The frontman of one of the greatest bands of all time tells the story of his rise from nothing to rock 'n' roll megastar, and his wild journey as the voice of The Who.
“It’s taken me three years to unpack the events of my life, to remember who did what when and why, to separate the myths from the reality, to unravel what really happened at the Holiday Inn on Keith Moon’s 21st birthday,” says Roger Daltrey, the powerhouse vocalist of The Who. The result of this introspection is a remarkable memoir, instantly captivating, funny and frank, chock-full of well-earned wisdom and one-of-a-kind anecdotes from a raucous life that spans a tumultuous time of change in Britain and America.
Born during the air bombing of London in 1944, Daltrey fought his way (literally) through school and poverty and began to assemble the band that would become The Who while working at a sheet metal factory in 1961. In Daltrey’s voice, the familiar storieshow they got into smashing up their kit, the infighting, Keith Moon’s anticstake on a new, intimate life. Also here is the creative journey through the unforgettable hits including My Generation, Substitute, Pinball Wizard, and the great albums, Who’s Next, Tommy, and Quadrophenia. Amidst all the music and mayhem, the drugs, the premature deaths, the ruined hotel rooms, Roger is our perfect narrator, remaining sober (relatively) and observant and determined to make The Who bigger and bigger. Not only his personal story, this is the definitive biography of The Who.
|Publisher:||Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.|
|Product dimensions:||6.20(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.10(d)|
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The Flannel Shirt
On a muggy Florida night in March 2007, Pete and I walked out onto the stage at the Ford Amphitheatre in Tampa. For the ninth time that month, the seventy-ninth in the past nine months, the band started into "I Can't Explain." I swung my mic straight out toward the audience, ready to go like always. Ready to hit that first line ... "Got a feeling inside." But the mic weighed a ton. Out it went like a ship's anchor. Whether it came back, I can't tell you. Everything went black.
The next thing I knew, I was backstage. The lights were swimming, concerned voices came and went. Pete was there, wanting to know what was wrong. And in the distance I could hear the din of twenty thousand disappointed fans.
For fifty years straight I'd always made it. I'd always turned up and performed. Hundreds of gigs. Thousands. Pubs, clubs, community centers, church halls, concert halls, stadiums, the Pyramid Stage, the Hollywood Bowl, the Super Bowl, Woodstock. When the lights came up, I was there. Front of stage. Ready to drive. But not that night. For the first time since I'd picked up a microphone, aged twelve, and sang Elvis, I couldn't perform. As they bundled me into the back of an ambulance I was more disappointed than anyone that night. I listened to the sirens and — another new experience — I felt helpless.
In the days after, the doctors did a lot of poking and prodding, and eventually worked out that the salt levels in my body were way lower than they should have been. It seems obvious now but I'd never worked it out. Every time we were on tour, two or three months in, I'd get sick. Really, really sick. And now, after all these years, I find out the reason was simple. It was because of salt or the lack thereof. All that running around, all that sweating, it drained me. We were athletes, but we'd never trained like athletes. Two, three hours of night in, night out, and we'd think nothing of it. No warm-downs. No stretching. No vitamin supplements. Just a dressing room with alcohol in it. Because we're a rock band, not a football team.
That wasn't the only thing I learned that week. A few days later, one of the many doctors walked in clutching a chest Xray.
"So, Mr. Daltrey, when did you break your back?" he asked.
Politely, I pointed out that I hadn't.
Politely, he pointed out that I had. He had the evidence, right there on the X-ray — one previously broken back, one not very careful owner.
You'd think I'd have noticed when I did it, but I've been in enough scrapes in my time. There is an element of luck to any rock and roll story, but the luck only comes with hard graft. When you fall down, you get up again. You just keep on going. That's how it was at the beginning and it's how it still is today.
I can think of three occasions when I might have broken my back. There was the time we were filming "I'm Free" on Tommy in 1974. One minute, fifteen seconds in, you'll see me being thrown into a somersault by an army bloke. It was an easy enough stunt, but I fell badly. I can't remember if I heard anything snap but it bloody hurt. And for the rest of the day we were shooting the opening of the song, the part where my character, Tommy Walker, falls through the glass. We did it outside first and then we went into the studio to mimic it on the blue screen. All afternoon we did that. Me, falling four or five feet onto a mat. And cut.
