KEITH (THE LOON) MOON | ROCK & ROLL’S JACKSON POLLOCK OF DRUMS

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Keith Moon The Who

Pete Townsend, Keith Moon (front & center), Roger Daltrey, and John Entwistle of The Who

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That’s probably the best description of Keith Moon I’ve heard– He’s like the Jackson Pollock of drums, he wouldn’t paint inside the lines like the rest of the world.  Keith Moon has also been called the Jimi Hendrix of the drum kit.  His drumming directly reflected his life– loud, wild, original, inspired, and totally unpredictable.  Moon was the first Rock & Roll superstar drummer, and the first drummer to be the center of the band, as many considered him to be.  He was the constant driving force that fueled The Who to incredible heights.  Moon was blessed to be surrounded with the incredible talents of Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend, and John Entwistle (arguably one of the best Rock bass players ever), but to a lot of us — Keith Moon was The Who.

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Keith Moon, (in)famous drummer for The Who

Keith Moon, (in)famous drummer for The Who

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Keith Moon playing pinball at the International Pinball Tournament, an event coinciding with the opening of the group's rock opera "Tommy", ca. 1978.

Keith Moon playing pinball at the International Pinball Tournament, an event coinciding with the opening of the group's rock opera "Tommy", ca. 1978.

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Tony Fletcher, author of Moon: The Life and Death of a Rock Legend, says Moon “did nothing short of revolutionizing the drums.” Moon influenced the drummers for Cream (Ginger Baker), Jimi Hendrix (Mitch Mitchell) and Led Zeppelin (John Bonham), and countless others that followed.

Before Moon, drums would just keep a beat in the background. But with songs like “I Can See for Miles” — in which Moon’s accelerating drum rolls and cymbal smashes seemed to compete with, but perfectly complemented, guitarist Pete Townshend’s power chords — The Who set a new role for the drummer.

Watch this crazy video below to learn more about Keith Moon’s love of pinball–

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Roger Daltrey, lead singer, says the energy in that song “is just unbelievable… He sounds like a steam locomotive at full pelt. His speed is incredible.” Moon combined a variety of styles “and made very much his own thing out of the drums,” Daltrey says.

“Keith was the first to treat the drums as though they were a lead instrument…” Fletcher says. “He really made the drums an instrument that spoke very much in the same way that a lead guitar does.”

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Self-destructive Keith Moon -- known for his love of alcohol and excess in all things.

Self-destructive Keith Moon -- known for his love of alcohol and excess in all things.

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Roger Daltrey, Pete Townswen, John Entwistle & Keith Moon of The Who, ca. 1968.

Roger Daltrey, Peter Townshend, John Entwistle & Keith Moon of The Who, ca. 1968.

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(Above left) 16 piece drum set plus two tympani. six cymbals and a gong. Gotta have the gong. Keith Moon was playing Premier drums, likely with Remo black dot heads. He did play Ludwigs, even had some Vistalites, which he stocked with goldfish.

Keith Moon’s Classic Red Sparkle Premier setup consisted of two 14×22-inch bass drums, three 8×14 mounted toms, one 16×16 floor tom, a 5×14 Ludwig Supraphonic 400 snare and one extra floor tom of different sizes but mainly 16×18 or 16×16. Moon’s classic cymbal setup consisted of two Paiste Giant Beat 18″ crashes and one 20″ ride. In 1973, Moon added a second row of tom-toms (first four, then six) and, in 1975, two more timbales.

Moon’s kit became so expansive — he often joked that one single floor tom was devoted to hold his cocktails.

Watch the incredible video below to learn about the method to Keith Moon’s drumming madness–

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Though Moon was known for his boisterous, over-the-top behavior, Fletcher professes one myth about him isn’t true: That he drove a Rolls Royce (some say Cadillac, others say Continental… let’s just say it was a large, expensive car) into a Michigan hotel swimming pool during his 21st (20th in reality) birthday party. But Daltrey begs to differ. “I saw it.  We paid the bill (for the damages). It was $50,000. It’s vague now, but I just remember the car in the pool. And the chaos. And Keith being rushed off to the dentist (after he was arrested) because he knocked his front tooth out… But then I read in the biography that never happened, so maybe I’ve been living someone else’s life, I don’t know.”

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Ron Wood of the Rolling Stones and Keith Moon of The Who, backstage at the 1977 American Music Awards.

Ron Wood of the Rolling Stones and Keith Moon of The Who, backstage at the 1977 American Music Awards.

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keith moonKeith Moon The Who

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Keith Moon of The Who, ca. 1972.

Keith Moon of The Who, ca. 1972.

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Roger Daltrey, Peter Townshend, Keith Moon, and John Entwistle of The Who.  Check out Moon's crazy stacked platform heels.

Roger Daltrey, Peter Townshend, Keith Moon, and John Entwistle of The Who -- check out Moon's crazy stacked heels.

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Daltrey says he and Moon didn’t get along during their earlier years together. The band members’ relationship was “a clash of egos,” Daltrey says. Moon thought he should be at front of the stage.

Daltrey says Moon did everything to excess. “He was the most generous, the most mean, he was the funniest… he could be the most unfunny, everything — the most loving, the most hateful… Everything about him was extreme,” Daltrey says.

Moon’s life was a short one. He died in 1978 at the age of 32, ironically of an overdose of pills that were meant to combat his alcoholism. Unlike Led Zeppelin, which disbanded after the death of drummer John Bonham, The Who kept going, initially replacing Moon with Kenny Jones. But, of course, Jones couldn’t hope to fill Moon’s shoes — and Fletcher says Who fans agree he never did.

 

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The Who's drummer Keith Moon aiming a gun in front of his new, modern house, ca. 1972.

