The Who‘s Roger Daltrey, one of rock’s most legendary front men, sits on the sofa of his tidy L.A. hotel suite, quietly sipping a cup of coffee. His assistant pecks away on a computer keyboard in the next room as a masseur unfolds a portable massage table in the foyer.
Daltrey, who is in town to perform with Who bandmate Pete Townshend at this weekend’s much-publicized Desert Trip music festival in Indio, California, looks pleasantly startled when asked, “So when was the last time you trashed a hotel room?”
“I was never into trashing hotel rooms,” he laughs. “I’m the oldest one in the band and I grew up not having f— all. When you’ve been brought up like that, you have too much respect to trash a hotel room, especially when the furniture was better than what I grew up with. What would I smash it up for? I mean, when Pete broke that first guitar, it was so painful to me because I literally had to make my first guitar.”
The fit-looking Daltrey, 72, whose explosive voice and high-octane stage presence (along with Townshend’s aggressive guitar work and inventive songwriting) made the Who one of rock’s most influential bands is in a reflective mood on this particular morning. And although he admits to feeling “very, very lucky” to still be in the game, it’s clear that a part of him misses those simpler days when concerts revolved around just one thing – music.
“What people expect from a show now is totally different,” says the former sheet-metal worker. “When we were in the ’60s, we were four guys, three amplifiers, a drum kit and we made all our noise from the stage. That was it. You could pack it all into one semi and then you’re off down the road. Now, people expect big screens. They expect video. They expect light shows. It’s a whole new ball game, but it’s still fun.”
Daltrey insists that bandmate Townshend probably won’t be smashing any guitars at the festival, dubbed “Oldchella” because the average age of the musicians – which include rock icons Neil Young, Paul McCartney and the Rolling Stones – is 72. “Pete can’t afford it,” he adds with a laugh.
Daltrey also admits that he’d be thrilled if the nearly 70,000 fans expected to attend the three-day concert would keep their pot smoking to a minimum.
“The smoke seriously affects my voice,” he groans. “I can’t help it. Of all the bloody things. . . It’s terrible, but it’s out of my hands. What f—ing rock singer is allergic to pot?”
Five decades in the trenches — and at the helm — of rock’s loudest band have left their mark on Daltrey, who now sports tiny high-tech hearing aids in both ears.
“Considering the noise we used to make from the stage, it’s amazing that I can hear anything at all,” he says, removing one of the tiny devices from his ear and holding it up for inspection. “I’m deaf as a post without it.”
Much of Daltrey – and Townshend’s – time and energy these days is spent raising millions of dollars for their Teen Cancer America charity, which partners with hospitals to build specialized facilities for teens and young adults with cancer.
While their work with the nonprofit – which is in the preliminary stages of creating teen units in upwards of 70 hospitals across the nation – has become his passion, Daltrey is fiercely proud of the Who’s indelible legacy.
“We’ve never claimed to be a rock n’ roll band,” he explains. “The Stones are the best rock ‘n roll band. We’re a rock band. It was fighting music. We don’t do the roll. We did the rock. And we’re the best f—ing rock band in the world.”
So how much longer does the grandfather of 10 plan to keep rocking? Daltrey just shrugs. “You don’t give this business up,” he says. “This business gives you up. . . You know when you’re losing your essence and I just hope I have the courage to say, ‘That’s it. I’ve done my best work. Now it’s crap.’ I refuse to just go through the motions.”