5 Drummerszone artists - Keith Moon

Keith Moon
* August 23, 1946 † September 07, 1978
United Kingdom
Longtime drummer for The Who, Keith Moon "the Loon" was born as Keith John Moon on 23 August 1946 in London (Wembley). Moon was primarily raised in the Northwest London suburb of Wembley. Three years later, the Moons welcomed a daughter, Linda, to their family. Alf Moon earned his living as a maintenance mechanic for the Wembley council and Kathleen "Kit" Moon took on part time cleaning jobs.

As Kit Moon recalled, Keith "from the age of three, he would sit home for hours beside an old gramophone player and play 78 records of stars like Nat King Cole and Scots leader Johnny Shand."

The Moon family would listen to the BBC comedy troupe, the Goons, and Keith would then act the comedy sketches the next week at school. When Keith was 12, the Moons welcomed another daughter, Lesley, to the family. While at school, Moon received a prescient comment from his music teacher, "great ability, but most guard against tendency to show off." While in grammar school, Moon was a loner despite a hyperactive personality.

Moon joined the Sea Cadets and started playing the bugle and then, trumpet. At 13, Moon moved from the trumpet to the bass drum. Moon became a fan of the drums and would see the Movie, "Drum Crazy," about the late great Jazz drummer, Gene Krupa. In 1970 Moon stated about the picture:
"That film was the only time I saw the way Krupa worked- all that juggling. (...) Gene Krupa, Jo Jones, Buddy Rich - to me they were the best. I'd see a big band with a double bass drum setup, twirling the sticks, all the theatrics. They're the people I really dug, growing up."
Autumn of 1961, Moon bought his first drum kit, a pearl blue Premier kit. Moon began practicing on his own. In 1962 Moon would gain admission to the Music Club at the Oldfield Hotel where Moon would watch various drummers and in particular, Screaming Lord Sutch and the Savages' drummer, Carlo Little. Moon asked Little for drum lessons and Moon would take lessons from Little for a few months.

Summer of 1962, Moon would play in a band called the Escorts. A member of the Escorts recalled, "The way he decided to play drums was outrageous. But he emulated Carlo Little and was the only person to do so. He was a real character. Madness bordering on genius."

In December 1962, Moon responded to an ad for a drummer in the band called the Beachcombers, who despite their name were not a surf band. Moon, nicknamed "Weasel," enjoyed an 18 month stint with the band. Moon was such an intense drummer that six inch nails were hammered into the stage to fasten his kit with rope.

Keith Moon is best known as long-time drummer for The Who. Keith was renowned for his offbeat style of playing - which meant he wasn't a real good timekeeper, but one of the most exciting drummers to hear. His strangely placed rolls and hits on classics like "I Can See for Miles" and "My generation" help set the Who apart from other bands of the era.
Classic Rock Page names Keith Moon "the best public relations machine any band could hope for": Keith said he never had a drum lesson, though he did. He said he drove a Lincoln into a Holiday Inn swimming pool for his 21st birthday; contrary to popular belief, he didn't. He even successfully shaved a year off his life by telling everyone he was born in 1947 when it was in fact 1946.

He also played the drums like no other. Moon felt that the drums should be front and center stage, the drummer an exciting and integral part of the band, not a stone faced time keeper as was the norm in the early days of rock. From his early days with a California style surf band to his final performances with The Who, Moon made sure the drummer was noticed.

The Who forced their old drummer Doug Sandom to leave the band early 1964. They were searching for a replacement. It has been written many times that Keith joined at a Who gig, dressed in a ginger suit with his hair dyed ginger and claiming could play drums better than the guy they had on drums that night. He got invited for an audition...

According to rock mythology, a slightly drunk Keith Moon auditioned for the band by performing a bashing rendition of "Road Runner" and then breaking the temporary drummer's kickdrum pedal and hi-hat. After the audition Moon returned to his drink, steeling himself for anticipated retribution over the damage to the drum set. Instead, the band offered to pick him up on Monday for a gig. Years later, Keith would contend that he was never formally asked to join the Who but was only asked: "What are you doing on Monday?"

