The late Great Keith Moon, The drummer with English rock group The Who, sadly passed away on 7 September 1978. Born 23 August 1946, Moon grew up in Wembley, London and took up drumming in the early 1960s. After performing with local band The Beachcombers, he joined The Who in 1964, before they had recorded their first single. He stayed with the band during their rise to fame, He occasionally collaborated with other musicians, and later made appearances on radio and film,Moon took lessons from one of the loudest contemporary drummers, Screaming Lord Sutch’s Carlo Little, at ten shillings a time. Moon initially played in the drumming style of American surf rock and jazz, with a mix of R&B, using grooves and fills of those genres, exemplified by the noted Los Angeles studio drummer Hal Blaine. But Moon played faster and louder, with more persistence and authority. Moon’s favourite musicians were jazz artists, particularly Gene Krupa, whose flamboyant style he subsequently copied. He also admired DJ Fontana, Ringo Starr, and The Shadows’ original drummer, Tony Meehan. As well as drumming, Moon was interested in singing, with a particular interest in Motown. One band Moon notably idolised was The Beach Boys. During this time, Moon joined his first serious band, The Escorts, replacing his then best friend, Gerry Evans. In December 1962, he joined The Beachcombers, a semi-professional London cover band who played rock’n’roll and hits by groups such as The Shadows.]During his time in the group, Moon incorporated various theatrical tricks into his act, including one instance where he “shot” the group’s lead singer with a starter pistol. The Beachcombers all had day jobs, including Moon, who was working in the sales department ofBritish Gypsum. He had the most interest among the band members in turning fully professional. So on April 1964, aged 17 he auditioned for The Who, who were looking for a permanent replacement for Doug Sandom.
Moon’s arrival in The Who changed the dynamics of the group. Sandom had generally been the members to keep peace as Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend feuded between themselves, but because of Moon’s temperament, this no longer occurred, so the group now had four members who would frequently be in conflict. “We used to fight regularly”, remembered Moon in later years. “John Entwistle and I used to have fights – it wasn’t very serious, it was more of an emotional spur-of-the moment thing”.Moon also clashed with Daltrey and Townshend, saying “We really have absolutely nothing in common apart from music” in a later interview.Although Townshend described him as a “completely different person to anyone I’ve ever met,” the pair did form a rapport in the early years, and enjoyed performing practical jokes and comedy improvisations together. Moon’s style of playing affected The Who’s musical structure, and while Entwistle initially found his lack of traditional time-keeping to be problematic, it created an original sound. Moon was known for his unique distinctive drumming style, which included exuberant and innovative drumming style, which was dramatic, suspenseful and often eschewed basic back beats for a fluid, busy technique focused on fast, cascading rolls across the toms, ambidextrous double bass drum work and wild cymbal crashes and washes playing zig-zag across the kit with a wash of cymbal. He joined The Who in 1964 along with Roger Daltrey (lead vocals, harmonica and guitar), Pete Townshend and John Entwistle (bass guitar, brass and vocals), and played on all albums and singles from their debut, 1964′s “Zoot Suit”, to 1978′s Who Are You,
Moon was particularly fond of touring with The Who, since it was the only chance he regularly got to socialise with his bandmates, and was generally restless and bored when he was not playing with the band. This would carry over to other aspects of his life later on, as he acted them out, as if his life were one long tour”.Antics like these earned him the nickname “Moon the Loon”.Moon led a very destructive lifestyle. From the first days of The Who, he began taking amphetamines, and in an early interview for the New Musical Express listed his favourite food as “French Blues”. He began visiting Soho clubs such as the Speakeasy and the Bag o’ Nails regularly, and the combination of pills and alcohol would continue to escalate into alcoholism and drug addiction later in life.We went through the same stages everybody goes through – the bloody drug corridor,” he later reflected, adding “Drinking suited the group a lot better”. According to Townshend, Moon began destroying hotel rooms when The Who were staying at the Hilton in Berlin on tour in autumn 1966.As well as hotels, Moon went on to destroy the homes of friends and even his own home, throwing furniture out of high windows and setting fire to buildings. Andrew Neill and Matthew Kent estimated that his destruction of hotel toilets and plumbing ran as high as £300,000. These destructive acts, often fuelled by drugs and alcohol, were Moon’s way of expressing his eccentricity; he enjoyed shocking the public with them. Longtime friend and personal assistant Dougal Butler observed: “He was trying to make people laugh and be Mr Funny, he wanted people to love him and enjoy him, but he would go so far. Like a train ride you couldn’t stop.”Once, while riding in a limousine on the way to an airport, Moon insisted they return to their hotel, saying, “I forgot something.” On reaching the hotel, he ran back to his room, grabbed the television, and threw it out the window into the swimming pool below. He then left the hotel and jumped back into the limo, sighing, “I nearly forgot. In one case, The Who were due to perform at The Valley (the London home of Charlton Athletic F.C.). The band members were waiting in the dressing room for Moon to arrive. A witness described the drummer’s sudden entry to the building: “Suddenly, there was a great crash and Keith Moon dropped through the ceiling, having smashed his way through the corrugated iron roof.”
