Daltrey is considered the voice of the Who, and his energetic stage presence and powerful interpretations of their music were key elements to the success of the band.
Born: March 1, 1944; Hammersmith, London, England
Roger Harry Daltrey (DAHL-tree) was born to working-class parents in London, and although he excelled at school, he was a born rebel, and he was expelled. After listening to Elvis Presley, he turned to rock music. Initially he played lead guitar in his band, the Detours, which ultimately included members of the Who: John Entwhistle, Pete Townshend, and Keith Moon. When the band’s singer departed, Daltrey took over the vocals and Townshend took over the lead-guitar duties. Daltrey was notorious for being a controlling taskmaster, reportedly hitting band members with whom he disagreed. As the Who’s music developed and Townshend became a prolific songwriter, tensions grew, and the band fired Daltrey in 1965. Later they took back the chastened singer in a subordinate role.
As the band’s popularity grew, its members becoming international stars, Daltrey’s stage antics–his bare chest, his microphone twirling, and his booming vocals–came to be a centerpiece of shows. Tensions arose once more, and after the death of drummer Moon, Daltrey was outspoken in his dissatisfaction of Kenny Jones, the replacement drummer. As the band wound down its activities, Daltrey embarked on solo music projects and launched a successful film, stage, and television acting career. The Music The Who began as a cover band, specializing in rhythm and blues and attracting a passionate following among fans known as the Mods. The band’s early signature song, “My Generation,” owes as much to Townshend’s lyrics as to Daltrey’s unique delivery, a stuttering that perfectly captures adolescent frustration and rage. Over a series of albums, Daltrey developed from a passionate shouter into a more refined singer, interpreting Townshend’s material with sensitivity and insight.
The apogee of this partnership began with Tommy, Townshend’s rock opera about a deaf, dumb, and blind boy who unwittingly becomes the leader of a generation. Daltrey so energizes and inhabits the songs that he becomes Tommy, as was clearly evident in director Ken Russell’s cinematic interpretation of the opera. The range of Daltrey’s expression runs the gamut from the sensitive “See Me, Feel Me,” to the ecstatic “I’m Free,” to the defiant “We’re Not Gonna Take It.” The record is a tour de force, as much for Townshend’s arrangements and often eloquent lyrics as for Daltrey’s impassioned singing. Who’s Next. The partnership grew with Who’s Next, a mixed collection of songs, some of which were left over from Townshend’s aborted Lifehouse project, another putative rock opera. By this point the formerly marginalized Daltrey was now a confident lead man, again revealing a breadth of vocal interpretations from the wistful “The Song Is Over” to the anthemic “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” a song that aggressively appraised the loss of generational ideals and the despondent realization that the status quo is not easily dismantled.
Many regard this as a quintessential rock album, and Daltrey is amajor part of that success. Quadrophenia. Quadrophenia represented another return to Townshend’s operatic aspirations, in this case a personal retrospective about his youth as a Mod and about the frustrations and confusions of adolescent yearnings and confused ambitions. The songs chronicle the life of Jimmy, a melancholic teenagerwhocannot find a comfortable place in the world, except when he is riding his motor scooter or popping pills. Once again, Daltrey metamorphoses into the protagonist, perfectly capturing adolescent angst and trepidation. He delivers another bravura performance, with energetic rocking in “The Real Me” and “Dr. Jimmy,” vulnerable pleading in “Sea and Sand,” and elegiac serenity in “Love, Reign o’er Me.” So involved was he with the project that in 1996 he reunited with Townshend to perform the opera for a royal Prince’s Trust concert in Hyde Park. Later, as the band began its tortured disintegration and moved through some desultory offerings, Daltrey delivered stellar performances with “Squeeze Box,” “Who Are You,” “You Better You Bet,” and “Athena.” McVicar.
One of Daltrey’s most commercially successful solo albums was McVicar, the sound track for a film of the same name starring the singer. It included contributions from the other members of the Who, and it produced two hit singles, “Free Me” and “Without Your Love.” In 1994, in celebration of his fiftieth birthday, Daltrey performed two shows of Who songs at Carnegie Hall, which led to a tour of the United States. Later Tours and Albums. In 1996 and 1999 Daltrey rejoined Townshend for Who tours, and in 2001 the band once again re-formed to perform at the Concert for New York, after the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center. The success of that venture led to another tour in 2002, during which Entwhistle died of a drug overdose. In 2006 Daltrey and Townshend, along with other musicians, released the first new Who album in twentyfour years, Endless Wire. Musical Legacy While the success of the Who was always a group effort, Daltrey provided unique vocals and extraordinary stage presence that were essential to the band’s long and popular career.
A key element of the band’s longevity, in spite of all the turmoil and clashes of will, was the magical, hypnotic connection between Townshend and Daltrey. On a number of occasions Townshend admitted that without Daltrey there would be no Who, since no one else was capable of interpreting Townshend’s material the way the singer does. Daltrey became one of rock music’s iconic front men, handsome, swaggering, and confident. His work extended into other musical idioms, such as traditional Irish music with the Chieftains, with whom he won a Grammy Award in 1991 for An Irish Evening: Live at the Grand Opera House. Daltrey was also extremely supportive of various charities, for which he was given a Commander of the Order of the British Empire for services to music, the entertainment industry, and charity.