Full name Roger Harry Daltrey; born March 1, 1944, in London, England. Addresses: Record company --Atlantic Records, 75 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10019.

"The Who is the band that refused to die before it got old," stated Dave Marsh in The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock and Roll. From their formation in the 1960s to their recent reunion tour, the Who have embodied some of the most basic elements of rock and roll--chaotic performances, destructive onstage behavior, and record-breaking noise levels--as well as taken music in new directions with trend-setting concept albums and rock operas. In a business where bands typically go through many personnel changes and rarely last for more than a few years, the Who are also remarkable for their stability and longevity. For more than twenty years, the group's lyrics have been effectively shouted out by vocalist Roger Daltrey.

Daltrey, bassist John Entwistle, and guitarist Pete Townshend all grew up in the same neighborhood, a working-class section of London known as Shepherd's Bush. By the early 1960s, the three were playing together in a band called the Detours, which performed rhythm and blues and covers of early Beatles songs in local dance clubs. Late in 1963, the Detours hooked up with managers Pete Meaden and Helmut Gordon, who encouraged the band to cater to the British "mods"--young people dedicated to amphetamines, Vespa scooters, American rhythm and blues, and stylish clothing. Drummer Keith Moon joined the group, which had been renamed the High Numbers, and punched up their sound with his manic playing. They built up quite a following in the mods' favorite clubs, but their only recording, "I'm the Face," failed to sell.

Meaden and Gordon were soon replaced by Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp, two young filmmakers who discovered the band while looking for a movie subject. They were as much intrigued by the frantic crowds that came to hear the High Numbers as they were by the group's music. They carefully calculated ways in which the band could heighten its appeal, suggesting that they revert to a gimmicky name they had used in the past--the Who--and prodding them to make destruction a part of their act. Under their tutelage the Who began putting out "soul music pilled-up and riotous, played with none of the elegant perfection of the Rolling Stones, but with all the zealotry of garage-band amateurs," wrote Marsh. When Townshend began smashing his guitars onstage, and Moon kicked over his drum set, the mods loved it, and this type of flamboyance "saved the Who, who would never have gotten far trying to play R & B with the propriety of the Bluesbreakers or the Stones." They took volume to new levels (eventually being listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world's loudest band). Daltrey, who had "the mug, the posture, and the demeanor (permanently chipped shoulders) of a budding thug/aspiring John Dillinger," developed a commanding stage presence. He "twirled his mike like a lariat, marched in place, danced silly steps, stuttered, swaggered, screamed; he pounced on the crowd, half stand-up comic, half assailant."

The Who released their first single, "I Can't Explain," in 1965, but it didn't really take off until they appeared on the British music show "Ready Steady Go!" with their screaming mob of fans from the London clubs. From then on success was theirs. Yet, from the very first, the Who mocked their own popularity, with album titles such as The Who Sell Out. Despite their tongue-in-cheek attitude, they were real innovators. Their second album included a ten-minute mini-opera that eventually led to the first full-scale rock opera, 1969's Tommy . This story of a deaf, dumb, and blind pinball champion was considered pretentious by some, but was hailed as a masterpiece by many others, and it brought wealth, artistic respectability, and international fame to the Who. A second rock opera, Quadrophenia, explored the tortured inner lives of the mods the Who had once exploited to build their fame.

When The Who by Numbers was released in 1975, the group was as popular as ever, but its members, particularly Townshend, seemed to be undergoing an identity crisis. The most famous line from their first album had been "Hope I die before I get old," but they hadn't died, and they were uncertain as to what to do next. The group didn't record for three years while its members worked on individual projects. Daltrey had already released a solo album and appeared in the title role of the film version of Tommy . In 1975 he portrayed classical composer Franz Liszt in Ken Russell's Lisztomania. He later acted in Sextet, The Legacy, and McVicar, a film biography of train robber John McVicar. He also developed the script for McVicar from the robber's autobiography. His solo albums received mixed reviews, with some critics commenting that Daltrey seemed to need Pete Townshend's lyrics to reach his peak.

The Who returned as a unit in 1978 with Who Are You?, but only a month after the long-awaited album was released, drummer Keith Moon was found dead in his apartment, overdosed on a drug which, ironically, had been prescribed to curb his alcoholism. The Who's future was thrown into doubt; but after much deliberation, Daltrey, Entwistle, and Townshend decided to try to replace Moon and carry on. Kenny Jones of Small Faces was recruited, noted session man John "Rabbit" Bundrick joined the group on keyboards, and "finally, the Who came back onstage, with live shows that were more formal and less spontaneous but retained all of the old power and more of the enthusiasm than anyone had a right to expect," wrote Marsh. Unfortunately, the return of the Who was overshadowed by a tragedy that occurred when they played Cincinnati's Riverfront Coliseum: eleven concertgoers were crushed to death in a rush for seats. The group put out four more albums, but announced their official breakup in 1983 after the release of It's Hard.

Although Who fans had hopes of a reunion tour in 1985, when the group agreed to perform at the Live-Aid benefit concert, it wasn't until 1989 that all the members agreed to participate. Daltrey, Townshend, and Entwistle hit the road with fifteen musicians to back them up on "The Kids Are Alright 1989 Tour." "Extraordinary is the only word that comes to mind," Boston Globe reviewer Steve Morse wrote of the much-anticipated show. "The Who thoroughly aced their exam,...scoring in the upper 99th percentile on song selection, visuals, sound mix, performance, crowd rapport, and just about anything else you might want to judge a show by....It was the best stadium show this writer has ever seen."

by Joan Goldsworthy

Roger Daltrey's Career

Founding member, with John Entwistle, of rhythm and blues/dance band the Detours, early 1960s; founding member of the Who (originally called the High Numbers) with Entwistle, Keith Moon, and Pete Townshend, 1965--; solo artist, 1973--. Has also appeared in films, including Tommy, McVicar, Lisztomania, Sextet, and The Legacy.

Famous Works

Recent Updates

February 9, 2005: Daltrey was named Commander of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II. Source: Launch, www.launch.yahoo.com/read/news/15702658, February 9, 2005.

Further Reading



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