"One more time, Roger." That was one of Ken Russell's favorite catchphrases. He always liked to take his actors over the edge.
"Are you sure we haven't got it, Ken?" I replied with my possibly broken back.
"One more time, Roger."
"Sure thing, Ken."
Or I could have done it on March 5, 2000, on my way to the Ultimate Rock Symphony gig at the Sydney Entertainment Centre. Paul Rodgers of Bad Company had called in sick so I was going to cover his songs as well. They sent a van early; I jumped in and I was warming up my voice on the way to the arena. I've got this process where I hold my tongue with a towel in one hand and my chin with the other and I do these strange scales. It sounds mad and it looks mad, like I've been possessed by a demon. I'd like to think it's a relatively tuneful demon, but it's still not what you want to be doing when you have a car crash.
The woman joining the freeway had other ideas. She swerved into our lane with no warning. My driver managed to brake and we hit her side on. It wasn't too bad. I still had my tongue wrapped in a towel and we were all still alive. I didn't hear anything snap but it hurt like hell. When we finally arrived at the gig, an osteopath turned up and clicked everything back before I went onstage. I got through it on pure adrenaline, I suppose, but for the next three years I was in constant pain.
I think the most likely time was when I was at band camp, aged about nine or ten. Let's say 1953. I was the Boys' Brigade company singer and I used to go up and down the beach on the sergeant's shoulders belting out uplifting American marching songs at unsuspecting holidaymakers. I sang like a little angel.
The only problem was a boy called Reggie. Reggie was also in the Boys' Brigade. He was this big kid. I'm not kidding. He was a foot taller than me and two feet wider. He lived on Wendell Road in Shepherd's Bush, which was only five minutes from where I lived on Percy Road, but that made a world of difference. There were certain families you didn't get on the wrong side of. There still are. London's like that. And in Shepherd's Bush, it was Reggie's family. They were a rough family from a rough street, and, unfortunately, Reggie — big Reggie — had it in for me.
So there we were, at band camp, and because I was the little one I was being thrown up in the air in a blanket. It's the sort of thing kids used to do for entertainment before iPads were invented.
Reggie was the ringleader and, while I'm fifteen feet up in the air, he shouts, "Let's let go!" I can still hear the bugger saying it now. "Let's let go!"
Of course, they all let go of the blanket. There was nothing I could do. I crashed to the ground and I was knocked out cold. There might have been a snap, but I was away with the fairies. Now, on the one hand, it meant band camp was ruined. I had to spend the rest of the day down the bloody hospital and the rest of the week stuck in a Boys' Brigade tent in agony with what I now reckon was a broken back. On the other hand, I was sorted — my problems with Reggie had come to an end. As I lay there on the ground unconscious, he thought he'd killed me.
When I came round, Reggie was the first person I saw and he was crying. The meanest kid in Shepherd's Bush sobbing great, fat tears of guilt and fear. He felt terrible. Well, after that, he was like my guardian angel and I was in with him and his family. I was on the right side of the rough family from the rough street. Everyone treated me differently. I was untouchable. That lasted me all the way to grammar school, at which point everything went to shit. But I'm getting ahead of myself here. We should go back to a time before suspected broken backs, before good schools and bad ones. We should begin at the beginning.
* * *
My mum held on until the small hours of March 1, 1944, before giving birth to yours truly. One day earlier and I'd have been a leap-year baby, and she didn't want that. Only one birthday every four years. That wouldn't do, would it? Even though I'd be only eighteen and a half today.
I was lucky to have been born at all. Grace Irene Daltrey — but you can call her Irene, like everyone else did — had been diagnosed with a kidney disease in 1938. When they removed one of her kidneys, her health deteriorated further and she ended up contracting polio. She spent two months in one of Britain's first iron lungs in a hospital in Fulham, and for a long time it was touch and go. She survived, only just, but for the next few years she was stuck in a wheelchair.
More importantly, from my point of view, the doctors told her she would never be able to have children. If they'd been right, this would have been a short book but Dad took up the challenge. When the war broke out, he went off to France with the Royal Artillery and that still didn't stop him. He was allowed back quite regularly to see Mum on compassionate leave. Nine months after one of these very compassionate visits, against all the odds, along I came: Roger Harry Daltrey.