The Who's drummer Keith Moon aiming a gun in front of his new, modern house, ca. 1972.

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(Above right) John Entwistle, Roger Daltrey, Keith Moon, Pete Townshend performing on August 23rd, 1967, Flint, Michigan — the night of Keith Moon’s infamous 21st (truth be known, it was really his 20th) birthday party — where he allegedly drove a car into the pool and blew-up the toilet with M-80s (a stunt for which he was well-known and detested for by hoteliers worldwide).  This led to Keith Moon getting arrested, losing a tooth, and being banned for life from all Holiday Inn hotels — which is a dubious distinction in itself.

According to Pete Townshend, Keith Moon’s reputation for erratic behavior was something he cultivated. Once, on the way to an airport, Moon insisted they return to their hotel, saying , “I forgot something. We’ve got to go back!” When the limo returned, Moon ran to his room, grabbed the TV while it was plugged in, threw it out the window and into the pool. He then jumped back into the limousine, sighing “I nearly forgot.”

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Kim Moon aiming a shotgun at her husband Keith Moon's head.

Kim Moon aiming a shotgun at her husband Keith Moon's head.

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Keith Moon Laughing in His Sunken Living Room, ca. 1972.

Keith Moon Laughing in His Sunken Living Room, ca. 1972.

How does Fletcher want Keith Moon to be remembered? “I would hope… that he is better respected as a musician and as a drummer… and that people look back on Keith not just as ‘Moon the loon’ and this incredibly extravagant comedic character who really was one in a million in terms of personalities, but that they would also look back and say, ‘That’s somebody who played a major role in rock music,’ and in his own way every bit as important a role as Pete Townshend or Roger and certainly as (bassist John Entwistle). This was somebody without whom we might still be listening to drummers going ‘boom-cha, boom-cha.’”

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Joe Walsh, Fred Sessler and Keith Moon, ca. 1970s.

Joe Walsh, Fred Sessler and Keith Moon, ca. 1970s.

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Keith Moon of The Who, ca. 1976.

Keith Moon of The Who, ca. 1976.

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Keith Moon bangin' the skins for The Who

Keith Moon bangin' the skins for The Who

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A young fresh-faced Keith Moon on drums -- probably 14 or 15 yrs old.

A young fresh-faced Keith Moon on drums -- probably 14 or 15 yrs old.

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Above picture of Keith Moon VIA

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18 thoughts on “KEITH (THE LOON) MOON | ROCK & ROLL’S JACKSON POLLOCK OF DRUMS

  1. Looking at those (especially the next to last) pictures I could definitely see Jason Schwartzman in a bio-pic a la Walk the Line.

  2. I remember when we found out Keith Moon had died. There was no shock or sorrow. We weren’t surprised at all because of the way he lived. We all knew it was just a matter of time as he always did everything to excess. Unfortunately, at the time, he was more known for his antics and tearing up hotel rooms than his drumming ability. That came later when they couldn’t find anyone to replace him.

  3. unfortunatly they have already cast Mike Meyers. Schwartzman would have been perfect. (on a side note: im glad someone finally used David Cross for Allen Ginsberg, that was just waiting to happen!)

  4. i wonder if any of these people have ever heard a jazz record.
    keith moon was just emulating his idols. who did the same things.
    jackson pollock was definitely a jazz drummer.

    • True that! As much as I love him he wasn’t anything revolutionary – jazz drummers done all that before (Gene Krupa anyone?)

      • I totally agree with you for Gene Krupa, but Keith John Moon had a new style, more rock n roll, the first drummer at the center in a famous rock band…
        But we musn’t forget all the things Gene Krupa gives for the drums!

  5. Just wanted to let you know that I have a number of articles from British Music Mags from the 1960′s that I will be posting at my new blog

    Thought I would let you know

    Thanks

  6. The early revolutionary part of his drumming wasn’t the “jazz” influence so much as combining his drum corps influence and surf influence into Townshend’s R&B influenced songs. If Moon had a main influences it was more likely Mel Taylor and Hal Blaine out of the LA scene rather than Krupa or more modern jazzbos. That is, the LA surf/pop drummers channeled that Krupa influence to Moon. From Who’s Next on, you’re hearing out-of-context march cadences – especially over the verses.

    The other thing to consider is that Townshend’s demos for the later albums (from Who’s Next on) are well developed, including drum parts. Moon goes to constant 4 stroke ruffs and “off” beat 16th note triplets around Tommy and Live at Leeds – and Townshend incorporates that beginning with the demos for Who’s Next (Lifehouse). So how much of the percussion “composition” (versus the actual performance) is actually Pete rather than Keith is open to question.

  7. Why would anyone mention Krupa? It’s well known that Moon was good friends with Elvin Jones. In fact, he, Ginger Baker, and Mitch Mitchell all took lessons/”clinics” from Jones when he was in England with Coltrane in @ 1963.

  8. The car incident happened at a Holiday Inn on Pierson Road in Flint Michigan- The hotel is gone, but the legend remains. The Who played Atwood Stadium, which also held the awkward pairing of Jimi Hendrix opening for The Monkees… who’d a thunkit?

    • That hotel was on Bristol Road. One of the people with the Who that night took me there and showed me the pool and the chunk of junk missing from it where the car frame smacked it.

  9. salaam.
    this website, these photos struck a cord in my sould so incredibly deeper and harder. to be 22 years a female in 2010 i feel so anxious to be a part of a decade so many many years ago that defined true music, authentic humans running through the caution tapes of rebellion, and self liberation that has been passed on to today and forever forward. to look at photographs of still life at that time, of that person has seriously engaged me 100x more. thank you so much for this place to rest my eyes on …as i’m listening to “armenia city in the sky.”

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