Daltrey gets dirty for history

— Why would an aging rocker row backward through the roiling waters of the Colorado River, then scale the river's sheer rocky walls using just one arm?

"A moment of complete and utter madness," laughs Roger Daltrey, veteran vocalist of The Who, who re-created the 1869 journey of explorer John Wesley Powell for The History Channel's new series "Extreme History with Roger Daltrey." The premiere episode, "Surviving the Colorado River," airs at 9:30 p.m. Sunday.

Madness? Maybe. But the 59-year-old musician obviously enjoyed himself tackling the hardships that faced the one-armed Powell and his men as they made their way down the wild, uncharted river on a mapping expedition.

In subsequent episodes of the 10-part "Extreme History" series, Daltrey dons a wolf skin to hunt buffalo the way the Indians did, herds cattle with cowboys on the Chisholm Trail, and learns to make a fire, caveman style. Following the practice of his subjects, Daltrey ate only what was naturally available during these re-enactments -- rattlesnakes and all.

"It didn't bother me. I'm very open-minded about food -- conscious of the fact that we are omnivores ... and we'll eat anything to stay alive," he says between munches from an hors d'oeuvres tray in a hotel suite.

OK, so what's the real reason Daltrey took the History Channel gig?

"I've been coming to America for almost 40 years," he explains. "I've been across it probably more times than most Americans, but I've seen virtually none of it. I've seen the inside of a lot of limos, lots of hotel rooms, concert halls and stadiums, but I'd never seen the bits of America that I'd always wanted to see. So this was a really good opportunity. It's been fantastic."

He's also a history buff.

"I feel very strongly that the only way to make history grab a new audience is to bring something new to it," Daltrey said. "I love history, yet at school it was the most boring thing I've ever sat through in my life. It was about as exciting as a clam race. All they wanted to talk about was numbers and dates. It ceased to be about people."

"Roger loves to get dirty on our show. Whenever he can do something more dangerous, he's up to it," says David Leepson, who produced the series in partnership with Matthew Ginsburg.

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