Editors Note – its not often that one gets to read and edit an article written about a well known historical figure, let alone a well known historical drumming figure, written by someone who actually knew them well. Such is this Groovers and Shakers article – Bob Henrit was a contemporary of Keith Moon, and they considered themselves friends, not just acquaintances. So, all things considered, this is a rare article. It’s long, and it is honest, but its is a unique look at a unique drummer.
I have written about Keith Moon (aka ‘The Wild Man of Rock’) several times over the years although this is the first time within the format of a ‘Groovers and Shakers’ piece. In my not so humble opinion he actually deserves to be in this drummers’ pantheon amongst the guys who made us what we are today more than most. It’s not until one gets to America and talks drums and drumming, as I’m fortunate to do from time to time, that one gets to realise his true worth and the scale of his influence.
Keith Moon was born in North West London on August 23rd 1946 to Alfred and Kathleen Moon and grew up in Alperton, a suburb of Wembley, in Middlesex. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone to learn he was hyperactive as a child with a vivid imagination and a particular fondness for The Goon Show which was a zany radio programme starring Peter Sellers. Having failed his 11+ exam in year six at Junior School, he missed out on going to a Grammar School and instead he attended Alperton Secondary Modern School.
His art teacher described him tellingly in a report at the time as: “Retarded artistically, idiotic in other respects”. His music teacher hit the nail on the head even more when she wrote with uncanny premonition that: “Moon has great ability, but must guard against a tendency to show off!”
He left school earlier than most in 1961 at age fourteen, and enrolled at Harrow Technical College which ultimately led him in the direction of a ‘proper job’ – as a radio repairman. This made it possible to buy his first drum kit. After this he worked in the sales department of British Gypsum, a company which produced plaster and plasterboard. Possibly because of this he had a burning desire to turn professional. In April 1964, at age seventeen, he auditioned for the Who as a replacement for their original drummer, an older guy called Doug Sandom.
He started his musical career playing bugle in the Sea Cadets before moving to drums which he felt were easier to play. This was during the early 1960s. After playing with a local covers band, ‘The Escorts’, he moved on to ‘The Beachcombers’’ before he joined ‘The Who’ who had not long before been called ‘The Detours’ prior to wisely changing their name for the last time in 1964.
To get an early grounding in drums Moonie simply walked into music shops and played their drums until he knew enough about them to make it worthwhile taking lessons more formally. He chose one of the loudest of contemporary drummers to teach him: Carlo Little who played with Screaming Lord Sutch’s Savages and perhaps more significantly with Cyril Davies’ All-Stars. Moonie paid him ten shillings (50p) per lesson.
Keith’s early playing style was heavily influenced by an esoteric mix of jazz, surf music, and rhythm & blues; exemplified by renowned Los Angeles studio drummer: Hal Blaine. His favourite musicians were jazz artists, including Gene Krupa (whose highly flamboyant style he subsequently copied). He also admired Elvis’ original drummer, DJ Fontana, Tony Meehan from The Shadows and the Pretty Things’ Viv Prince (and in a Melody Maker interview he kindly once said I was one of his favourites too!)
He evidently wasn’t much of a singer but, like most drummers he liked to give it a try, especially on Motown songs – he was the inspiration for a song I wrote for me and Bobby Elliott called “Why Won’t They Let Us Drummers Sing?”! According to Roger Daltrey (who may have had his tongue in his cheek at the time) Moonie idolised the Beach Boys and given the opportunity, would have left The Who to play for the California band – even at the peak of his own band’s fame!
We had a mutual friend in a chap called Gerry Evans who for his sins lived very close to him. Moonie evidently replaced Gerry in ‘The Escorts’ and for quite some time Gerry was Moonie’s reluctant partner-in-crime but despite that setback went on to be a big wheel in the marketing, manufacturing and retail side of the drum business. He was ultimately my partner in Henrit’s Drumstore and my middle son’s Godfather.
