By Paul Freeman [1994 Interview]

In Pete Townshend’s “My Generation,” The Who’s Roger Daltrey wailed, “Hope I die before I get old.” Well, at 72, Daltrey is still rocking the band’s classic tunes to stadiums filled with adoring multi-generational fans…. 52 years after erupting on the British mod scene.

We spoke to ever youthful Daltrey in 1994, as he was immersed in a “tribute to The Who” concert tour. At the time, he and Townshend hadn’t attempted to reincarnate The Who for 15 years. And Daltrey didn’t anticipate another reunion being possible. In 2016, the pair, with their microphone twirling and windmill guitar strums are teamed and continue to deliver musical excitement.

For decades, Roger Daltrey, one of rock’s most dynamic vocalists, has been a whirling dervish on stage. It would be understandable if the former lead singer of The Who wanted to rest on his laurels. He doesn’t.

Amazingly fit and fiery at 50, Daltrey is out on the road, presenting a two-and-a-half-hour tribute to The Who.

“Singing with a band is what I’ve wanted to do with my life,” the affable Daltrey says. “The Who did very well, thank you very much everybody. We were well paid. So I don’t need to do this. But it’s no fun sitting at home, looking at four walls. It drives you crazy.”

Though The Who recorded many of rock’s most innovative and imaginative albums, Daltrey says the band’s finest moments came in concert. “The Who were never ever able to completely translate that onto a record. We came near it with ‘Who’s Next’ and ‘Live at Leeds.’ If you ever saw the band live, you always came back.

“Live is how music should be. Records are great, because you can take them home. But nothing replaces seeing someone on stage and sharing that special experience as part of an audience.”

Audiences have cheered at Daltrey’s latest shows. He spoke to Pete Townshend before the tour. “He fully backs me doing it,” Daltrey says. “I told him I was fed up with not performing and that I love this music more than anything. I’m a raving Who fan.

“I can see the day when I won’t be able to sing this music. It’s incredibly difficult and demanding to sing. It requires more than just a voice. It demands the whole body to be put into character. There will come a day when I won’t have the energy to do it. I never want to sit down and think, ‘Oh, God, I wish I had done that while I could!’”

The first half of the show features such Who hits as “You Better You Bet” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” as well as selections from the rock opera “Tommy.” In the second portion, Daltrey, joined by The Who bassist John Entwistle, concentrates on “Quadrophenia.”

“That’s a work that The Who really passed over after 1974,” Daltrey explains, “because the technology of the day was lacking. It was one of my favorite pieces, though in retrospect, it didn’t warrant a double album. I can do much more with that material than when we recorded it. I’m singing much more in the character of Jimmy, which frees me up.”

Daltrey and his power-packed band are complemented by an orchestra. “People hear that we’re working with an orchestra and think, ‘My God! He’s gone Las Vegas!’ But it isn’t at all. This is an orchestra playing full-blast rock ’n’ roll.”

The 60-piece orchestra adds richness to ballads and theatrical numbers. The eight-piece band has more than enough juice to satisfy Who aficionados. The band includes Simon Townshend (Pete’s brother) and Zac Starkey (Ringo’s son), who was taught by The Who’s marvelous madman, the late Keith Moon.

“The energy of this band is very similar to what it was in the days of Keith Moon,” Daltrey says. “The songs seem so fresh. Musicians love to play this music. That’s true of the orchestras, as well.

“They turn up at the gig expecting to do a Moody Blues-elevator music kind of thing. They look at the charts and you can see the frowns forming on their faces. But by the finish, they’re all beaming. They enjoy the challenge of it.”

Daltrey has encountered skepticism from some who haven’t seen the show. “That’s human nature. I’m taking something familiar and doing something new with it. From my angle, it’s dangerous, but those who hear it obviously enjoy it. This is the way The Who should have been 10 or 15 years ago, since Keith died.”

Skepticism from Who purists is understandable, particularly in light of the emasculated stage version of “Tommy.” Daltrey is not a fan of the Broadway show. “It’s not to my taste at all. It’s not rock ’n’ roll enough for me.”

Daltrey is, however, a fan of Townshend’s songwriting abilities. “His writing is incredibly courageous. He writes about things that we all feel. His writing is multifaceted. It’s witty. It can be viciously cutting, brutally honest.”

The two have had a tempestuous relationship. “We’re like brothers,” Daltrey says. “From my side, there’s certainly a deep love there. But it’s not a buddy-buddy friendship. It never needed to be that. Without the tension, most of the songs would never have existed in the first place.”

A box set was recently released to celebrate The Who’s 30th anniversary and young bands such as Green Day are covering early Who tunes.

“It’s great to know the music still speaks to people,“ Daltrey says. “I’ve always believed the music was timeless. Reaction to the box seems to validate that feeling.”

When The Who began in the 60s, they weren’t conscious of creating music for the ages. “In those days,” Daltrey says, laughing, “we didn’t think past the end of the week. Perhaps that’s the best way to be about it. I’m the guy who sang, ‘I hope I die before I get old.’ Well, now it’s too late. Life kind of happens that way.”

As for the rush of music that came out of the British Invasion era, he says, “People had energy to expend. They used to do that through world wars. Once they had the bomb, they couldn’t do that, so we had the rock ’n’ roll explosion.”

In the wild years, The Who was known for destroying music equipment and hotel rooms. “It seems like someone else who lived that life. It doesn’t seem real. It’s like looking at a telescope the wrong way ‘round.”

Daltrey survived the excesses surrounding him. “The business claimed so many bright people. I was never into the rock star life. I was the guy who had to keep things together. I knew we already had two lunatics in the band. I couldn’t afford to be another.”

Daltrey, who has children ranging in age from 13 to 30, has long been married. He plans to record a children’s album and is producing a feature film about Keith Moon. One thing that’s not on the horizon is a Who reunion. Townshend broke up the band in 1983, over Daltrey’s objections, and aside from a reunion tour in 1989, there have been no plans to bring it back together.

“I never say never. But I’m not optimistic. It’s very sad the way it ended. But it was taken out of my hands,” Daltrey says.

Though Townshend seems eager to accept plaudits for The Who’s triumphs, the credit should be divided four ways. “Anyone who really knows the band,” Daltrey says, “knows that it wasn’t just that we had great songs. It was the way they were performed. That came from the chemistry of the four people in the band. I’m just glad I was a part of it.”