By Devon Ivie
The highest of highs, the lowest of lows, and the feistiest of fisticuffs between the Who’s Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend are documented all too well in Daltrey’s new memoir, Thanks a Lot Mr. Kibblewhite — the markers of a tumultuous and at times brutal relationship that shouldn’t exactly come as a surprise to the band’s most loyal fans. (They’re still good friends to this day, so who are we to judge?) Regardless, one altercation in Daltrey’s book rises above the rest, mostly because this particular one almost ended the band, along with Townshend’s life.
As Daltrey recalled, the Who was preparing for their Quadrophenia tour in 1973 when their record label, MCA, forced them to record a promo to stoke interest. Tensions began to flare when the filmmakers were too slow for the impatient Daltrey, robbing the band of valuable studio time to prepare for the tour — and when he voiced his annoyance, the proverbial shit hit the fan. “Pete, fueled by the best part of a bottle of brandy, went off like a firecracker. He was up in my face, prodding me. ‘You’ll do what you’re fucking well told,’ he sneered,” Daltrey writes. “This is not the way to talk to me, but I still backed off. The roadies knew what I was capable of so they sprang into action and held me back. ‘Let him go!’ screamed Pete. ‘I’ll kill the little fucker.’ They let me go.”
Let’s just say Daltrey had the upper hand in the fight, which quickly escalated to a life-or-death situation:
Next thing I knew, he’d swung a twenty-four-pound Les Paul guitar at me. It whistled past my ear and glanced off my shoulder, very nearly bringing a much earlier end to the Who. I still hadn’t retaliated, but I was beginning to feel quite put out. He’s called me a little fucker, after all. Finally, after almost ten years of [being a pacifist], after another left hook narrowly dodged, I replied with an uppercut to the jaw. Pete went up and backward like he’s been poleaxed. And then he fell down hard, cracking his head to the stage. I thought I’d killed him.
And to make matters only slightly worse:
Our publicist chose that moment to bring the American managing director from our newly signed record company onto the sound stage. The bigwig’s first sight of his big new signing was of the lead vocalist knockling the lead guitarist out cold. ‘My God,’ said the horrified MD. ‘Is it always like this?’ ‘No,’ said Keith. ‘Today is one of their better days.’
Daltrey wound up riding in the back of the ambulance with Townshend, “racked with guilt” and holding his hand for the entire trip to the hospital. Tensions were soon soothed, though, by the medical staff confirming a (relatively) full recovery would be made. “I was the one who had been attacked, but somehow I ended up feeling responsible. It was just like being back in the playground at Acton again,” Daltrey concludes. “Thankfully, Pete survived but for the rest of my life I’ve had to listen to him blaming me for the bald spot on the top of his head. To his day, I think he believes I was the aggressor but this is how I remember it.” Either way, better a bald spot than brain damage.