By MIKE CHAIKEN
The Who sets out on the road next year to celebrate its 50th anniversary.
And as he stepped on stage of the Rock ‘N’ Roll Fantasy Camp at the Grand Theater at Foxwoods Resort Casino on Oct. 19 to rehearse with the “campers,” the band’s lead singer Roger Daltrey was firmly ensconced in the musical history of that iconic band.
But Daltrey continues to make music. And his eyes lit up considerably when he was asked about his latest album that he recorded in partnership with the former guitarist of pub rock greats, Dr. Feelgood.
The album is “Going Back Home” by Dr. Feelgood’s Wilko Johnson and Daltrey.
“That was great,” said Daltrey of the recording of the album with his old friend.
The album has a definite warm, rock and roll story behind it, explained Daltrey.
“About 19 months ago, (Wilko) was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer,” said Daltrey.
“I had been planning to do something with this guy for a few years, but it never came around,” said Daltrey. “When I heard he had terminal cancer— he was given nine months to a year to live— I rang him up.” Daltrey told his friend, “It doesn’t matter about the songs. I’ll sing whatever you want.”
“So he threw a few songs at me. We did this record,” said Daltrey. “We did it in four days, four eight hour days.”
“Lo and behold, because we didn’t do it for any other reason than to have fun, this record turned out really brilliant. It’s really old fashioned rock and roll.”
And the public ate it up, said Daltrey. “It went to number one in England.”
But there’s more to the story than just a successful album, Daltrey explained.
“When we started publicizing this record, we were on a live radio show… the guys (on the show) asked Wilko what did the doctors say when you went back to the hospital…It’s now a year after they gave you the terminal diagnosis and you’re still here.”
And Johnson said, “I haven’t been back ever.”
Daltrey laughed at the recollection. “It’s a typical rock and roll answer. He hadn’t been back.”
“It turned out,” said Daltrey, “listening in (to the show) was an oncologist. (The doctor) thought if Wilko really had pancreatic cancer he would be dead by now.”
Daltrey said Johnson was clearly ill. “He did have this huge growth. It was big, between a basketball and a grapefruit, it was huge. And it would have killed him. If he had gone another two or three months, (the size of) it would have stopped his heart.”
But, said Daltrey, “This guy listening in thought, (Wilko) must have been misdiagnosed. So he gets in touch— and he was fan. He said to Wilko, ‘I want to do some more tests.’ So he did some more tests.”
“And it was a tumor,” said Daltrey. “And it was cancer. But it was on the outside of the pancreas.”
Daltrey explained that the doctor told Johnson, “It’s never been tried before with something this size, but I think I can cut it away. But the operation might kill you.”
“Wilko had the operation in April, May and the guy cut it away,” said Daltrey. “(Wilko’s) s completely cancer-free. He lost his pancreas, half of his stomach, a load of his intestine, his spleen, and it’s a long recovery. But he’s going to survive.”
“We’re going to make album two,” said Daltrey. “We’re going to call it, ‘Don’t Believe the Tumors.’”
As for performing some of the songs live, Daltrey said he and Johnson have done some charity shows. But with the upcoming tour of The Who, which will take up his life for some time to come, it’s not possible to focus on just a tour of Johnson and himself.
“He’s got to get better first,” said Daltrey.
But the way the lead singer of the Who sees it, he expects Wilko will be playing the guitar and be back on stage by Christmas.
(On a side note, at the camp, Daltrey and the counselors, which included a number of other rock and roll leading lights— at the camp signed a boat load of electric guitars. The guitars will be auctioned off to raise money and support Teen Cancer America. Overall, this camp donated more than $100K to Teen Cancer America. )
As noted, The Who is celebrating its 50th anniversary. Next year, the band brings its anniversary tour to Connecticut in May.
“It does seem like a blink of an eye,” said Daltrey of the 50 years the band has accrued. “It’s amazing how time does fly especially in rock and roll.”
“Back in the ‘60s, we were losing friends by the week at times,” said Daltrey. To have made it to this age, still make records, and still perform in shows people want to see, Daltrey said, “It’s incredible.”