Moonie remained firmly imbedded with The Who during their climb to fame, although the record label weren’t sure about him and actually sent another drummer to one of the band’s recording sessions. I’d like to say that what could have been a crucial event took place in IBC studios when I was just leaving a ‘Unit 4 + 2’ recording session, and Moonie was just arriving. This was the very first time I met him. Unfortunately I have no proof of this being that momentous occasion but in no time at all the interloper was evidently sent packing out of the studio. As you can imagine trying to get Moonie to do anything he didn’t want to do was easier said than done.
Of course he was quickly recognisable to absolutely anybody (drummer or otherwise) for his highly flamboyant drumming style. This was described somewhere as “emphasising toms, cymbal crashes, and drum fills”. I suppose that does sum his playing style up in very few words, but certainly doesn’t cover the bombastic side of it. He was capable of breaking drums as much as he was capable of breaking hotel rooms! To be honest of course he wasn’t the only one in The Who breaking things. Pete Townsend may well have started the ball rolling by accidentally breaking guitars and speaker cabinets whereupon the audience were disappointed if he didn’t do it at every gig. This was quite some time before Moonie got into his stride destroying his own, and other people’s property.
Moonie developed a reputation for not only smashing his drums on stage but also for destroying hotel rooms on tour. He was partial to blowing up toilets with cherry bombs, or even dynamite, and of course by destroying television sets. Moon actually enjoyed touring and socialising, and became bored and agitated when the Who weren’t rushing around the world. His alleged 21st birthday party in Flint, Michigan has been enshrined in music folklore as a notorious example of decadent behaviour by rock groups.
He occasionally collaborated with other musicians outside of The Who on records and live gigs and later appeared in films, but considered playing in The Who to be his primary occupation. Of course he remained a member of the band until his death.
Besides his film work outside of working with The Who, after he moved to LA Moonie actually made an album on his own. It was called ‘Two Sides Of The Moon’ and evidently wasn’t particularly successful but I’m not sure that was the point. In typical Keith Moon fashion he did it because he could.
Like Alicia Bridges he ‘liked the night-life’ and he could often be found boogieing at up-market London watering holes like the ‘Cromwellian’, the ‘Bag o’ Nails’, the ‘Speakeasy’, the ‘Scotch at St. James’ or the ‘Revolution’. Here he, and sometimes I, would get up at the drop of a hat and sit in with whichever band was playing. The interesting thing to me is that, having observed him closely, he played more or less the same thing to every song! A bass playing friend of mine, who wishes to remain anonymous, recalls Moonie sitting in with his soul band at the ‘Bag o’ Nails’ and playing ‘Walking The Dog’ as if it were ‘My Generation’! Moonie admitted to me once that he couldn’t play slow music and I told him not to worry about it, he wasn’t likely to have the need to do that in the Who!
He was desperate to join in with songs like ‘When A Man Loves A Woman’ or ‘My Girl’ but he simply couldn’t. I’ve always thought this was because his unique style wouldn’t let him. His forte was really playing fast and faster. Having said that, his style, like Ginger Baker’s, Ringo Starr’s, Charlie Watts’ and John Bonham’s, contributed totally to, and for my money even defined, the sound of their bands. It actually dictated the feel of the music that they played and him not being able to play My Girl shouldn’t have slowed him down at all since to the best of my knowledge The Who didn’t often play that number!
In the mid-sixties we would frequently find oneself on the same show with a great many other bands and this was how our interacting was done and lifelong friendships forged. Not that we called it that. Besides appearing at the same time on mid-sixties TV shows like ‘Ready Steady Go’, ‘Thank Your Lucky Stars’ and eventually ‘Top of The Pops’ where we all mimed, something I’m sure Moonie would have admitted he did with difficulty. I’m not sure he saw the point.
From time to time we did some live gigs together when ‘The Roulettes’, a group (we weren’t called bands then) I was in at that time, supported the Who. I was surprised to discover that at that time in the mid-sixties, even though he had two bass drums, he only had a bass pedal on the right hand one! The left one was simply to support the toms over on the hi-hat side, although there was a time he didn’t even have a hi hat. I realise Moonie certainly did use two basses because you can hear them thundering on record, but at that time he had just a single pedal.