Paul Friedlander writes in "The Who: People Try To Put Us Down", a chapter from his book Rock and Roll: A Social History (pp 120-131, 1996, Westview Press, Oxford, UK):
"Of the major British invasion groups, the Who were initially the most musically competent. They developed and used the power trio format (using only one guitar, drums, and bass) long before Cream, the Jimi Hendrix Experience, and Led Zepplin made it popular. Their definitions of the instruments' respective functions were different than traditional classic rock definitions - typified by the rhythm guitar, lead guitar, bass, and drums used by the Beatles and Stones. The Who's relatively complex harmonic structure, regular use of three-part vocal harmonies, and development of the "rock opera" format were innovative and sometimes overlooked."
Keith Moon was another who possessed innate musical talent; he learned trumpet and started drums by age fourteen. His idols were big band drummers Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich and Hollywood session player Hal Blaine, the man who played on many of the early surf music hits. Dave Marsh, in his creditable Who biography "Before I Get Old" notes that Moon not only tried to emulate their technique, power, and flamboyance - Krupa's twirling drumsticks, for example - but also copied their large drum sets, which at times included double kickdrums.

During his time with The Who he destroyed more drum kits than most musicians have the opportunity to play on. An obvious inspiration for Muppet drummer Animal, Moon's wild and zany side kept him in constant trouble and the Who in constant (financial) turmoil. It seemed Keith had the "Sid Vicious disease" of trying to live up to his legend. John Entwistle, The Who's bassist, recalls:
"He never seemed to be able to get offstage. He always had to be Keith Moon. He was playing the part of Keith Moon, because he couldn't remember what it was like to be normal. The only time he was normal was before two in the afternoon. After two, he became the alter ego."
"The Loon" once took eight animal tranquilizers in San Francisco, 1973. At the Cow Palace show he collapsed. Keith couldn't move, couldn't play. He was in a wheelchair for two days. There is a Super-8 film of when Keith's bandmembers brought him off the plane in a wheelchair: the doctor from Free Clinic says, "His heart is only beating once every 30 seconds! He's clinically dead!" And Keith only mumbles "Fuck off."

By the way: Scott Halpin was the lucky guy who filled in after Keith had collapsed was during the show.

In an interview with Musician magazine (July 1989) Who-guitarist Pete Townshend of The Who describes Keith as "sad in that way of people who are looking for love and don't take the direct approach until it's too late. He started by trying to make people laugh, and he ended by making them cry. He had the sadness of the comic."

In public, Moon lived his life as one long, grandstanding drum solo: a series of hilarious/outrageous events, seemingly without end. Many people claim Keith Moon was never the same after his wife Kim left him in 1973. Others relate that it was his 3 years ('74-'77) in the hedonistic climate of mid seventies California that had a bad influence. However, the Keith Moon that returned to England in late 1977 was a far cry from the Keith Moon that left England in 1974. He was out of shape and had grown increasingly dependant on, among other things, his long time nemesis, alcohol.