It wasn't an easy time to bring a child into the world. People assume the Blitz was over in 1944. Fake news! March 1944 was the third and worst month of Operation Steinbock, a five-month Little Blitz, which, to live through it, wasn't very little at all. The Luftwaffe were dropping bombs all over London and then, when they got more desperate, they launched the doodlebugs (V-1 flying bomb). The first one hit when I was eight weeks old. A month later the Germans were sending over more than a hundred a day.
One of their targets was the munitions factory in Acton Green, a good two miles from Percy Road, but the V-1s always came up short. Eddie Chapman, a double agent, was responsible for reporting the accuracy of the bombing raids to the Germans and he lied so they never corrected their aim. Thank God he did what he did, but it meant that the streets of Shepherd's Bush bore the brunt. Every time you took refuge down on the Tube, you never knew if you'd come back to find a crater where your house once stood.
Mum, and me, I suppose, spent a lot of nights sheltering down the Hammersmith Tube. About a week before I arrived, she thought she was going into labor during one difficult night camped out on platform four. It's hard now, all these years later, to imagine her handling all that alone while Dad was away at war. It must have been hard, too, when Mum and I were evacuated to a farmhouse in Stranraer in southwest Scotland for thirteen months to escape the worst of the attacks. Mrs. Jameson, our host, already shared her four-room cottage with another farming family, but she still made space for my mother and me, my Aunt Jessie, and her two daughters. All five of us in one room. More than seven decades later, it's time to extend a belated thank-you to Mrs. Jameson and her family.
What an upheaval for a new mother but Irene never complained. Even many years later, I never heard either my mother or father say anything bad about their lives in wartime. They only spoke of the good times. Six years of death and destruction on an unprecedented scale, and everything was just fine and dandy.
I don't think any of us war children were fooled. Kids are perceptive. They know when things aren't just fine and dandy. And in the space between the jolly stories they see the truth. Even when I was very young, I knew it had been tough for Dad. He lost his brother in Burma. They said it was dysentery but he was in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp so who knows what he died of? Dad never really talked about it, but there were signs.
One day, we were driving down to Lancing in Sussex to visit my younger sister Gillian. She'd been diagnosed with a heart murmur and they'd sent her to a convalescent home. Somehow, Dad had got hold of a grand old taxi — I don't know how he did it — but it was the only way we could see her every Sunday during her year away. That day was Remembrance Sunday. Just before eleven, he pulled the taxi over and made us stand on the pavement in silence like he did every year. I noticed a tear coming down his cheek.
It was a shock for a young boy to see his dad like that. He was a gentle man, but kind of empty. That's what the war did to him. I remember he had the same look in his eyes the day before he died. It was nine months after the death of my youngest sister, Carol, from breast cancer. She was only thirty-two. That day, I understood that my dad had been crying on the inside — not only since her death but also ever since he returned from the war.
That's what it did to a lot of people. It took something away.
Pete's dad, Cliff, was very similar to mine, although he talked a lot more. I'm sure the fact that he played saxophone in an RAF band must have helped him cope with the trauma. My dad just wanted quiet and that never changed. I'm sure he was shell-shocked for the rest of his life.
* * *
My very first memory is of my dad coming home from the war. He had been wounded on D-Day, but he went straight into an administrative role, so he wasn't demobbed until late in 1945. I would have been about twenty months old, so perhaps that first memory has been pieced together from fragments. But I remember the whole family being together for the first time in our front room with all the chairs round the sides. I remember the webbing on a man's boots, and his rucksack and tin hat, and then I remember being surprised that this man, this complete stranger, just arrived and shared a bed with my mum.
It all seems so far off now, that life, that childhood, growing up in the aftermath of war. If you didn't live it, it's almost impossible to imagine it. It's no coincidence that everyone born in my year was stunted. The first two years of my life were the worst years for food shortages. In 1945, the Americans decided to end their policy of Lend-Lease, which had allowed Britain to get food from the United States on the never-never. At the same time, as soon as hostilities ended, we found ourselves having to share what food there was with the Germans.
I never heard anyone complain about that. The Germans were the enemy until the war was over, and then we shared without any objection. After all, they were in a worse state than we were. I thought about that the first time I went to Germany with The Who in 1966. I was just amazed. How did we end up fighting these people? They're so similar to us. They're great people. And we spent six years in all-out war with them. It's crazy.