I also discovered that as far as Pete Townsend’s instrument wrecking was concerned the Marshall cabinets he attacked with his guitar were empty and had easily-replaceable sacking tacked across their fronts. Furthermore, one of the roadies supported the empty cabinets from behind to stop them from toppling over! However he really was breaking expensive guitars though.
I vividly remember when I was in Argent doing a gig in Rotterdam with The Who and The Eagles where Moonie invited me into their dressing room for a drink. He got MY bottle of Remy Martin out of a full crate which was stashed behind his leather armchair which went everywhere with him in its own flight case.
“Dear boy”, he said, “this is for you – the rest are for me”.
He confided in me that he’d just switched over from drinking a bottle of whisky a day because his doctor had advised him that he would live just a little longer if he drank brandy instead!
At that time he was using a Gretsch walnut snare drum called a ‘DRB special’ with his massive Premier kit. He had several of these mystery drums which were custom-built in New York. He actually offered me one with my brandy, but I was too polite to take it. I bitterly regret the rash action now, because I really would have liked to have some sort of meaningful memento of him.
Since we’ve inadvertently touched on the ‘Dear Boy’s’ excesses I suppose it’s time for a non-drumming story – or two!
Perhaps of all the Moonie stories he’s entertained me with over time, my favourite for once involves very little danger for those around him. It simply needed a can of Campbell’s soup (other makes are available) and a malicious sense of humour. Keith would contrive to stagger on to a ‘plane in front of everybody else complaining of a hangover. While no-one was looking would surreptitiously empty an already opened can of vegetable soup into his sick-bag and replace it surreptitiously in the pocket of the seat back in front of him. As the flight got going Keith would begin to make loud moaning noises and complain of air-sickness. Eventually he’d grab the sick-bag and ostensibly be violently sick into it. As the first-class passengers and stewardesses around him began to be genuinely concerned for his health, he’d sit back, slowly tip up the bag and swallow the Campbell’s soup with that famous wicked grin on his face. By this time glamorous film stars, dowager Duchesses and the like would be fainting with shock. Moonie would simply sit back and order himself another drink to take the taste of the cold soup away!
He was very good at getting people to do things was Keith. If he was playing a joke on you he’d work at it until you laughed. He wouldn’t care how long it took or what he had to do. I once spoke to Bob Zildjian about Keith and his antics and was surprised to discover he was singularly unimpressed. He intimated musicians have been doing that sort of thing for almost a hundred years and went on to tell me a story about a musician during the hey-day of vaudeville in America. It’s too rude for publication here, but involves a singing cowboy, a feather and his easily excitable horse…
Moonie may, or may not, have had anything to do with arousing horses, but he certainly knew a thing or two about throwing televisions out of hotel windows. This activity was well-documented, but it wasn’t simply a question of unplugging it, opening the window and letting it go. No, he sent out for extra lengths of mains lead and aerial co-axial so the set would actually be working on its way down towards the swimming pool and oblivion!
There is another ‘plane story which I’m not quite so keen on since – there was a huge element of danger about it for everybody on board – no one was safe – wherever they were sitting.
Moonie bursts into the cockpit on a trans-Atlantic flight with his drumsticks and proceeds to play rudiments all over the instruments and controls. Not surprisingly the pilot is not particularly thrilled by this behaviour and proceeds to drop our Keith off at the very next available airport – which happens to be in the Bahamas! This costly unscheduled stop found its way into all the national papers. He told me the `truth’ when he finally arrived back in England. This story is true and it’s to his eternal credit, that he “never let the truth get in the way of a good story”. It’s also a good thing that even he wouldn’t be able to break into a cockpit in the 21st Century.
