Like any Acton boy in the 1950s and ’60s, Roger Daltrey was never afraid to stop talking and start throwing fists. Daltrey’s temper was legendary and was known to blow up on occasion, even when it was his bandmates. It was something Keith Moon experienced first hand and it almost cost the singer his stardom.
Back in 1965, The Who were the burning question on everybody’s lips, the band had begun to eviscerate audiences with their live shows and subsequent instrument destruction but tensions were running high along with a lot of the band members.
Caught between two musical powerhouses – though for slightly different reasons – Daltrey often acted as the middle man between Pete Townshend and Keith Moon. The guitarist was known for his own cantankerous personality, often quick to lash out verbally with his sharp tongue. The drummer was, instead, a bonafide party animal. While Moon’s increasing substance abuse was fraying tempers at one end, Townshend was pushing Daltrey increasingly out of the limelight at the other.
In the lead up to the bruising incident though, The Who were famed for their live shows but, during this period, the band had been on an unusual run of poor performances. One show even saw lead singer Daltrey mauled by fans, injuring his back in the process. Another show saw the band’s van stolen along with all the equipment inside. Then, to cap it all off, there was the band’s infamous set in Denmark which, after a few minutes of furious rock and roll, saw the crowd rush the stage and cause £10,000 worth of damages.
It was during that now-infamous tour that Daltrey’s patience for the increasingly incoherent Moon finally ran out and he could take it no longer. After a show of particularly bad playing from the drummer, Daltrey found Moon’s stash of drugs and flushed it away in an attempt to make a serious point about his growing dependency. Naturally, Moon was not best pleased and was soon in the face of the singer.
As any Acton local will tell you, that’s enough to wind up with some new knuckle marks on your head and, sure enough, Daltrey let rip across Moon’s soon-to-be-bloodied nose with a heavy throw. “It took about five people to hold me off him,” the singer remembered in Roger Daltrey: The Biography. “It wasn’t just because I hated him, it was just because I loved the band so much and thought it was being destroyed by those pills.”
In a turn of events that would be unthinkable in today’s clinical rock climate, Townshend and bassist John Entwhistle took the side of Moon during the debacle and agreed that Daltrey, by flushing Moon’s pills, had simply gone too far. They fired him from the group with immediate effect and signalled the end of his career before he could really get started. Of course, it was a decision that didn’t exactly last long.
Once The Who’s management duo Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp got involved with the antics of each member, the argument soon settled down. Once the manager’s explained the serious damage losing Daltrey’s vocals at this stage in the band’s career could do to their trajectory, the argument ended entirely. Sadly, Moon’s time in the band would come to a close prematurely with his death in 1978 after struggling to ever control his substance abuse.
It would allow The Who to not only jump on the success of their zeitgeist anthem ‘My Generation’ but to establish themselves as one of rock’s biggest acts.