a huge fan of Dave Grohl. He’s got the mentality of a rock god. And Flaming Lips, I just can’t wait for that one. And Tenacious D is gonna speak for itself!
PETE AND EDDIE SEEM TO HAVE A SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP, FATHER-SON, MENTOR-PROTÉGÉ. ARE YOU PART OF THAT CLOISTER AS WELL?
They’re friends. No, I suppose I’m not part of that writers’ clique!
DO YOU HAVE AN EQUIVALENT RELATIONSHIP—
Yeah, with the plumber! Paul Weller, I get on particularly well with. I have kind of a similar relationship with Paul.
HE COMES TO YOU FOR ADVICE?
No, no. We enjoy each other’s company. It’s that thing where we talk about things. I often go and play on his gigs, just sit in and do a number with him. We go out to dinner and hang out. Lay out, usually, by the end of the night, on a night out with Paul!
WHEN YOU SEE SOMEONE LIKE ROBERT PLANT DOING HIS FOLK THING WITH ALISON KRAUSS, DOES IT MAKE YOU GO, “DAMN! I WISH I’D HAD THAT IDEA”
Ummm, I actually had the idea a long time ago to do it, didn’t follow it up. I think it’s great that he’s doing it. I envy him a little on that, how little amount of work it is to what it is being in a rock band. Do I wish I had done it? Not really. I’m glad he’s done it. It’s a good show. I went to see it in London. I’ve always loved country music. I’ve always loved the fusion of music. I’ve always been interested in the roots of where—especially American music, which is the motherland of world music, although it all came from everywhere else in the world, and popular music became popular here first. It came from everywhere. I would have loved to have traced all the different communities as they came into America.
HAVE YOU EVER JUMPED IN A CAR AND DRIVEN AROUND MISSISSIPPI? WELL, IT’S NOT THE SAME, OBVIOUSLY.
Yeah. There’s an awful lot of flat, boring places! It’s amazing how the music changes, though, as you work up from Texas upwards. It’s just incredible how it changes, and as you keep going up. I was up in Wyoming two days ago. It’s almost like a bluegrass up there, but it isn’t what they play. It’s their own Western thing. It’s just lovely.
WHY DON’T DO YOU DO SOME SORT OF TV DOCUMENTARY?
I tried to do that years ago. They (VH1?) weren’t interested.
IN TERMS OF A WHO ALBUM, YOU’RE JUST WAITING FOR PETE?
It’s always in the lap of whether Pete wants to write. We could do an album of covers. There’s enough other music out there. It’s our approach to it which would make it a Who record. He’s done enough, really, hasn’t he? If it happens, it happens. There’s no point in pushing it.
SO YOU’RE PHILOSOPHICAL?
Totally. What’s the point?
WERE YOU HAPPY WITH THE WAY ENDLESS WIRE TURNED OUT, AND THE RECEPTION IT GOT?
I don’t give a shit about the reception it got. The only thing I care about is, is it a good album? To me? It’s a great album. For me.
PETE SAID IT WAS A “MODEST MASTERPIECE”
I think it could have been a better album, perhaps in retrospect, if we’d recorded it in a different way than we did. But is it a good album? Yes, it’s a great album.
WHAT WERE YOU DOING UP IN WYOMING?
Just having a look. I went up with a mate, just for three days. It’s just lovely up there.
ARE THERE ANY STATES YOU HAVEN’T SEEN YET?
I haven’t done Alaska. That’s about the only one I haven’t done. It’s a pretty amazing country. There’s a lot of it.
WHAT ABOUT OTHER COUNTRIES ON YOUR TO-DO LIST?
I’m a bit traveled-out. I’m a bit sick of the traveling.
AT LEAST YOU’RE TRAVELING FIRST CLASS AND ON PRIVATE PLANES
No, you still get sick of the schlepping. That’s the thing on tour. You don’t get paid for music. At the end of the day you do it for free, but the schlepping.
THE WAITING AROUND?
Yeah. The hotels every day. I’m sure if you’re in a 9 to 5 job and you can go away to hotel for a weekend it’s very glamorous. But if you’re doing it every day, in and out, it becomes exactly like a 9 to 5 job.
SO, ANY MORE ARCHIVAL PROJECTS IN THE WORKS?
HOW MANY GOOD YEARS VOCALLY DO YOU THINK YOU HAVE?
How long’s a piece of string? … I haven’t got any polyps.
EDDIE VEDDER IS VERY POLITICAL, BUT YOU GUYS—AND MANY ARTISTS OF YOUR GENERATION—HAVE PLAYED YOUR CARDS CLOSE TO YOUR CHEST. WHY IS THAT?
I’m personally always very wary of all politicians. I’ve always felt that it’s more important for art to criticize or make any criticisms from a distance, rather than being involved. Of course you’ve got to have passions and you’ve got to have things you believe in. And there are certain politicians who come up with things and you say, “Yeah, that’s a good idea.” That doesn’t always make them right necessarily. It might be just a good idea. I mistrust most politicians intently, and I don’t know why. It’s mainly because I’ve seen them come and I’ve seen them go. You get a bit jaded.
WHAT DO YOU THINK OF GORDON BROWN? HOW LONG DO YOU THINK HE’S GOT?
I would have put that, “How long do you think he had?!” The truth is I think they’re all well-meaning, but they’re all doomed to fail, because to be popular they have to offer people things way beyond reality. I’ve not really seen much of Obama—I’m not into your politics—but it seems to me that he might have a little bit of that old statesmanlike quality of being able to motivate people. It’s people that change the world, not politicians. It’s people. So in that sense I am political, but I am very wary of all the parties. I don’t think I’d ever join one. I might support one to get one out. For a year. And let’s see how you do. One of the biggest problems with politics is it’s become almost tribal. “I couldn’t vote Labour because my Dad would turn in his grave.” That’s a fuckin’ stupid way of living your life. Life isn’t about that. Politics is about that, it’s keeping people trapped, keeping people in nice little compartments. Life is breaking out of those barriers. I get extremely angry when people say that: “I’ve been Labour all my life but I’ll vote for ’em again even though they’re shit.” And the same with the other bunch. It’s just so tribal … It’s all bollocks.
YOU’VE GOT BILLS TO PAY, SO YOU’VE GOT TO KEEP ON WORKING. YOU’VE DESCRIBED YOURSELF AS A JOBBING ACTOR—
That’s what I still do. I’ve got a few investments, and I suppose if you have to, you just sell ’em, wouldn’t you?
ARE YOU IN TUNE WITH THE INVESTMENT THING?
No, I’m terrible! I’ve never ever made money on anything. Money just seems to trickle away.
NOTE: Unrelated to the above interview, my gossipy rock bio Strange Days: The Adventures of a Grumpy Rock ‘n’ Roll Journalist in Los Angeles is available here. For more info, go to strangedaysbook.com
Copyright © 2008, 2014 by Dean Goodman. PLEASE DO NOT CUT AND PASTE THE WHOLE THING