Keith's exorbitant wild lifestyle sometimes distract attention from his authentic drum-style. An interview with International Musician and Recording World (October 1978) covers some interesting aspects of Keith's drumming. For example, Keith Moon defends his huge drumkit on stage:
"I don't really see a full synthesized kit. But they're great to add colour and that's important. I've got 16 drums in my kit and on every song I use a different set of four or five so eventually I've used all 16 drums. Sometimes I use the timpani, sometimes the timbale, sometimes I do runs that'll go right around eight drums and sometimes I'll just use bass drum, snare drum and hi-hat. I've got everything I need there. I can cover from a roar with the timpani right up to the smallest timbale which is about 6". That's why I have so many drums onstage because, with The Who, there's Pete who plays a lot of chords and John who plays very intricate bass figures that I work with and we have this empathy between us."
Another topic is the way Keith Moon used his cymbals. Quite often he started a break on cymbals alone without the bass drum behind it, which was something alien to most drummers at the time. Keith in the same interview:
"If you hit the bass drum as well, you bring in some bottom; the cymbal gives you top and with both, you get something in between which is neither fully cymbal nor fully bass drum. Sometimes I do a single-stroke roll on cymbals for a "whoosh" effect. Again, we get back to colour. I believe very positively in colour in drumming. You know, there's so many drummers that can go through the routine but they don't add colour anywhere. They don't paint with the kit. That's what I like doing. I like painting, adding colour and effects and shocking people. Constantly, while I'm playing, I'm thinking two bars ahead. That gives me a chance to, if I'm in the middle of a roll, to do something I've already thought out so I can get out of the roll and into whatever I was already thinking about. Then when I'm there, I'm thinking another two bars ahead.
A third topic Keith covers in the interview is the tuning of his drumkit and his preparations to limit the damage done by his hard hitting drum-style:
"I work very closely with Bill, my roadie. I'll go around and tune the drums and then go out front while Bill plays them. I just tell him, "Use the blunt end and whack it as hard as you can." I get the tuning right and if we have three or four dates and we can't get to the hall in time for a soundcheck and I can't really walk on stage in front of the audience and start tuning the bloody things up and Bill knows how it should be tuned and he tunes it for me. After a show sometimes when the crew are breaking everything down, I occasionally go up and have a look around the kit and see if any heads need changing or anything. That happens quite a lot. We change the heads on every second show because I play very hard. What happens is the skin itself tends to lose its resonance after a couple of shows. You've thrashed the life out of it and it just gives up, really. We don't change all 16 drums, only the tom toms, snare drum, bass drum and one of the floor toms that I use a lot. The timbales are usually OK, but I suppose no skin stays on longer than a week. They do lose their tone after a while and I do tend to hit them hard.

Everything is tightened down and nailed and strengthened with extra screws drilled in. Everything is double braced so I can get up, as we do at the end of the act, and actually stand on the kit without breaking the fittings or ripping them away from the wood. Inside each drum I have a metal plate to support them so I can actually stand on top of the kit. The whole thing is solid as a rock."
On the evening of September 6, 1978, Keith Moon and his girlfriend Annette Walter-Lax attended a party thrown by Paul McCartney in honour of the movie "The Buddy Holly Story". It would be Keith's last night out.

After attending the party and the premiere, Moon and Walter-Lax, returned to their London apartment on Park Street. Ironically, Moon's flat was the same place where Cass Elliott, the former singer for The Mamas and Papas died in 1974. Keith proceeded to have a late supper and watch a movie on video. It appears that at some juncture, Keith ingested a number of Heminevrin (chlormethiazole). It's a medication he had been prescribed, in order to combat the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal as well as episodes of epilepsy.

Moon awoke the next morning (September 7, 1978), and asked his girlfriend to cook him breakfast. When she complained that he was being inconsiderate in asking her to get up and cook another meal, Moon snapped "If you don't like it, you can fuck off!" These are reported to be Moon's last words.

Despite their argument they had steak for breakfast together. After that Keith consumed some more Heminevrin tablets and they both went back to sleep. After years of illicit drug taking it's ironic that the drug Heminevrin, prescribed to control his alcoholism, would be the drug that killed Keith.

Stories appear to vary when it comes to the last moments. One account reports that Walter-Lax arose at mid-day, leaving Keith in bed. She returned to the bedroom at approximately 4:30 PM, to find him lifeless. The other account is that when Walter-Lax awoke at approximately 2:00 PM, she found Moon dead.

The autopsy revealed 28 undissolved Heminevrin tablets in Moon's stomach, or 14 times the stated dosage. Whatever his sins, moderation was not one of them. One of rock's most talented and exciting drummers, and arguably its' greatest personification of its excesses, was dead.

Other bands have suffered deaths in the family and soldiered on. Moon was no mere drummer, however; his triple-forte, steamroller approach on that instrument was the perfect complement to Townshend's on guitar. The style went with the man.

Danny Kortchmar is one of several guitarists employed on Moon's solo album, Two Sides of the Moon. Kortchmar remembers Keith very well:
"When we started playing with him, somebody counted a tune off and I'd never heard anything like it in my life when he came in. Because he doesn't play like most drummers: quarter-notes on drums and basic snare with a couple of fills. He plays full-out as soon as he starts: eighth-notes on bass drums and fills all over the place. It was intense."
Keith Moon was replaced in the Who's lineup by Kenney Jones, who was known from his work in the 1960's mod band The Small Faces, as well as some of the work that Kenney did for the "Tommy" movie project in 1974.