The Who are one of the most loved British bands of all time. In the pantheon of great rock bands, they are one of the most revered. Now in their fifth decade, they plan to continue with their brand of rock and roll. Formed in London in 1964, they took their British R&B roots to the masses, producing the first rock opera along the way.
Roger Daltrey was born in Hammersmith, west London, and raised in Acton. Growing up in postwar Britain he was enamoured with American rock and roll. In the late 50s and early 60s, music would become an escape from black-and-white Britain.
“It was all Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis and the Everly Brothers, but one artist in particular was hugely influential on my career,” beams Daltrey. “I saw Lonnie Donegan singing and I suddenly thought ‘wow, I could do that’. This guy was free. Elvis was ice cool but Lonnie was so on fire.
“When you watched Lonnie sing, he would throw his head back and wail. There was such much freedom in his performance and his voice — that completely grabbed me. I used to sing in a church choir so I knew I could sing. So I began to develop and I copied Lonnie’s style of putting my head back and letting what was inside me come out the way he did it. He was so influential.”
Daltrey attended the local grammar school in Acton where he met John Entwistle and Pete Townshend. He made his first guitar out of a block of wood and joined a skiffle group.
The Who formed in 1964 out of the embers of a group called the Detours, a London-based quartet that performed rock and R&B in a hard-hitting style. The band included Daltrey, Townshend, Entwistle and drummer Doug Sandon. When Keith Moon was recruited from a surf group called the Beachcombers and replaced Sandon, The Who’s classic lineup was complete.
They briefly changed their name to the High Numbers, releasing the single I’m the Face in 1964 before reverting back to the Who. Their first chart success, I Can’t Explain, entered the top ten in 1965. Their reputation as a live act was spreading and the group were becoming hot property. It’s incredible to think that they have been plying their trade for over half a century.
Recently the world’s press gathered one sunny afternoon at Ronnie Scott’s jazz club in Soho to hear the announcement that the Who will be touring to celebrate their 50th anniversary. It is just a stone’s throw away from where the group played 22 consecutive Tuesday nights at the Marquee at 90 Wardour Street in 1964.
The Marquee was the most important venue for the emerging British music scene and witnessed the birth of some the most important artists of the 1960s. The group’s Maximum R&B nights every week saw them become one of the must-see live acts of the decade. It was during this run that Pete Townshend first smashed his guitar, with the rest of the group following suit and destroying their instruments.
At Ronnie Scott’s, we were treated to an acoustic performance by one of the world’s greatest bands. Pete Townshend spoke about the forthcoming tour The Who Hits 50, which will see them visiting arenas across the UK in November and December before a planned North America tour in 2015.
He said, “I often don’t want to go on tour, I’m not crazy about performing. I’m good at it and I find it fulfilling, but it’s not something I enjoy as much as sitting at home in my studio writing songs. This tour I really want to do. I just thought it’s a significant anniversary and for me it’s just about playing and celebrating our 50th.”