When Roger Daltrey Rode to Brian Johnson’s Rescue
A pre-fame Brian Johnson received some invaluable advice from Roger Daltrey when the two crossed paths in 1973. He also marveled at the Who frontman’s equestrian prowess.
Their chance meeting was backstage at the British music television program Top of the Pops. Johnson was there with his pre-AC/DC band Geordie to promote their new song “All Because of You,” while Daltrey sang his debut solo single “Giving It All Away.”
“After the taping, [Geordie] went to the green room again for a couple of beers, fully expecting to get thrown out after an hour for not being famous enough,” Johnson writes in The Lives of Brian, which hits shelves on Oct. 25 in the United States. “But it didn’t happen — probably because Roger unexpectedly introduced himself to us at the bar. ‘Hello lads, how are you doin’?”
“I was intimidated at first,” Johnson adds. “I mean, the guy was an absolute icon, and he was wearing the coolest flared dungarees with just his suntan underneath and a golden crucifix around his neck — but he turned out to be a regular lad, and he couldn’t have been friendlier. In fact, he went out of his way to tell me that I had ‘great pipes’ — which, coming from the guy who’d sung ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again,’ was the greatest compliment I’d ever been given.”
After their performances, Daltrey invited Johnson to his house that Sunday to have lunch and a chat. It was a no-brainer for Johnson, who at the time was sharing a “filthy council flat with mattresses on the floor” with his bandmates in London.
Johnson was suitably awed when he arrived at the palatial coastal home belonging to Daltrey, who made his entrance in style. “Suddenly I heard the thud of approaching hooves, and when I looked up, I was treated to the most sensational sight — a beautiful white horse galloping towards me, no saddle, ridden by a bare-chested and barefoot man in powder blue jeans, with long, golden curly hair,” Johnson recalls. “He seemed to be holding on to the horse just by its mane.
“If this isn’t rock star, I thought to myself, I don’t know what is.”
Daltrey also gave Johnson a sneak peek at a piece of rock history. “‘[Pete] Townshend’s outdone himself this time,’ he said. ‘I just got this back. See what you think.’ It was a studio tape of the Who’s new album: Quadrophenia.”
After lunch, Daltrey explained why he’d invited Johnson to his house. “You told me that you were living in a filthy flat in Hackney,” he said. “Well, me and the missus went through all of that. So, I wanted to bring you here and show you what you can do if you stick at it, because there’s really no easy way — and if our paths never cross again, I just want to say that I really hope everything works out for you.”
Johnson said that “what struck me most was that you could tell he really meant it. From one singer to another — even though he was this huge rock star, and I was just a guy in a struggling band from Newcastle — he genuinely wanted me to succeed. ‘The secret is,’ he added, ‘don’t give up. Never give up.'”
“All Because of You” reached No. 6 in the U.K. after Geordie’s Top of the Pops appearance, becoming their first and last Top 10 hit. “Later on, when the lean years hit and my days of fame faded like a politician’s promise, there were times when Roger’s words were a distant memory,” Johnson writes. “But I clung on to them all the same, never giving up hope, even after my 30s crept up on me and kidnapped my 20s – even after I had to give up being a musician and get a ‘real job’ again.”
Needless to say, Johnson’s persistence paid off. By the dawn of the ’80s, he would be one of the most successful rockers in the world. As for his relationship with Daltrey, he writes, “Meanwhile, I’m happy to report that our paths did cross again. In fact, we still talk to this day.”
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