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Roger Daltrey

Known nowadays for his acting roles as well as his vocals as frontman for The WHO, ROGER DALTREY (born 1st March, 1944, Hammersmith in London) has unified both careers since his title role of the pinball wizard in Ken Russell’s 1975 film adaptation of his group’s `Tommy’ opus. While the band’s main songwriter PETE TOWNSHEND exhibited his showman antics by way of “windmill”-arm guitar style, the muscled DALTREY found his stage niche through his lasso microphone projectile; it was not a good idea to stand too close to either of them; JOHN “The Ox” ENTWISTLE was squeezed somewhere in between the pair and the destructive sticksman KEITH MOON.
While all but the latter had kick-started their extracurricular solo careers, Roger’s finally got underway in 1973 via Top 10 set DALTREY {*7}. Almost unique, the singer hadn’t really taken to the songwriting aspect of stardom, and this record was no exception, as Dave Courtney and rising star LEO SAYER took the majority of the workload; 60s icon and co-producer ADAM FAITH delivered a few (`Way Of The World’ and `You And Me’) alongside Dave. Opening with `One Man Band’ (a UK Top 10 hit for SAYER in ’74), and major UK charters `Giving It All Away’ and `Thinking’, it had plenty to offer WHO fans willing to try a bit of pop-rock diversions.
With either Russ Ballard or Paul Korda to rely on in the writing department (PHILLIP GOODHAIT-TAIT contributed `Oceans Away’ and a cover of RUFUS THOMAS’ `Walking The Dog’ were a few exceptions), RIDE A ROCK HORSE (1975) {*4} would be left in the stalls critical-wise, although it did hit the Top 30 on both sides of the Atlantic.
While Ken Russell had cast him as Franz Liszt in his much-lambasted, 1975 high camp re-invention of the classical composer’s life (`Lizstomania’), in which the WHO frontman also contributed some vocals to RICK WAKEMAN’s score, DALTREY would find solace in his main role of the “deaf, dumb and blind” kid in `Tommy’ alongside thespians Oliver Reed and the delicious Ann-Margret.
Turning again to GOODHAND-TAIT (on `Parade’ and `Leon’) and Korda (`Written On The Wind’), while utilising ballads from COLIN BLUNSTONE (`Single Man’s Dilemma’), Andy Pratt (`Avenging Angel’), PAUL McCARTNEY (`Giddy’), MURRAY HEAD (`Say It Ain’t So, Joe’), Steve Swindells on a couple and STEVE GIBBONS for the title track, ONE OF THE BOYS (1977) {*6} was a slight return to form; esteemed session alumni ranged from guitarists CLAPTON, MICK RONSON, ANDY FAIRWEATHER-LOW, ALVIN LEE, Jimmy McCulloch, HANK MARVIN to bassist ENTWISTLE and keyboard wizard ROD ARGENT.
The following year saw DALTREY appearing in Richard Marquand’s second division chiller, `The Legacy’, a year sadly (1978) that was tinged with sadness when the enigmatic MOON let go his mortal coil.
Refreshed and ready to work again, Roger landed one of his most accomplished screen roles in McVICAR (1980) {*6}, a bio-pic of the reformed gangster which saw him both acting and handling the “solo” soundtrack (backed up by the remaining members of The WHO plus Kenney Jones and John “Rabbit” Bundrick). DALTREY’s pet prison-flick was a more adventurous proposition, the most ambitious solo venture of his career in fact. Unlike most of his 70s material, it also sounded like The WHO, albeit a WHO on the verge of redundancy. Fascinated by McVicar’s life story, the singer had bought the rights to the man’s book, co-produced the movie, took the lead role and performed most of the soundtrack (Dennis Waterman, anyone?). He’d also drafted in former ARGENT guitarist/freelance song-slinger Russ Ballard (again!), War Of The Worlds mastermind Jeff Wayne, and one-time Andrew Loog Oldham songwriting protégé Billy Nichols, as well as the likes of Herbie Flowers and drummer Dave Mattacks. Fresh from dusting off RAINBOW’s rock-out classic `Since You Been Gone’, Ballard struggled to match that standard here, coming up with the sub-RUTS bass-rocker, `My Time Is Gonna Come’ and `Free Me’, a horn-charted chug which edged into the UK Top 40. DALTREY at least gives it the kind of iron-lunged intensity which his role demanded, but his passion is better directed on the bluesier Nichols-penned numbers: `Waiting For A Friend’ (ironically the only single which failed to chart), and the ballsy, valedictory title tune. As a proxy final fling, though, DALTREY and Co would perhaps have done better to bow out with McVicar than `Face Dances’ or `It’s Hard’.