Having said that, I crave your indulgence to tell my second most-favourite Moonie story which involves a harassed hotel manager who requests he turn off the ‘noise’ blaring out from the early ghetto-blaster which our Keith has balanced on his shoulder. “Come with me”, he says and takes the manager up in the lift and along the corridors up to his room. “Stand here”, he commands, while he goes inside and closes the door. Keith proceeds to wreck the room with a maximum of noise in record time and appears at the door, still with the ghetto blaster on his shoulder. “That was a noise, he said to the hapless manager while turning the music back on, “this is the f**king Who!”
Ok, as entertaining as his excesses are at a distance, these ‘Groovers & Shakers’ pieces are supposed to be about Drums, Drummers and Drumming so here goes.
I played one of Keith’s kits once when I was making Roger Daltrey’s first solo album in the spring of 1973. The recording was done in the barn next to Roger’s house in deepest Sussex and it just happened to be equipped with one of Moonie’s several Premier kits. This one was red with a pair of those odd-sized double-headed toms Premier made for years for Eric Delaney mounted on the bass drum. Up until that time (1973) I’d only had a single mounted tom even though I had a pair of different sized bass drums and a couple of floor toms. Having two top toms was real turn-on for me, I couldn’t leave them alone. Since then I wouldn’t be seen dead without a pair of rack toms, although I admire the discipline of scintillating with just a single tom like Clem Burke and Jim Keltner used to.
Obviously Keith Moon wouldn’t have been at his best behind a really small drum kit although of course like most drummers of his generation he started out on one. But his approach to drums was more of a global thing – he was something of an octopus. He’s on record as saying he worked from the shoulder with a sort of whiplash action which didn’t put too much strain on his wrists. But he did confess to being physically tired after a show and needing a long, long time to unwind. However, while he was playing he transcended the physical side. He’d try to involve himself entirely with the music so that then the drums would become part of it. He admitted to a talent to function physically while his consciousness was elsewhere, and, it seems he applied this philosophy to his life as well as his drumming.
It’s a given that he was adamant that the drummer should be aware of what the rest of the band was doing – responsive to the nuances of one musician against another that is, though it’s a moot-point as to whether he always practised what he preached.
It’s no secret that Keith wasn’t the most technical of drummers, of course he knew as many of the rudiments that he wanted to, but he seldom played the more involved ones. But the thing is, it simply didn’t matter. The great Tony Williams once described Keith’s playing as “beautiful and totally free”.
He seemed to make up his own combinations of beats. He really didn’t seem to care which hand he finished on so long as it was near a cymbal he could hit for the downbeat after a fill. Buddy Rich also seemed to have that cavalier sort of attitude to the learning of rudiments, but you could never be sure that he meant it since he appeared to play them all the time. Moonie was a natural and never particular about which way a fill round the toms went. He didn’t care if he finished up on his smallest tom or his largest, just so long as he was in time.
Equipment-wise Keith was involved heavily with Premier for just about all of his professional career and so was in the enviable position of being able to persuade them to make things especially for him – even if they didn’t actually want to. The company never actually made a 15″ diameter tom during his day but they did one especially for him. Perhaps his best-remembered kit consisted of a pair of 22″ single-headed bass drums, with 12, 13, 14 and 16″ double-headed toms mounted on them. In front of these were single headed toms measuring 12, 13, 14, 15 and 16″. To his r
ght he sometimes had four floor toms (18’s and 16’s) and also a hi-hat in the half-open position. There are photos with a floor tom on the left of this set too and he even tried playing with no hi hat at all. He also had a pair of timbales and a couple of timpani, and, towards the end, a couple of gongs. Sometimes he used the 5″ wooden Gretsch snare drum, but from time to time you’d see him with a Premier metal shell or perhaps a Ludwig 400.
He did make the odd excursion into the world of American drums. At one time he had a four drum Ludwig ‘Super Classic’ kit with a ‘400’ snare drum, as well as a double bass drum set up with a pair of 13″ mounted toms and a couple of 16 x 16″ floor toms (one on his left, the other on his right). He also had a see through Zickos set which he was known to have filled with water and goldfish. Like Moonie I doubt they survived their time in show-business.