The rationing went on for most of my childhood and our appetites shrunk with our stomachs. We had porridge for breakfast and sugar sandwiches for tea. The "national loaf" came with "added calcium" — it was half chalk — a ruse to make us think we were getting white bread. You had to queue for a weekly ration of one powdered egg.
Twice a year, as a treat, we'd have a roast chicken. It was a big event back then, but those chickens wouldn't have made it onto a supermarket shelf today. They were mangy, skinny, stringy little things, more bone and sinew than meat. In 1998, I played Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol at Madison Square Garden, and Bob Cratchit, the poor, hard-done-by office clerk, had a chicken at least twice the size of the ones we had after the war. And we were supposed to feel sorry for him.
Nothing was ever thrown away — old rags, paper, tins, bits of string, and empty bottles all had a value. There were no toys on the shelves. You couldn't pop down the shops for a new pram or even children's clothes and shoes. Everything was second-, third-, fourth-, sixth-hand. We wore our shoes till we had holes in them and then Dad showed us how to mend them. How many people today know how to mend their own shoes?
It was normal then but it's almost unimaginable now. It's three dramatic generations and thousands of miles from life today and it still blows my mind that we've gone from there to here. The thing is, though, I don't remember ever feeling like I was hard done by. Deep down, it must have had an effect but on the surface, my childhood, not counting Reggie and his blanket, was a happy one.
The more I think about it, the more I realize our parents' generation was amazing. They never really wanted for much. They wanted to live in peaceful times and they wanted, on occasion, to enjoy themselves.
A knees-up with a few bottles of brown ale felt like the party of the century. It was so simple but they knew how to have a good time with nothing. It's the opposite today. We've got so much and everything is instant. I find it very difficult to know where it's all heading. I'm sure if you're young and that's all you know, you just go with the flow. Maybe you can explain it to me sometime.
Before my sister became so ill, Sundays were about family. All of us, the whole extended Daltrey brigade, would begin the day at the church on Ravenscourt Park Road. I was in the choir. I told you, a little angel. Then, after Sunday school, we'd drive over to Hanwell in convoy, Dad's taxi leading the way. It was an Austin 12/4 Low Loader with coachwork by Strachan of Acton. The roof at the back folded down, very much like a top-of-the-range Rolls-Royce. He was up front, our chauffeur. Mum was sitting next to him, behind a makeshift door, on a seat he'd screwed in where the luggage compartment had been. We were all in the back, giving the royal wave to one's subjects. It was fabulous.
There was a place called Bunny Park, right under the Wharncliffe Viaduct in Hanwell, and we'd spend all Sunday afternoon playing cricket there as the Great Western steam trains raced past. It went on for hours and hours on long summer's days, and all the cousins and aunts and uncles joined in.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Thanks a Lot, Mr. Kibblewhite"
Copyright © 2018 Roger Daltrey.
Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1 The Flannel Shirt 1
2 School's Out 13
3 The Skiffle Years 25
4 The Detours 37
5 The High Numbers 49
6 The Who, Innit? 63
7 Breaking Up Is Hard to Do 76
8 Dippity-Don't 85
9 Tommy 99
10 Escape to the Country 114
11 Who's Next 130
12 Under New Management 142
13 Family 150
14 And Action 163
15 By Numbers 178
16 The End, a Beginning, and Another End 188
17 Life After 196
18 The Re-formation 204
19 Brothers 219
20 I Hoped I'd Die 229
Illustration Acknowledgments 245
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Daltrey is not a great writer, but tells an interesting story.
My dear daughter Catherine gifted me with this at Christmas. She knows of my absolute devotion to the Who. this is a terrific, straightforward and enjoyable telling of Daltrey's early life, incredible work ethic and love for singing. His relationship with Pete Townshend is complex, deep, and fascinating. I remember my late husband giving me Tommy in 1969 and how I treasured that album and seeing two different versions of Tommy on-stage has deepened my love of this greatest of British bands.
Great read. Awesome real person who's singing and performing has been a big influence on my life. It is nice to know that he is Who he is.
I enjoyed ever page and you will too.
Great to hear Rogers side of things. Couldn't put it down.