Rolling Stone wrote that the voice of The Who's Roger Daltrey was one of the most powerful instruments in rock. But when first it started in the 1960s, Daltrey's band was covering American soul songs. At the age of 74, the British rocker is returning to that music for his new solo album, As Long as I Have You.
"This is the kind of material we were playing when we were at the Marquee Club and early gigs that we used to do in London around 1964, before Pete Townshend started writing the songs," Daltrey says. "The idea of doing pre-Townshend stuff was an idea that I had for The Who about 10 years ago, when Pete was struggling writing a new album."
The new album's title track is a cover of a 1964 song by soul singer Garnet Mimms. As Daltrey explains, this was the music he idolized as a teen.
"This is all American heritage music that Americans at the time didn't know about. After the war, we had the GIs over in England. ... They introduced us all to it. And, of course, as young English teenagers growing up, this was magical music," he says. "Soul comes from the gut. It can't come from the head."
Work on As Long as I Have You stalled when Daltrey was hospitalized for meningitis. After a month in the hospital and six months of recovery, Daltrey planned to shelve the project — until he got a boost of energy from his old friend Pete Townshend, who urged him to finish the project and offered to play guitar on it. Though they hardly see each other offstage anymore, Daltrey says he and Townshend still have a strong relationship grounded in honesty.
"There was something about the chemistry of us that worked," he says. "There's some reason why these great bands, like us and Zeppelin and The Beatles — it's the chemistry of the members that created this thing that is so much bigger than the sum of its parts."
Daltrey spoke with NPR's David Greene about the early days of The Who and how severe illness forced him to face his mortality in the middle of a creative project. Hear the rest of their conversation at the audio link.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Rolling Stone magazine wrote (reading) the voice of The Who is one of the most powerful instruments in hard rock.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BABA O'RILEY")
THE WHO: (Singing) Out here in the fields.
INSKEEP: That voice belonged to Roger Daltrey. The Who wasn't always a hard rock band. When they got their start in the mid-'60s, they were covering American soul songs. At the age of 74, Roger Daltrey is returning to that music for his new solo album, which is called "As Long As I Have You."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE LOVE YOU SAVE")
ROGER DALTREY: (Singing) So I want you to stop 'til you find out what's wrong. Get it right. Please leave love alone because (ph)...
INSKEEP: David Greene caught up with Roger Daltrey just last week.
DALTREY: This is the kind of material we were playing when we were at the Marquee Club and early gigs that we used to do in London around 1964 before Pete Townshend started writing the songs. The idea of doing pre-Townshend stuff was an idea I had for The Who about 10 years ago where Pete was struggling writing a new album, and I said, why don't we do this kind of stuff and call it High Numbers, which was The Who's name...
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Before it was The Who.
DALTREY: ...At that period - yeah, before we were The Who. So - and Pete didn't like the idea, so I'd got the chance to do it now. And it's been great fun. I've really enjoyed it.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU HAVEN'T DONE NOTHING")
DALTREY: (Singing) But we are sick and tired of hearing your song telling how you're going to change right from wrong 'cause if you really want to hear our views you haven't done nothing.
UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) You ain't done nothing.
GREENE: But the enjoyment of making the record would come to an abrupt end. Roger Daltrey had taken a break from recording. He was out on the road with The Who.
DALTREY: In the middle of that tour, I got a really bad dose of meningitis.
GREENE: Yeah, that must have been really scary.
DALTREY: Yeah, it was kind of scary, but it was also - what can I say? I got a lot out of it.
GREENE: You got a lot out of the meningitis. What do you mean?
DALTREY: 'Cause I didn't think I would make it, and I came to terms with the end of my life, and that was kind of interesting. But I wouldn't recommend anybody goes out and catches it because it's not pleasant. I was a month in hospital. I was kind of six months recovering. And by the time I went back to what I'd recorded prior to The Who going on tour and the illness, I was completely disillusioned with what I heard. I wanted to just shelve it. And my management, unbeknown to me, sent the tapes to Pete, who called me up and insisted - he said, Roger, you've got to finish this. This is great stuff. You're doing good work. And I'd like to play guitar on it. He said, I think I can strip the stuff down. I'll play some guitar that will give you a bit more of maybe what you're looking for. And, of course, by him saying that, I just got re-energized and went back into it and here it is.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AS LONG AS I HAVE YOU")
DALTREY: (Singing) I had a lot of battles. Some I've lost and some I've won. But let me tell you, girl, you ain't seen nothing yet. Ain't nothing in this world that I can't get as long as I have you.
GREENE: This is the title track on Roger Daltrey's new album. It's the cover of a song from 1964 called "As Long As I Have You." It's originally by a soul singer named Garnet Mimms, and it's one of a few songs here that Daltrey used to play with Pete Townshend way back when they were in the High Numbers.
DALTREY: Well, these are the kind of guys we used to idolize, and we used to copy - the Solomon Burkes, the Garnet Mimms, Arthur Alexander. This is all American heritage music that Americans at the time didn't know about. After the war, we had the GIs over in England. They introduced us all to it, and of course as young, English teenagers growing up, this was magical music.
GREENE: Well, I love how you've talked about how singing soul is different once you've accumulated years of experience.
DALTREY: Well, it - soul comes from the gut. It can't come from the head, and living goes into the gut, doesn't it? Touch wood, my voice has held up, and it just seems to have a quality today that is in some ways probably the best its ever been.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AS LONG AS YOU LOVE ME")
DALTREY: (Singing) Say that you love me and I know that half the battle is won.
GREENE: I just keep thinking about you saying that this album probably wouldn't have happened without Pete Townshend encouraging you and saying, you know, he wanted to be part of it. I mean, from what I've read, you two are really different people. What does that tell us about your relationship with him?
DALTREY: Well, you know, we're really good friends. We've been through our ups and downs, like any friendship. There's a quality to our friendship that's great because we've always been honest with each other. And being the kind of talent that Pete is, that kind of talent can get easily squashed by sycophantitis (ph).
GREENE: (Laughter) Good word.
DALTREY: And he needed someone like me there to kind of sometimes just say it like I felt it even though some of the time I might have be wrong. It's a different relationship now than it was when we were young. I mean, when we were young, we used to go fishing and play golf and all these things that you should do when you're old.
GREENE: You were old souls early on.
DALTREY: Yeah, exactly, and now we don't do those things at all, and we rarely see each other off stage, but when we do, it's always enjoyable. I've got deep affection for him. There was something about the chemistry of us that worked, and - I don't know. It just - it had a bigger energy guiding it that put us together. There's some reason why these great bands like ours and Zeppelin and the Beatles - it's the chemistry of the members that created this thing that is so much bigger than the sum of its parts.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOW FAR")
DALTREY: (Singing) Most of my life I've been living on the road.
GREENE: Roger Daltrey, this has been a real honor and pleasure and best of luck with the new album.
DALTREY: Oh, thank you very much.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOW FAR")
DALTREY: (Singing) 'Cause I've got a girl and she won't leave my mind alone. And if she's listening, I hope she understands my song. You know it goes if you get lonely, all you got to do is call me. I'll come out on the run wherever you are, no matter how far (ph).
INSKEEP: That's Roger Daltrey talking with David Greene. His new album is called "As Long As I Have You." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.