Moon particularly enjoyed throwing cherry bombs down toilets while on tour. In time, he eventually used dynamite to destroy toilets, leading to an estimated figure of $500,000 damage to plumbing and fixtures. Moon’s favourite stunt was to flush powerful explosives down toilets. According to Fletcher, Moon’s toilet pyrotechnics began in 1965 when he purchased 500 cherry bombs.Over time, Moon graduated from cherry bombs to M-80 fireworks to sticks of dynamite, which became his explosive of choice.”All that porcelain flying through the air was quite unforgettable,” Moon recalled. “I never realised dynamite was so powerful. I’d been used to penny bangers before.”Moon quickly developed a reputation of “leaving holes” in bathroom floors and completely annihilating the toilets. The destruction mesmerized Moon and enhanced his public image as rock and roll’s premier hellraiser. Fletcher goes on to state that, “no toilet in a hotel or changing room was safe,” until Moon had exhausted his supply of explosives.On one occasion, Townshend walked into a hotel bathroom where Moon was staying, and noticed the toilet had disappeared, with just an S bend remaining. In response, Moon explained that a cherry bomb was about to detonate, so he threw it down the pan. He proceeded to present a case of five hundred bombs. “And of course from that moment on”, recalled Townshend, “we got thrown out of every hotel we ever stayed in.”Entwistle recalled being close to Moon on tour, stating “I suppose we were two of a kind” … “We shared a room on the road and got up to no good,” and consequently the two of them were often involved blowing up toilets together. In a 1981 interview with the Los Angeles Times, he confessed, “A lot of times when Keith was blowing up toilets I was standing behind him with the matches.”On one occasion, a hotel manager called Moon in his room and asked him to lower the volume on his cassette music player; the manager said The Who were making “too much noise.” In response, Moon asked the manager up to his room. When the manager arrived, Moon excused himself to the bathroom, lit a stick of dynamite in the toilet, and shut the bathroom door. Upon returning to the room, he asked the manager to stay for just a moment longer, as he wanted to explain something. Following the explosion, Moon informed the startled manager, “That was noise.” Moon then turned the cassette player back on and proclaimed, “This is The ‘Oo.”on another occasion in Alabama, Moon and Entwistle loaded a toilet with cherry bombs after being told that they could not receive room service. According to Entwistle, “That toilet was just dust all over the walls by the time we checked out. The management brought our suitcases down to the gig and said: ‘Don’t come back …’
At The site of the former Holiday Inn inFlint, Michigan. Moon’s 21st birthday party there became a notorious event in rock folklore. Since this picture was taken, most of the building has been demolished.On 23 August 1967, while on tour as the opening act for Herman’s Hermits, Moon reached new levels of excess at a Holiday Inn hotel in Flint, Michigan. They were celebrating Moon’s 21st birthday, although it was believed to be his 20th at the time. Entwistle later said, “He decided that if it was a publicised fact that it was his 21st birthday, he would be able to drink.]Moon immediately began drinking upon arriving in Flint. The Who spent the afternoon visiting local radio stations with Nancy Lewis, then the band’s publicist. Moon later posed for a photo outside the Holiday Inn in front of the “Happy Birthday Keith” sign erected by the hotel’s management. According to Lewis, Moon was very drunk by the time the band took to the stage at the Atwood High School football stadium.Upon returning to the hotel, Moon decided to start a food fight, and soon, cake began flying through the air. The evening culminated in Moon’s knocking his front tooth out. At a nearby hospital, doctors could not give him anaesthetic due to his inebriated state and he had to endure the removal of the remainder of the tooth without it. Back at the hotel, a melee erupted with fire extinguishers set off, guests and objects thrown into the swimming pool, and a piano reportedly destroyed. The chaos was halted only when police arrived, handguns drawn
Sadly Moon’s wild lifestyle began to undermine his health, music, and his reliability as a band member. During the 1973 Quadrophenia tour, at The Who’s debut US date in the Cow PalaceArena, Daly City, California, Moon ingested a large mixture of tranquillisers and brandy. In a 1979 interview, Townshend claimed that Moon had consumed Ketamine pills, while Fletcher claims he took PCP. During the concert, Moon passed out on his drum kit while the band was playing the song “Won’t Get Fooled Again”. The band stopped playing and a group of roadies carried Moon offstage. They gave him a shower and an injection of cortisone, then sent him back onstage after a thirty-minute delay. Moon passed out for good during the song “Magic Bus” and was again removed from the stage. The band continued without him for a few songs. Finally, Townshend asked, “Can anyone play the drums? – I mean somebody good”. A drummer in the audience, Scot Halpin, came up and played for the rest of the show. In the 1970s, Moon also suffered from a number of tragedies, notably the accidental death of his chauffeur, Neil Boland, and the breakdown of his marriage. He became increasingly addicted to drink, particularly brandy and champagne, and started to acquire a reputation for decadence and dark humour, giving him the nickname “Moon The Loon”. After relocating to Los Angeles during the mid-1970s with his personal assistant, Peter “Dougal” Butler, he attempted to make his only solo album, the poorly received Two Sides of the Moon. By the time of The Who’s final tours in 1976, and particularly during filming of The Kids Are Alright and recording of Who Are You, the gradual deterioration of his condition started to show, he blacked out on stage, and he was hospitalised on several occasions. Moon moved back to London in 1978, and died in 7 September 1978 after overdosing onHeminevrin, a drug designed to help curb alcohol abuse.
His eccentric and often self-destructive antics of Rock’n’Roll excess off stage have since become the stuff of legend and he is mentioned in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as one of the greatest of all rock and roll drummers, and was posthumously inducted into the Rock Hall as a member of The Who in 1990. Moon’s legacy, as a member of The Who, as a solo artist, and as an eccentric personality, continues to garner awards and praise, including a Rolling Stone readers’ pick placing him in second place of the magazine’s “best drummers of all time” in 2011, nearly 35 years after his death.