His choice of cymbals was unusual too. For years the counter-point to his half-open locked hi-hat was a 20″ crash/ride which gave him the opportunity to really build on a full ride sound, more or less in the same way Ringo had with the Beatles. His hi-hats were 15’s while the rest of his set were 18’s, 20’s and 22’s invariably with a 14″ splash. Mostly these cymbals were Zildjians, but from time to time he seems to have played Paiste too. I remember reading an interview with Barrymore Barlowe some years ago where he alleged that he and Moonie were neck and neck as to who had broken the most cymbals. This is not to denigrate any particular company’s products, Moonie was nothing if not fair – he’d break it whoever manufactured it!
Around ‘77/78 he used to turn up to my drum shop in London’s Wardour Street every Friday. He’d park the white Rolls outside on the triple yellow lines and we’d sit in the back drinking a little medicinal brandy, listening to tapes of The Who and debating life and the universe. We discussed an idea I had for him to get Premier to put snares on all his drums – including the bass drum. Moonie was into it and I even now I think it was a great plan, although just for him. He was the only drummer I could think of who could have possibly carried it off so the idea died with him. Can you imagine it, snappy sounds on every single one of his drums?
One day he arrived outside the Drumstore with his boot chock-full of allegedly surplus-to-needs snare drums which he wanted to dispose of. He’d been cleaning out a room, he said, and discovered all these drums. Did we want them? In the interests of him having any snare drums to play we decided to pass on his generous offer.
As far as adulation is concerned as I write this in 2017 it’s 39 years since his death and his drumming continues to be praised by critics and fellow musicians. He was posthumously inducted into the Modern Drummer Hall of fame, becoming him only the second rock drummer to be honoured. And, in 2011, he was voted the second-greatest drummer in history in a Rolling Stone Magazine readers’ poll.
Moonie didn’t quite see it that way and he said in the Melody Maker in 1970, in an uncharacteristically self-effacing way: “I suppose as a drummer I’m adequate. I’ve got no real aspirations to be a great drummer, I just want to play drums for The Who and that’s it.”
Well he certainly achieved that ambition and their discography comprises at least 11 studio albums, 23 live albums, a dozen compilation albums, 5 soundtracks – not forgetting 3 EP’s.
But of course that’s not all; since his whole life was something of an act it was obvious he had a burning ambition to make films too.
His first acting role was in 1971, in Frank Zappa’s ‘200 Motels’. His next film role was J.D. Clover, drummer for the fictional Stray Cats at a holiday camp during the early days of UK rock‘n’roll in ‘That’ll Be the Day’. He re-enacted the role for the film’s 1974 sequel, ‘Stardust’ before
laying Uncle Ernie in Ken Russell’s film of ‘Tommy’. Moonie’s last appearance on the silver screen was in 1978’s ‘Sextette’ with Tony Curtis, Ringo Starr and Alice Cooper.
The seventies were not exactly a good time for our hero. He suffered from running into a number of stumbling blocks viz the responsibility for the accidental death of his driver, the breakdown of his marriage and subsequent loss of his family. These events left him addicted to alcohol. He moved to Los Angeles and recorded his only solo album, the not particularly well received ‘Two Sides Of The Moon’.
These setbacks took their toll on him and on several occasions while touring with The Who he passed-out on stage and needed to be hospitalised. By their final tour with him in 1976, and particularly during production of ‘The Kids Are Alright’ and ‘Who Are You?’ his decline was becoming evident. He moved back to London in 1978, and in September of that year he died from an overdose of Hemenvrin, a drug formulated to treat or prevent symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.
He was never happier than when he was touring, since it was his only chance to regularly socialise with his bandmates. He was generally restless and bored when not playing live. This later spilled over into other aspects of his life and, as Who biographer Dave Marsh wrote: it was “as if his life were one long tour”. These capers earned him the nickname “Moon the Loon.”
