If any one member of The Who can be said to be the group’s founding member it is singer Roger Daltrey. Born in the West London suburb of Shepherd’s Bush on March 1, 1944, Roger first assembled the group that would become The Who in 1961 while at Acton County Grammar School, recruiting John Entwistle and subsequently agreeing to John’s proposal that Pete Townshend should join. In those days Roger, whose daytime job was working in a sheet metal factory, even made the band’s guitars, and it was his energy and ambition that drove the group during their formative years. That same energy, coupled with his unwavering resolve, has sustained the group during periods of uncertainty ever since.
Roger’s earliest tastes in music ran to the blues and R&B which formed the setlist during their early years as The Detours, as well as Fifties rock’n’roll, which is reflected in his outstanding interpretations of such noted Who covers as Eddie Cochran’s ‘Summertime Blues’ and Johnny Kidd & The Pirates’ ‘Shakin’ All Over’. When Pete Townshend became the group’s songwriter, Roger became the mouthpiece for his lyrics and ideas. At the same time he contributed to the group’s sense of showmanship by developing his unique skill at twirling his microphone lead around like a lasso and, by the time of Tommy in 1969, becoming one of rock’s most iconic sex symbols with his golden curls, bare chest and fringed suede jackets.
The Tommy era saw Roger mature enormously as a vocalist, and nowhere was this maturity more evident that on Who’s Next, whether on the melodies of the beautiful ‘Behind Blue Eyes’ and ‘The Song Is Over’ or, at the other extreme, the torturous scream that climaxes ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’. On Quadrophenia, Pete’s second and more ambitious rock opera, Roger was able to bring all his newfound abilities to bear on rockers like ‘5.15’ or power ballads such as ‘Love Reign O’er Me’ which has since become a concert showcase for his outstanding vocals.
In many respects the experience of singing the Tommy song-cycle enabled Roger to become Tommy Walker, the deaf dumb and blind boy of Pete’s imagination, and it was therefore only natural that he should assume the role in Ken Russell’s movie adaptation of the rock opera in 1975, for which he received a Golden Globe nomination. This in turn led Roger to develop a concurrent career as a film actor while continuing to sing with The Who. Other film credits over the years include Ken Russell’s Lizstomania, the title role in McVicar, Lightning Jack with Paul Hogan, Teen Agent, and numerous roles in TV dramas. He appeared in the US CBS TV show C.S.I. – which uses Who songs as its theme music – as five separate, differently made-up characters, one of them a middle-aged African-American woman. Other US TV appearances include Lois & Clarke (Superman), Midnight Caller, William Tell, Sliders and Highlander as well as Leprechauns for Celtic Leprechaun Ltd and The Bill, the long running UK TV police drama. He has also narrated a series for the History Channel, undergoing extreme hardships similar to those faced by pioneering settlers in America and elsewhere.
Roger has also cultivated a singing career outside of The Who, beginning in 1973 when he found himself on the BBC’s Top Of The Pops, the UK’s then premier chart TV show, promoting the single ‘Giving It All Away’ which reached number five in the UK charts. It was a track from his first solo album Daltrey, released that same year, which he followed up with the albums that include Ride A Rock Horse (1975), One Of The Boys (1977), the soundtrack to McVicar (1980), Parting Should Be Painless (1984) and After The Fire (1985).
Roger has appeared on stage away from The Who on many occasions, and his 1994solo concert at New York’s Carnegie Hall, with The Juillard Orchestra, was the fastest selling event in the venue’s history. The following year he appeared on stage as the Tin Man in a production of The Wizard Of Oz at The Lincoln Centre, and in 1998 he starred as Scrooge in A Christmas Carol at Madison Square Garden. He has also performed with his friends The Chieftains, the traditional Irish band, and toured the world with the British Rock Symphony interpreting a variety of rock classics.
Since 2000 he has been a patron of the Teenage Cancer Trust, a charity that builds specialised wards for teenagers with cancer in the UK. That year Roger had the idea of setting up the first show at the Royal Albert Hall by ‘The Who & Friends’, with ticket sales and revenue from a DVD and CD raising over £1.2 million, and as a result Roger was given a Humanitarian Award in 2003 from Time magazine. The Teenage Cancer Trust shows during March and April have now become an established and eagerly awaited annual event at the Albert Hall. In February 2005, Roger was awarded a CBE by the Queen at Buckingham Palace for his services to music and good causes.
As a member of The Who, Daltrey was inducted in 2005 into the UK Music Hall of Fame. In December 2008, he and Pete Townshend were honoured with America’s most prestigious cultural awards as recipients of the 31st annual Kennedy Center Honors in Washington, D.C. by then-President of the United States, George W. Bush. This was one of many awards that were bestowed on Roger and/or Pete Townshend for their contributions to music, among them the James Joyce Award from the Literary & Historal Society of University College, Dublin (2009), the Steiger Award (Germany) for excellence in music (2011) and an honorary degree from Middlesex University in recognition of his contributions to music (2012).
Ever pursuing his mission to give something back to teenagers, “without whom,” as he said, “we would have no career”, In November 2010, Roger, with Pete Townshend at his side, launched Teen Cancer America. A year later, on March 24, Roger and his band gave a complete performance of Tommy at a Teenage Cancer Trust show at the Royal Albert Hall, London, supported by imagery which he commissioned from students of Middlesex University. Over the next year, he toured Tommy in the US, Europe and Japan.
Between November 2012 and March 2013, The Who toured an arena production of Quadrophenia & More in the US and UK with added shows in Paris and Amsterdam). Roger directed the staging and visuals of the show himself, reassuming his long standing responsibility for sequencing Who concerts and choosing which songs the group will play, a role he continued to play during The Who Hits 50! Tour of 2015-16.
Roger now divides his time between working with The Who and with his solo band, as well as continuing to devote a huge amount of his time to Teenage Cancer Trust and Teen Cancer America.
In 2014 Roger recorded an album, Going Back Home with Wilko Johnson which, to everyone’s delight and surprise notched up a number 2 in the UK charts. In 2017 and 2018 he continued his solo touring in the US with members of The Who touring band including Simon Townshend. The summer of 2018 saw Roger, the band, plus a 45-piece orchestra perform The Who’s Tommy to sell-out audiences across the States whilst at the same time releasing his first solo album in 26 years, As Long As I Have You.
Nevertheless, however busy he is with his solo work and charitable endeavours, the group he formed at a Shepherd’s Bush Youth Club at the age of 16 will always be his first love. Even more than his colleagues, it has been Roger who has done his best to keep The Who’s flag flying during those periods when Pete felt the need to seek creative outlets elsewhere, and the respect he has earned from Who fans as a result is something he cherishes deeply.