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Who Is No Longer the Question

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It’s a miscarriage of agentry that a tight-pantsed troubadour from Wales could get away with appropriating the stage name Tom Jones. Or even perhaps that the blithe 18th century fictional character created by Fielding should be portrayed in a modern movie version by Albert Finney. Tom Jones, after all, lives—his name is Roger Daltrey.

Roger is the lead singer of Britain’s The Who, the established purveyors of musical mayhem and the single supergroup in all rockdom that has survived a full decade with its charter members intact. Daltrey has himself become a movie star as well, having ingratiatingly played the “deaf, dumb and blind” title role in Ken Russell’s adaptation of The Who’s landmark rock opera, Tommy. He also currently stars in Russell’s even more outrageously indulgent follow-up, Lisztomania. Unfazed by the criticism that the film was “Lisztless” or that the late Hungarian composer emerges as merely a horny Cockney, Roger facetiously calls the picture “Blazing Piano Stools.” Besides, he adds, “Who wants a bleedin’ Oscar? Not me.”

So sure enough, the picaresque hero went back on the road again, this week winding up a 19-city U.S. tour with The Who, and, at 31, indifferent to Hollywood and no more or no less domesticated than ever. Roger’s wife, Heather, the mother of two of his three kids, thinks that his consciousness is being raised—she figures that her man now tells her of probably a third of his dalliances while away from their Sussex estate. “Of course, chicks keep popping up,” Roger admits. “I don’t try to hide the fact. When you’re in a hotel, a pretty young lady makes life bearable. The road to me has always been a love-hate relationship. I loathe it 22 hours of the day. But those other two hours in front of the audience make it all worthwhile.”

He means what he says. Daltrey does not hide behind the shallow, calculated mystery so many rock monsters raise to move “product” or to mask their real bio. Roger is uncommonly accessible and honest, and without dark unrevealed sides to his character. He grew up in working-class West London, destined to embody rock’s rebel spirit. “I was an incredibly violent character,” he says, flashing his 1,000-watt blue-eyed stare. “My father sold toilets. We were just a bunch of hoods.” At 15, he was expelled for “assorted naughtiness” from the Acton Grammar School and “knew then that rock’n’roll was going to be my life.”

John Entwistle, a schoolmate who was to become The Who bassist, recalls Daltrey as a “peroxide teddy boy, the sort of person you’d prefer to stay on the other side of the street from.” Roger wielded a bike chain attached to a ball with a six-inch nail through it. The duo joined up with guitarist Pete Townshend, a would-be street fighter jealous of Daltrey’s swagger, and later to emerge as the creative force behind The Who and composer of Tommy. Pete, says Roger now, “was a very mixed-up guy. You do need a lot of hang-ups and frustrations to do really good writing, and to me he is the best rock writer there has ever been.” Finally, a few group names and images later, the three pub musicians picked up prankster Keith Moon on drums, learned some Chicago Blues music, and hit the road as The Who, or The ‘oo, as they pronounced it.

Daltrey originally played his homemade guitar in the band (“I couldn’t afford to buy one”) but abandoned the instrument, partly because daytime work in a sheet-metal shop cut up his fingers too much. His contribution was to be the coarse, visceral interpreter of Townshend’s highly inventive material. The group nearly broke up in 1966 when Roger vehemently protested their use of “purple hearts,” a mild form of speed. “I acted the only way I knew,” he recalls. “I punched Moon in the nose and threw away his pills so they threw me out of the band. But cooler managerial heads prevailed. I learned to control my violence problem. But we hardly spoke for two years.”

Time has not brought Daltrey any closer to his partners. “I’m always the outsider being put down by the others,” says Roger. “But we all treat The Who as a separate thing. We have meetings about The Who as though it were sitting in the next room listening to us. On the road it’s a cauldron, boiling with the infighting, being antisocial. But that makes us better again, more creative.”

Since the formative years, though, The Who relationship has been a “lot deeper than friendship.” Roger’s first marriage, at 20, took place only because his lady was pregnant, and he has always been concerned that illegitimacy might stigmatize a child. “It was a choice between normal married life and the ‘oo,” he recalls. “I chose the ‘oo.” Though they parted shortly after she bore their son, Simon, now 11, Daltrey and his first wife—and their subsequent spouses—often vacation together.

Roger lived three years with his second wife, Heather Taylor (a model 3 in. taller than his 5 ft. 7 in.) before they decided to have children and marry. (“Society wins that one,” he says.) Heather’s compassion has touched Daltrey: “I’ve got an incredible wife who understands. Being away on the road and for the shootings causes a helluva strain.” There are times that try even Heather’s tolerance. “I give a lot. Not that I want to,” she says. “I’ve almost walked out many times. But I am prepared to give a lot. It is the only way I can see it working with the pressures he’s under.”

Their home is Holmshurst Manor, an early 17th century, 20-room pile surrounded by 275 acres. To decompress, the city-bred rock star has indulged all his lifelong rural fantasies—repairing the tile roof, liming the oak paneling, bulldozing an artificial lake, hot-rodding a tractor over the rolling fields. “We grow good grass,” he cackles. “Not the kind you smoke, the kind cows like to eat.” Indoors there is a sauna, stained glass, Persian carpets and—except for a few gold and platinum discs in Roger’s “junk room”—Holmshurst has an elegant ambiance devoid of the usual rock star artifacts. Friends attribute the restraint to Heather.

He would just as soon drive his own regal red Bentley or Rolls with his chauffeur sitting behind, and Roger is equally at ease out of his 83 percent tax bracket, chatting with his laborers, or dropping by the Kicking Donkey pub for darts and a tipple. Daltrey strains to keep his rock and rural scenes apart. “I find very few musicians share the same interest,” he says. “I love farming.”

As for his professional future, Roger is eyeing a nonsinging role in a crime film. “That will show if I can make it as an actor alone.” The music? The Who’s latest LP is in the Top Ten, and Daltrey says, “I don’t feel us losing it yet, but we won’t know until after the tour.” He accepts one basic truth, “The Who is much bigger than anything I could ever create on my own.”