Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey may have been two of the biggest rock gods on the planet, and they may even have worked part of the unstoppable Who for most of their lives, but that hasn’t, in any possible way, warranted them being the best of friends. No, if anything, the feeling of hostility they harboured towards each other was more palpable than ever. Theirs is a friendship forged in fire and ice.
Standing in 2021, we have the opportunity to look back on the trajectory of the relationship between Daltrey and Townshend over the years since before the inception of their band, The Who. In terms of their position as musicians and as co-creators of songs, they respected each other’s contributions to the shared records. Though, with Townshend undoubtedly the band’s leader and Daltrey the group’s frontman, they hardly ever saw eye-to-eye.
At a certain point in their career, their time together was mostly spent ignoring each other’s presence and deflecting from being in the other’s company. In case they absolutely had to be in the same space, they made sure to let their annoyance be very well known to the other and everyone else in the room. Evidently, things got quite awkward for everyone involved, so the best thing was not to let such a situation arise all that often. But that’s how it is now. Surely things were better when they started?
Somewhat, perhaps; but not entirely, as history would tell us.
Daltrey and Townshend were two of the founding members of The Who, along with John Entwistle. All three grew up in Acton, London, and the future-Who members attended the Acton County Grammar School, where Daltrey was a year above the other two. While Townshend and Entwistle became friends in their second year and started a traditional jazz group, Daltrey struggled to fit in the school. He inclined to associate himself with gangs and take up smoking, drinking, and any other mischief he could be a part of. Because of this, he was expelled from school when he was only 15. On the other hand, Townshend went on to study graphic design at Ealing Art College upon graduating from school.
In 1959, Daltrey became a part of the Detours, a band that would later evolve to become the Who. Daltrey recruited Entwistle as a bassist, and Entwistle, in turn, suggested Townshend as a guitarist for the band. Daltrey recalled, “[Entwistle] said, ‘I know this great guitarist, he plays banjo in my trap band, but he’s a great guitarist. Why didn’t we give him a try?’ And that was when he brought Pete along.”
Townshend joined the Detours in 1961, which eventually became The Who along with their drummer Keith Moon, marking the beginning of the long-standing love-hate relationship that would characterise Townshend and Daltrey’s time in the band.
Right from the start, the conflict (or something akin to it) between the two was obvious. As Townshend said, “[Daltrey] ran things the way he wanted. If you argued with him, you usually got a bunch of fives.” Daltrey, too, later commented on how he was “just an instrument” for Townshend, but ultimately, he “accepted that” and was quite “happy with that”.
In the end, Townshend admitted that the rift between him and Daltrey didn’t happen because they argued too much but because they never quite communicated well enough. This wasn’t something that happened one fine morning but persisted right from the time The Who came into being. As Townshend said in an interview, “We [Townshend and Daltrey] don’t communicate. Over the years, we haven’t really developed a dialogue”.
Both of them have powerful and different personalities that often lie on opposite ends of the spectrum. And despite the blatant animosity that was palpable through most of their career, it clearly was not outright hatred. Else, they wouldn’t have been making music together; they would’ve gone their separate ways long ago. But they haven’t. So, there must be some kind of a spark left that still enables them to keep on creating new music together.
From the moment the two met to all the things they lost and achieved along the way, the journey has been long and difficult to even get to where they are now. But they’ve come far. If life is really all about making the best out of a bad situation, then Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend have lived a good one.