Thanks A Lot Mr Kibblewhite, by Roger Daltrey – The Who’s Lead Singer Tells His Tales

Thanks A Lot Mr Kibblewhite, by Roger Daltrey (Henry Holt and Co.)

Books by aging rock stars are a growing sector in the publishing biz, one that by definition did not exist a few decades ago. Indeed, when I interviewed John Entwistle circa 1982 he commented that “we rock stars don’t know about getting old, no one has done that before, we are making it up as we go along.” John left this mortal coil before he could pen his memoirs, as did Keith Moon, his partner in The Who’s engine room. But Townshend wrote his autobiography, and now comes the band’s founder.

Roger Daltrey does a fine job evoking the post-war London in which he grew up, setting the stage for his difficulty in academics. His expulsion from school forms the basis for the book’s title, and Roger is truly grateful. That one way walk from the schoolyard took him on a path that not only circled the globe many times but took Roger and his mates to the pinnacle of rock stardom. Roger became the poster boy for the rock star lead singer, but not before 236 grueling gigs in 1965, and many strident disagreements with his bandmates over the years.

What is evident is that the band played best when angry. They must have been angry a lot, as each time I have seen them since 1975 through 2016 they were magnificent. And that was after Keith and John were replaced by a growing number of musicians, and each time I feared The Who were like a boxer that did not know when to hang up the gloves.

Roger takes us back to the days of scuffling around Britain in a panel truck, amazed they arrived in time for every gig with only a map and an address on the back of an envelope. No mobile phones or navigation systems back in the day, he reminds the kids.

As to finances, Roger is pretty sanguine about how publishing royalties go to the songwriter, so Pete had less inertia about touring to make money. But Roger is quick to point out that Pete’s demos which came into the band were far different from the finished product we all heard, and that was Roger’s input. Indeed, over the tumultuous decades, Pete has acknowledged that he was lucky to find the perfect singer for his songs.

The tales Roger tells in his book are amazing. After scrimping on a burger a day during The Who’s first US tour, Roger asked the band’s manager for his cut. All the funds had been spent by the other three bandmembers on drugs and automobiles into Holiday Inn pools, so Roger returned home skint, poorer than when he left for the colonies.

By chapter 12 Roger has told the tales of Woodstock, Leeds, Lifehouse and Who’s Next. By then there was a lot of cash swashing about, but very little seemed to get to the band, but for publishing royalties which kept Townshend relatively insulated from the growing concern by Roger that their management was ripping them off. Roger mentions the relatively recent documentary, which he believes failed to tell the full story of Lambert and Stamp availing themselves of most of the band’s cash to feed the managers’ drug addictions.

The Who, Buffalo, December 1975 (photo by Brad Auerbach)

By 1975 the film version of Tommy has been released and Roger has become a movie star as well, but he found it overwhelming. Roger found respite with his growing family at his estate in Surrey. Townshend meanwhile was baring his soul to the music press, and blaming what he perceived as the band’s fault for subpar performances earlier. Roger counters by pointing out that Townshend was often tripping on heroin, creating havoc on stage. Nonetheless, despite the likelihood of the band splintering permanently, the band regroups and records the surprisingly vulnerable Who By Numbers album. On the heels of the disc’s release, The Who start a US tour, which brings them to Buffalo. I travel three hours both ways to see them the night before my first college final. (A letter to Townshend about my trek shockingly warrants a response, which of course is framed nearby).

By the early 1980s Keith was gone and Kenney Jones was in the drum seat. Roger believes the wheels are coming off what had been a magic bus. In a sitdown meeting with the band and management, Roger was the only one who spoke saying either Kenney left or Roger left. Everyone was quiet except Pete, who said “OK Kenney stays.” Roger regretted staying as well, but forged ahead as Pete spiraled deeper into heroin.

Roger has always loved Kenney, but finally Pete agreed a change was required. Ringo Starr’s son Zak was the perfect answer. Pino Palladino was likewise the ideal substitute after John dies in a suite at the Hard Rock Hotel in Vegas.

The band forges ahead on the road, to surprisingly consistent kudos. The band’s recorded output gets thinner (The Who probably has more compilations than actual album releases), but they continue to tour. Their appearance at the biggest box office in history caused Pete to notice the excitement from the younger part of the audience (often during the timeless angst of the songs from Quadrophenia), which gives Pete more incentive to tour. Roger is always ready to hit the road.

The Who plays Oldchella, er….Desert Trip (photos by Brad Auerbach)

Roger, the archetype of the rock star, comes across as amazingly well adjusted and immensely grateful for his career. This is a great book. And like a few others I have heard (Steve Martin, Quincy Jones, Bruce Springsteen) it is great to hear the author read it to you.

Here is an excellent 7 minute clip on the eve of the book’s publication.

 


Brad Auerbach has been covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.

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