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The Who’s Roger Daltrey sings praises of teen-cancer charity

Updated March 12, 2018 - 12:49 pm

Saturday was a jam session, with Roger Daltrey fittingly at the front.

Word came down seemingly out of the dark that morning that Daltrey was up for a backstage talk, about champagne and charity and, sure, about his 50-year-career in rock ’n’ roll. Characteristic of a rock star, his overture arrived with short notice — let’s crank it up in four hours, and just three hours before Daltrey was to perform at The Joint at Hard Rock Hotel.

The purpose of this confab was to promote his Champagne Cuvee Roger Daltrey, a limited-edition champagne developed to trumpet The Who’s 50th anniversary and mark the 1969 rock-opera LP “Tommy” and subsequent world tour. Daltrey and fellow Who co-founder Pete Townshend have expanded the cuvee’s scope by donating proceeds of its sales to Teen Cancer America (bottles cost $128; go to Eminent-Life.com for info). The champagne is distributed exclusively by Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits.

Founded in 2012 in the U.S., the charity bridges the chasm between support for children and adults with all forms of cancer. In this project, the iconic vocalist who once bemoaned the “teenage wasteland” in “Baba O’Riley” is seeking to prevent just that.

Highlights of our talk as the 74-year-old rocker prepped for the stage, stretching, cleaning his ears and laying out his black shirt-pants ensemble:

A reach beyond research: Daltrey fairly spat out the term “research” when talking of his philanthropic passion, Teen Cancer America. He said many research studies are overfunded and stressed that there is an enormous need outside of traditional cancer studies.

“Let’s put it this way: There’s an awful lot you can do for cancer that isn’t research that can make an incredible difference in cancer survival,” Daltrey said. “You take care of the mental health, you take care of the psychological health, and for the group we deal with, that’s the most important help of all. It’s that age when they’re ready to fly the nest and change.”

Why he focuses on teens: “Up until now, this group has been hidden in the figures as children or adults, and they don’t exist as what they are. Teenagers are very (expletive) different than children,” Daltrey said. “They are a social order in and of themselves, and they deserve to be recognized as that … I maintain that one of the reasons there has been so little progress in some of the diseases teenagers get is the fact that nobody bothers to isolate them and study them.”

How he originally determined the void in teen-cancer support: “It was actually noticed by my GP doctor back in England, and we started it 30 years ago in Britain with the teenage cancer trust, and we built hospital wards for teenagers and young adults up to the age of about 23,” Daltrey said. “Just for that age group in the hospitals if they get cancer. And, of course, what we’ve found in those 30 years is that we’re seeing remarkable improvements on (prescription) meds, just because they are happier in a specialized place where they can socialize and communicate with other teenagers.”

Why he chose a high-end champagne brand rather than a tequila, whiskey or vodka: “Oh, the champagne! It was part of our 50th anniversary, and someone (specifically, Eminent Life founder and Chief Executive Officer Jerome Jacober) had suggested that we do champagne to celebrate that. It’s a good champagne from an organic vineyard first started in 1780 and is still run by the same family,” he said. “So, it’s an honor to have champagne named after you. For the first five years it was funded by The Who and fans of The Who and people like Eddie Vedder and Dave Grohl … And, well, champagne is far more high class (laughs)!”

The future of The Who in Las Vegas: The band played six dates at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace and has no dates booked in Vegas this year. But Daltrey said The Who would indeed return to Vegas if Townshend opts in.

“We’ve got offers. If Pete wanted to do it, I would do it; let’s put it that way. But he might not want to do it. He’s a very rich man and he doesn’t need to do it for the money,” Daltrey said. “And I don’t need to do it for the money now. I’m very happy doing what I’m doing with the charity, but this is what I love to do. I’m a singer, and I need to sing and work; that’s why I’m doing this with my little band, which is The Who band without Zak (Starkey, The Who’s drummer). So, let’s see where it goes. That’s just the way life is sometimes; full of surprises.”

That “hard-work stage”: Daltrey recalled the vast stage at the Colosseum, large even by The Who’s arena-sized standards.

“The stage was a hard-work stage for me, because the band was so far away. I’m not a solo singer, so to be so far back there with the band is where I’d like to be, because we’re brothers,” Daltrey said. “There was so much stage in front of me it was almost like having a moat in front of the audience. So, I found it hard work to do it, but I loved it. I actually loved it. It was a great sounding hall.”

How is The Who holding up as a live act? “I don’t know how long we’ll go on; we can’t go on forever, but I think we’re at the top of our game, and it’s iconic music,” Daltrey said. “These songs are so fabulous, and when you see them live you really get to see what the songs are all about. We never were a great recording band. But when you see it live, it’s one big kick in the (groin)!”

How a man who turned 74 on March 1 maintains his youthful vigor: “I haven’t got a secret; I just work hard, and I try to keep a passion for what I do,” said Daltrey, as he wiped off his blue-tinted glasses. “I love to sing, and through that I get a reward that money can’t buy.”

John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. Contact him at jkatsilometes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.

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