"It never ceases to amaze me how four young prats with such diverse personalities came to be in the same band," says Roger Daltrey of his bandmates in The Who in Anyway Anyhow Anywhere by Andy Neill and Matt Kent. "To make matters worse, we were four megalomaniacs, with all the traumas, insecurities, and paranoia that make adolescence such a joy."
At 65, well past his London adolescence, Daltrey is be more like an old git than a young prat these days, but he maintains the sparkling spirit, passion, and optimism that guided him through all sorts of mayhem and misadventures with, as he used to put it in his Cockney accent, "the 'Oorible 'Oo."
The singer's remarkable musical career runs quite longer than the average aging rock star. He's dodged exploding bass drums and teetering guitar amps. He's been sacked and re-hired. He's allowed his ear drums to take a beating. He's opened for Herman's Hermits. He's screamed at the top of his lungs at the original Woodstock. He donned fringe jackets without embarrassment. He developed a habit for twirling his microphone like a sling shot. He shared the stage at Live Aid. He received Kennedy Center Honors for "contributions to American culture."
Many Who fans tend to divide the band's career into four distinct phases: the early mod/R&B London days, the glorious arena-rock days, the awkward decline, and the post-Keith Moon comeback tour days. Fortunately, recent reviews of Daltrey's new Use It or Lose It tour point toward the strongest cuts from the first two phases, with renditions of songs by Johnny Kidd & The Pirates, Johnny Cash, Mose Allison, and Eddie Cochran.
As one of many shows on his lengthy fall tour of intimate theaters and venues, Daltrey and his band — guitarist/backup singer Simon Townshend (Pete Townshend's younger brother), lead guitarist Frank Simes, keyboardist Loren Gold, bassist Jon Button, and drummer Scott Devours — perform at the North Charleston Performing Arts Center on Tuesday evening.
Daltrey promises "a healthy serving of Who songs" and various solo material, plus a few keen covers that "pay tribute to his influences and admired contemporaries" — many of whom The Who covered during their formative years. Daltrey's admiration and acknowledgement for those who influenced him and The Who mirrors his enhanced appreciation for the band's own artistic adolescence and growing pains. It all ties in with the energy, defiance, and mischief that propelled The Who's finest work.
Daltrey was born during a WWII bombing raid in West London in 1944. He grew up in a working-class family in the London suburbs of Shepherd's Bush and Acton. Inspired by the swinging sound of early rock 'n' roll, blues, and skiffle, he formed his own skiffle band as an early teen. By 16, he was working odd jobs as an electrician, a tea boy, and a sheet metal apprentice when he wasn't jamming with his first genuine rock band, The Detours. They were a revolving group of amateurs. By 1962, The Detours somewhat solidified its lineup with the addition of John Entwistle on bass and Pete Townshend on lead guitar. This core threesome gigged mostly as a supporting act, doing blues, soul, and jazz covers with a few original tunes thrown in. In 1963, with the official addition of a very young drummer Keith Moon, the group quickly evolved into a professional band just as the mod movement was gaining momentum around London. They performed a raw but high-energy mix of rock styles in 1964 under the short-lived moniker The High Numbers before settling on The Who.
It was the middle of the so-called British Invasion of America, and such groups as The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, and The Animals were finding success on the U.S. radio charts and TV variety shows. Meanwhile, a heavier R&B style gained momentum in the UK. Daltrey and his three bandmates promoted themselves under the banner "Maximum R&B." Led by Townshend's adventurous and increasingly artsy songwriting, and propelled by Moon's exhilarating drumming style and Entwistle's sturdy bass work, they strived for something a bit more original — something more musically and visually exciting ... and loud.
In the midst of it all, Daltrey stood as the blond-haired, wide-eyed, raspy-voiced frontman. As The Who developed its music and performance style, Daltrey's leading role transformed from a mod kid image into a more complicated, macho, iconic character.
The Who's early success started with the spectacular 1965 debut My Generation. The 1966 follow-up, A Quick One (Happy Jack), ventured farther into art-pop territory with the multiple-movement mini-opera "A Quick One While He's Away" and the jumpy mod-pop songs "Run Run Run" and "Happy Jack." That year, the power-chord anthem "Substitute" became a Top 10 hit as well.
The arty pop veered into bona fide, pychedelic pop art with the concept album The Who Sell Out. Townshend's ground-breaking rock opera Tommy (1969) and the follow-up Who's Next (1971) rocked with an even harder, heavier guitar-based sound.
Daltrey first embarked on his solo career in 1973, but his work with The Who always came first — from their ups-and-downs in the late '70s and the passing of Keith Moon in 1978, through the various break-ups, hiatuses, and reunions of the last three decades.
It looks like the Use It or Lose It set will aim for the best of the very best of the lot — no matter who wrote them, or when, or under what circumstances — as well as Daltrey solo material and covers. "I think I have one of those unique, recognizable rock voices," Daltrey says. "I'm determined to keep what I can for as long as I can." Thank goodness.