Resiliency is a major part of Roger Daltrey’s DNA. At the age of 74, the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer is continuing to remain active while avoiding becoming an oldies act. While some may argue that his performing with a number of pops and local orchestras performing Tommy might fall under that heading, Daltrey’s approach to this warhorse is far from by-the-numbers.
“This gives me a chance to do Tommy in a different way and the way I hear it, with an orchestra, working in the way I’ve always known it could with Pete’s music and a rock band. We treat this as though it’s a written opera and I treat it with that reverence. In my opinion, it’s one of the best operas ever written. It’s certainly got the most lyrics,” he said with a laugh. “People can expect a completely different sound and expect it to really rock. The orchestrations are impressive—that’s all I can tell you. I’ve had to do things like invent a new ending to Tommy because on the record, it doesn’t have an ending, it just fades out. And the ending I came up with is pretty spectacular. I’m not blowing a trumpet, it really brings it home in a way that I’m really proud of.”
Back in 2014, Daltrey recorded 2014’s Going Back Home with ex-Dr. Feelgood guitarist Wilko Johnson, who was then dying from pancreatic cancer. A mutual love of Johnny Kidd and the Pirates and old-school R&B and the idea of making music to get Johnson’s mind off his diagnosis led to the release of this surprise UK hit album. A surgeon listening in on an interview Johnson was doing promoting the new project invited him to come in on the off-chance he was misdiagnosed. When the diagnosis led to surgery and a cancer-free life, Daltrey was delighted about the turn of events.
Surprised by the album’s sales numbers, the record label approached The Who frontman about a Daltrey-Johnson sequel. Declining to do so based on the idea that a follow-up wouldn’t equal the impact of the first, Daltrey agreed to do a similar solo version of Going Back Home.
It led to As Long As I Have You, the septuagenarian rocker’s tenth and most recent solo album. Reuniting with producer Dave Eringa from the Johnson project, Daltrey chose to revisit the vibe and spirit of his pre-High Numbers/Who days with Pete Townshend, when their band was playing soul music to small crowds in church halls. The result is a mix of heartfelt and melancholy originals and a mix of rich covers from artists ranging from Stevie Wonder, Manassas and Garnet Mimms to Joe Tex and Nick Cave.
“This is the kind of music The Who were playing before Pete started writing songs. But obviously, we weren’t singing [originals like these] in those days because I hadn’t had the life experience that I’ve had now. Although I sang the notes and words in those days, I didn’t quite have the body that the songs have now,” he recalled. “So it was really great going back to them and revisiting that style of music, which I love. I’ve done it as an antithesis of the pop stuff that’s out there at the moment, which I loathe.”
The choice of material he chose to cover all have their own connection with Daltrey and not something he takes lightly.
“First of all, I have to be able to relate to the song. The words have to be part of my journey. For instance, in the Stephen Stills song, Stephen gave me permission to change the words to make it my song. So I don’t sing the words that he originally wrote to it and I always try to inhabit the song as a part of me,” he explained. “The Garnet Mimms [opening lyric] ‘Born in darkness…’—I was born in a bloody air raid. That’s really it. I’m a huge Nick Cave fan, but he sings it quite darkly, that song. I can hear something else in it that’s so touching and I wanted to see if I could achieve it.”
The original songs stand on their own, none more so than “Always Heading Home,” a song Daltrey cowrote with novelist Nigel Hinton that is a closing track that addresses aging, memories and dreams amid the slightest hint of strings and piano that adds up to quite an impactful coda.
“‘Always Heading Home’ is something that I wrote a long time ago. It’s a spiritual song that I didn’t think would ever find a home,” he said. “Since I thought this might be the last record I may ever make, I decided I was going to put ‘Always Heading Home’ on it.”
After starting preliminary work on As Long As I Have You, Daltrey hit the road with The Who for its “Beginning of the Long Goodbye Tour,” which he was quick to point out is ongoing.
Coming off that stretch of dates, the vocalist was hit with a bout of meningitis. And while his recovery involved a loss of hearing, he was discouraged by what he’d recorded up to that point. It was Townshend who wound up providing encouragement and musical support that allowed the project to come to fruition. It’s an assertion Daltrey is quick and proud to point out.
“When I went back to listen to what I’d done prior to [the tour], I thought it was rubbish. Then Pete was suddenly given my tapes through management and he loved it,” he said. “He called me up and said, ‘You ought to finish it Roger and I’ll play guitar on it.’ And that was it for me. I’ve always respected his musical talent and if he says it’s good, then it’s alright.”