Following The WHO’s split in 1983, DALTREY continued on his solo sojourn of sorts, releasing three sets in relatively quick succession:- PARTING SHOULD BE PAINLESS (1984) {*4}, UNDER THE RAGING MOON (1985) {*5} and CAN’T WAIT TO SEE THE MOVIE (1987) {*3}. While fans found it frustrating that Roger was taking steps down to the basement of rock’n’roll, the second of these at least produced a bit of depth via songs from TOWNSHEND (`After The Fire’ – a minor hit), BRYAN ADAMS (`Let Me Down Easy’) and Geoff Downes-John Parr’s title track.
Roger duly concentrated on acting with roles in various minor movies, including `Mack The Knife’ (1989), `Buddy’s Song’ (1991) – as father of popstar Chesney Hawkes, `Teen Agent’ (1991), `Lightning Jack’ (1994) and `Chasing Destiny’ (2000). Always ready and willing to return to The WHO at the drop of a stage prop (as the ups and downs of The WHO continued unabated), there was one further set by the singer, ROCKS IN THE HEAD (1992) {*5}. Self-penned by himself and Gerard McMahon, his 90s direction was again mainstream, although harder-edged than his downscale 80s efforts; from `Who’s Gonna Walk On Water’ to its finale `Unforgettable Opera’, DALTREY was at least trying to get back on the right track. Slightly confusing but a real live document nevertheless, A CELEBRATION: THE MUSIC OF PETE TOWNSHEND & THE WHO (1994) {*5} was down to Roger and a celebrity guest list (ENTWISTLE, TOWNSHEND himself, The CHIEFTAINS and Linda Perry of the 4 NON BLONDES) and an orchestra on re-treads of symphonic rock songs from `Tommy’, `Who’s Next’ and `Quadrophenia’.
Like that other ageing rebel JOHN LYDON, Roger subsequently took to adventurous, hands-on presentation of ostensibly educational TV shows like Extreme History, while he continues to run a trout farm in Dorset. He’s since reactivated The WHO as a studio outfit with Pete, releasing the back-to-form and high-charting `Endless Wire’ in 2006.
Helping out an old friend when it was thought the battling WILKO JOHNSON only had a matter of months to live, DALTREY was back at the mic for the collaborative UK Top 3 set, `Going Back Home’. For connoisseurs of 70s pub rock fashioned on hard-edged blues, both Roger and his Canvey Island buddy excelled on eleven rousing numbers.
Some four years on, a reinvigorated DALTREY – recuperated from viral meningitis – was back on form and in the Top 10 with solo comeback, AS LONG AS I HAVE YOU (2018) {*7}. At 74 years young and with session help from a certain WHO guitarist, Roger runs through a gamut of rock and roll motifs that incorporated gospel, R&B and country. Despite contributing his own co-penned softer tracks (`Certified Rose’ and `Always Heading Home’), the singer shines on STEVIE WONDER’s `You Haven’t Done Nothing’, STEVE STILLS’ `How Far’ and BOZ SCAGGS’ `I’ve Got Your Love’; forget his attempt at NICK CAVE’s `Into My Arms’.
Coming so soon after The WHO’s re-vamped “Live At The Royal Albert Hall” adaptation of cohort Pete’s most famous rock opera, “Tommy”, vocal icon ROGER DALTREY thought it enterprising – or otherwise – to give it a bona fide classical workout. Recorded July 2018 in Bethel, NY, and in Budapest, Hungary the following February, THE WHO’S TOMMY ORCHESTRAL (2019) {*6} was probably a stretch too far. Lending a hand on these dates (alongside conductor Keith Levenson) was Simon Townshend (vocals/guitar), Frank Simes (guitar/vocals), Jon Button (bass/vocals), Loren Gold (keyboards/vocals) and Scott Devours (drums).
© MC Strong 1994-2009/GRD/LCS // rev-up MCS Dec2011-Jun2019

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