The Who Won’t Quit Performing After 2015 Tour or Stop Promoting 'Tommy'
"There's no end of the line but when you pop your clogs. We're not going away, but we will not do that endless hotel after hotel after place after place. We might find ways to set down for a few weeks in one place and play a series of shows. Once you say that part of your career is finished, other doors open up. I don't see it as an end at all. I see it as a beginning in a way."
Daltrey's comment was meant to clarify a quote guitarist Pete Townshend gave to the London Evening Standard late last month, which implied that the band would break up after 2015. "For the 50th anniversary we'll tour the world. It'll be the last big one for us," Townshend said. "There are still plenty of places we've not played. It would be good to go to Eastern Europe and places that haven't heard us play all the old hits."
A source close to the band told the paper that after the tour Daltrey and Townshend would focus on their solo projects. The lead singer insists that's not the case. "We're not saying it will be the last shows," Daltrey said. "We're not saying we won't do events, but we have to be realistic. By then I'm going to be 71. At our age touring is incredibly difficult. It's incredibly taxing on the body. The shows are a joy, but the schlepping day after day is exhausting. We haven't got too many years of that left in us."
The Who will remain off the road for 2014 and have not announced plans to record a new album. The group's last studio record was 2006's Endless Wire. Daltrey said the Who's decision to stay out of the spotlight for 12 months has nothing to do with the band's chemistry, which he insists is quite good.
"You can't be out there all the time, otherwise you'll wear your audience out," he said. "It seems right that we'll be touring in 2015."
The debate that ignited over the future of the Who somewhat overshadowed the news that the band has just released an expanded edition of its groundbreaking 1969 rock opera Tommy. The collection features the remastered original double-album, 20 demos from Townshend's archive, and a full live performance of Tommy, mostly recorded during a show at the Capital Theatre in Ottawa, Canada on October 15, 1969.
Three of the songs on the disc, "I'm Free," "Tommy's Holiday Camp," and "We’re Not Gonna Take It," were not recorded during the show because the engineers were changing tape reels, so they were pulled from later concerts during the same era. In his autobiography Who I Am: A Memoir, Townshend wrote about how he had asked the band's sound man Bob Pridden to burn the tapes, but Pridden disobeyed the instructions.
"We recorded hundreds of shows we did of Tommy," Daltrey said. "They're all on two-track. There's not much we can do with the sound, but they're a great record of how the band were in those days. And of course, when you're doing a box set like this you have to find stuff that will keep the thing fresh, keep it interesting. So it was a natural to put one of the live things on there as it was to put the demos, and put the whole journey."
Surprisingly, Daltrey's favorite part of the deluxe Tommy reissue isn't the demos or the live set. "My liking of the box set is that there's a quality vinyl version of Tommy being reprinted," he said. "When you hear Tommy on vinyl, that's where it really comes to life. The sound is totally different. It's chalk and cheese. Why would I want second best? It was one of the biggest confidence tricks ever worked that CDs were going to be better. The vinyl artwork of an album, just for a start, was a whole thing on its own. Album covers were worth the money, let alone the beauty in between the grooves. They threw all that away in the toilet overnight and all you end up with is this scratched plastic box. Crazy thing. What a concept."
The groundbreaking Tommy tells the story of a deaf, dumb, and blind boy who becomes a pinball hero, then regains his sight and commands the masses as a rock star and celebrity. When he starts a camp to inspire others to follow his lead, they rebel, smash his pinball machines and destroy all he has built. Not only was Tommy the first mainstream rock opera — influencing future projects like Pink Floyd's The Wall and David Bowie's The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars — it marked a major shift for the Who from a singles band to a group capable of lengthier, more conceptual undertakings.
"We obviously couldn't go on being a singles band forever," Daltrey said. "But in that period of time things were growing so fast. It was such a creative time for rock music. The Beatles, in '67 had put Sgt. Peppers out, of course, which people kind of saw as a concept album, when in actual fact, it wasn't. But it just made everything seem possible. Tommy grew out of one song, 'Amazing Journey.' And we just thought, 'Well, let's just write a song about a deaf, dumb, and blind boy and let's try to write about the exterior things that happened to him, but bring out what's going on with him inside.' And amazingly, it worked."