Moon’s style of drumming was considered unique by his bandmates, although they sometimes found his unconventional playing frustrating; John Entwistle noted that he tended to play faster or slower according to his mood. “He wouldn’t play across his kit,” he later added. “He’d play zig-zag. That’s why he had two sets of tom-toms. He’d move his arms forward like a skier.” Daltrey said that Moon “just instinctively put drum rolls in places that other people would never have thought of putting them.
Moon’s Classic Red Sparkle Premier setup consisted of two 22-inch bass drums, three 14-inch mounted toms, two 16-inch floor toms and a 14-inch Ludwig ‘400’ snare. His cymbals consisted of two Paiste Giant Beat 18-inch crashes and one 20-inch ride.] From 1967 to 1969 Moon used the “Pictures of Lily” drum kit (so named for its artwork), which had two 22” bass drums, two 16”-inch floor toms and three mounted toms. In recognition of his loyalty to the company, Premier reissued the kit in 2006 as the “Spirit of Lily.”
By 1970 Keith had begun to use timbales, gongs and timpani, and these were included in his setup for the rest of his career. In 1973 Eddie Haynes from Premier, began talking to Moonie about specific requirements. At one point, he wanted a white kit with gold-plated fittings. When it was pointed out that it would be prohibitively expensive, Moon replied: “Dear boy, do exactly as you feel it should be, but that’s the way I want it.” The kit was eventually fitted with copper fittings and later donated to his godson, Ringo’s young son Zak.
On the Who’s 1967 US package tour at the RKO Theatre in New York they were performing five shows a day which led to Moonie kicking over his drum kit after every show. Lat
r that year they were appearing on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. He got someone to put gunpowder into one of his bass drums; unfortunately the guy used far too much powder. During “My Generation” he set off the charge which set fire to Pete Townshend’s hair and embedded a piece of cymbal in Moonie’s arm. A clip of the incident became the opening scene for the film The Kids Are Alright.
Internet rumour has it that Moonie inspired the name for Led Zeppelin. When he briefly considered leaving the Who in 1966, he spoke with Entwistle and Page about forming a supergroup. The suggestion had gone down like a “lead Zeppelin”. Although the supergroup was never formed, Page remembered the phrase and later adapted it as the name of his new band.
According to Pete Townshend, Moon began destroying hotel rooms as early as 1966 when the Who stayed at the Berlin Hilton on tour.
“The drinking went from being a joke to being a problem. On ‘That’ll Be The Day’ it was social drinking. By the time Stardust came around it was hard drinking.”
Flint Michigan, during what now seems to be an unlikely tour with Herman’s Hermits, was where Moonie’s 21st birthday (or was it really his 20th elevated so the ensuing publicity would allow him to legally drink in America?’) took place. Anyhow, however many trips around the sun he had taken, it’s been cited as a notorious example of decadent behaviour by rock groups. Seizing the moment, the uncompromising Holiday Inn management presented the groups with a bill for $24,000. But there was worse to come – during the Sixties John Entwistle estimated they lost about £150,000. Much of it wasted on replacing the plumbing and broken fixtures and fittings in hotel rooms. And, at the end of their 1975 UK tour, when they were more financially stable, Keith’s share of the Who’s profits after his profligate behaviour came to £34.50.
There was a time in his career when nobody was sure he’d be able to finish a show without incident. His very last gig with the band was in Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens on 21 October, 1976. Maple Leaf Gardens is now a supermarket and there is absolutely no evidence that Moonie’s star faded right there in the freezing cold of the ice the floor of the auditorium was laid on
Inevitably Moonie’s self-destructive lifestyle began to undermine his health and reliability so much that during the 1973 Quadrophenia tour, at the Cow Palace in San Francisco, he swallowed a dangerous mixture of tranquillisers and brandy and passed-out on his drum kit during “Won’t Get Fooled Again”. The rest of the band stopped playing, and their roadies carried him off. After a shower and a shot of cortisone he came back on before passing-out again during “Magic Bus” and left the stage. Seizing the moment Pete Townshend asked the question all drummers want to hear: “Can anyone play the drums? – I mean somebody good?” A drummer in the audience came up and played the rest of the show.
