Pete Townsend, Keith Moon (front & center), Roger Daltrey, and John Entwistle of The Who.
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.
Keith Moon, (in)famous drummer for The Who
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–
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.”
(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.
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.”
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.
(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.”
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.'”