The Who's Roger Daltrey paid tribute to such giants of country music as Hank Williams and Johnny Cash during an impromptu concert Friday (May 13) aboard the Queen Mary 2 on its passage from England to New York City. In fact, most of the program was given over to Cash tunes.
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Currently, Daltrey is getting ready to tour England with his own band, performing the music from the Who's rock opera, Tommy. He said he would be bringing that show to the U.S. in October and November. He explained that the Who isn't performing because of Pete Townshend's impaired hearing.
Daltrey was on the luxury liner to participate in a songwriting seminar led by Chris Difford of the band Squeeze.
During the first half of the hour-long presentation, Daltrey sat on a stool on the stage of the Royal Court Theatre and recounted his early life and the events that led him toward a career in music. Born in 1944 and growing up in an England still ravaged by World War II, Daltrey said, "Before this guy named Elvis Presley, we lived in a black-and-white world."
He said his uncle, who was in a jazz band, introduced him to the music of Williams, his first idol. From there, he was captured by the skiffle sound and stage persona of Scottish-born skiffle musician Lonnie Donegan.
Despite his interest in art and theater, unusual for a working class London boy, he grew disillusioned with school after one of his teachers dismissed Elvis as "trash." He was kicked out at 15 and went to work in a metal shop. By this time, however, he had met fellow students Townshend and John Entwistle, who would form the core of the Who.
Keith Moon, he added, who had bleached his hair to a ginger color in an attempt to be like the Beach Boys, came to an early rehearsal and blew the band away with the ferocity of his drumming.
"In the end," Daltrey said, "he used to have to nail his drums to the stage."
After taking a few questions from the nearly packed house, Daltrey strapped on a 1963 Gibson Everly Brothers model guitar -- "It's my favorite. I have three of them, and I love them to bits," he said -- and sang snatches of Leadbelly's "Midnight Special" and "Goodnight Irene." Of the latter tune, he said, "This one's for my mum, because it was my mum's name."
Then Daltrey brought out his seven-piece band. He recalled when he was working in the metal shop with no radio to listen to, he and his workmates amused themselves by singing Johnny Cash songs.
Lamenting that Cash was no longer around, Daltrey and his band led the audience through "I Got Stripes," "Folsom Prison Blues," "There You Go," "Train of Love" and "Ring of Fire."
He ended the set with his own "2000 Years" followed by the Who's "Who Are You" (featuring background vocals by a man in the audience who asked a question about the song) and the Townshend-penned "Real Good Looking Boy."
Asked about the Who's performance at Woodstock, Daltrey acknowledged the event's historic importance but said at the time it was "just another gig for us." And he deglamorized the myth that all the big bands were ferried to the site in helicopters.
"I went to Woodstock in a Volkswagen with my mother-in-law driving," he said.