While Townshend played a major role in conceiving the plot for Tommy, Daltrey said the complete story was a collaborative effort. 'I wouldn't say Tommy was totally Pete's concept. There was a lot of discussion and stuff being made up in the studio. 'Uncle Ernie' was written by [late bassist] John Entwistle, and [late drummer] Keith [Moon] said Tommy should end up in a Holiday Camp. It couldn't have come without Pete's concept of what it would be like to be deaf, dumb, and blind and live life with just vibrations and sound coming through your body rather than through your ears — and physical things coming through feeling rather than seeing them — and living in a state of non-communication because you can't bring that out. That was all Pete's idea. But all the other little bolt-on bits of Tommy were organic from the band in the studio."
Six years after Tommy was released, Ken Russell directed a sweeping, surreal film version of the story starring Oliver Reed, Ann-Margret, and Daltrey as Tommy. Elton John, Eric Clapton, Tina Turner, Jack Nicholson, and Keith Moon played cameos. "It was wonderful to do it," Daltrey said. "It made me incredibly famous for a while. I think the thing I enjoyed the most about doing that film was learning a new way of expressing the songs. You're not on a stage performing to an audience. You're doing it a different way. That was interesting. Working with Ken Russell, of course, was a dream. He's one of my favorite directors. I don't think anyone could have made a success of Tommy the way Ken Russell did because he created his own canvas and he made it cartoon-esque. So I just think it's wonderful."
As much as he enjoys the movie Tommy, Daltrey said making the film was challenging — and not just because of the long hours and grueling emotional performances. 'Some of the stuff we did in the film was quite physically hard to shoot," he said. "Being squirted with a fire hose for four hours with water coming out of a frozen lake was not fun. I wouldn't recommend that to anyone."
In 1992, Townshend and Des McAnuff adapted Tommy for the stage. The Who's Tommy debuted at the La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego on July 1 and moved to Broadway's St. James Theatre in April 1993. The show lasted for 899 performances before closing in June 1995. Tommy also played runs in Canada and London.
Daltrey said the story of Tommy crosses all boundaries and remains relevant 44 years after the album was released because the themes are universal. "I think there's a bit of Tommy in all of us," he said. "And I've always seen Tommy as all of us. I'm Tommy, you're Tommy. I've always seen it as a story that's an inner journey rather than one that lives in the outer world. So maybe that’s what it is. And musically it's simple, but it's complicated. It stands out. It’s just so different. It doesn't sit in any other bag at all. It's a thing all its own."
While the Who are on hiatus next year, the band will release a DVD of its other heralded rock opera Quadrophenia, which it has performed sporadically since 1996. The DVD was taped at London's Wembley Stadium during the last show of the Quadrophenia + More tour.
"That was shot at a benefit show for Pete and my respective charities," Daltrey said. "It was a special performance in part because we knew it was the last one of the tour." Proceeds from the show went to combat domestic violence and sexual abuse and help provide music education, international disaster relief, and juvenile prison reform.
Even in their wildest days, the Who believed in philanthropy. "We were always charitable. Way back in 1973 we started our own charity called the Double O," Daltrey said. "And we were one of the founding supporters of Nordoff Robbins for autistic children. We also were one of the founding group of a charity called Abuse which was for battered women that were in violent relationships with nowhere to go. That was always part of the Who's agenda. We always felt that society can get better if we all help each other."
For the last 13 years, Daltrey has been an active supporter of the Teenage Cancer Trust in the UK, and the Who have performed numerous charity concerts at Royal Albert Hall for the cause and donated funds from the 2000 DVD and album The Who Live at Royal Albert Hall to support the Teenage Cancer Trust.
"The Teenage Cancer Trust in Britain has been amazing," Daltrey said. "Thirteen years ago we had four hospital wards. The Who did those shows and that raised the issue in the press and it caught the public's imagination so the music industry really got behind it. I've run shows now for 13 years. I'll do a week of shows at the Albert Hall to remind people that we're still here, we've still got a job to do. And those four hospital wards have now grown to 28, and at the end of next year there'll be 32. So that's extraordinary."
With the Teenager Cancer Trust flourishing in the UK, Daltrey is working to kick the charity into overdrive in the U.S. as well. "It has been gaining support," he said. "We're only two years old. We've got two units at UCLA — one outpatient, one inpatient. We've got an outpatient going into Yale. And we're talking to another 25 hospitals. It takes good will and an administrative commitment. There are fixed positions within the system that we have to break down. Once they see what we do and get onboard they’re usually very, very supportive."