Everybody involved in The Who contemplated getting rid of Moon, but all came to the conclusion that that doing so would actually make his life even worse.
In mid-1978 Moon came back to England, away from the temptations of Los Angeles. He wanted to sort himself out and moved into a flat belonging to Harry Nilsson in London’s Mayfair. This was where Cass Elliott once of ‘The Mamas and Papas’ had died four years earlier (although not from choking on a sandwich as suspected). Nilsson was concerned about letting the flat to Moon, believing it was cursed.
After moving in, Moon began a prescribed course of sedatives to help alleviate his alcohol withdrawal symptoms. He wanted to get sober, but it seems he wanted to do it at home, not in a hospital.
Not long after this he was said to be having difficulty playing the drums. According to one of the roadies who witnessed him in the studio trying to overdub drums for ‘The Kids Are Alright’, he said, “After two or three hours, he got more and more sluggish, he could barely hold a drum stick.”
After attending a party with Paul McCartney he returned to the flat, eventually went to bed and was found dead on the morning of September 7th, 1978. Police determined that there were 32 Heminevrin pills in his system. Six of these had been digested and were easily enough to cause his death; the other 26 were undigested when he died. Experts said he should never have been given the drug.
Keith Moon was cremated on 13 September 1978 at Golders Green, and his ashes were scattered in its Gardens of Remembrance alongside those of Larry Adler, Lionel Bart, Marc Bolan, Johnny Kidd, Phil Seamen, Viv Stanshall and his hero: Peter Sellers.
As it happened negotiations were well under-way between Keith and me to write the official, unexpurgated Keith Moon biography when he accidentally shuffled-off his mortal coil. It’s a shame the book didn’t happen because I’m sure that once again, neither he, nor I, would have let the truth stand in the way of a good story.
In true nonsensical Moonie style the London 2012 Summer Olympic committee contacted the Who’s manager Bill Curbishley about Keith Moon performing at the games. This was 34 years after his death.
In an interview with The Times the Who’s manager quipped, “I emailed back saying Keith now resides in Golders Green Crematorium, having lived up to the Who’s anthemic line ‘I hope I die before I get old’ … If they have a round table, some glasses and candles, we might contact him…”
What on earth would Mooney have made of that?
According to Nick Televski, Moonie “was to the drums what Jimi Hendrix was to the guitar”. While Holly George-Warren, the guy who wrote ‘The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: The First 25 Years’, said: “With the death of Keith Moon in 1978, rock arguably lost its single greatest drummer. According to Bruce Eder, “Moon, with his manic, lunatic side, and his life of excessive drinking, partying, and other indulgences, probably represented the youthful, zany side of rock & roll, as well as its self-destructive side, better than anyone else on the planet.”
There’s a very good chance that Animal, who was one of Jim Henson’s Muppet characters and mentioned in Ronnie Verrell’s ‘G & S’ piece may have been based on Keith Moon due to their similar hair, eyebrows, personality and drumming style.
Clem Burke of Blondie once said: “Early on, all I cared about was Keith Moon and the Who. When I was about eleven or twelve, my favourite part of drum lessons was the last ten minutes, when I’d get to sit at the drum-set and play along to my favourite record. I’d bring in ‘My Generation’. At the end of the song, the drums go nuts. ‘My Generation’ was a turning point for me because before that it was all the Charlie Watts and Ringo type of thing.”
In the late nineties a chap called Tony Fletcher came to me saying he had plans to publish a biography of Keith Moon and would I help? He interviewed me and I brought up the fact that for most of the time we’d known one another our hero had always addressed me as “Dear Boy” and Tony thought that would make a good title. The rest is history and in the UK Dear Boy: The Life of Keith Moon came out in 1998 in the United Kingdom. In 2000, the book was released in the US as Moon (The Life and Death of a Rock Legend). Q Magazine called the book “horrific and terrific reading”.
Books are still coming out about Keith Moon including a new one I have collaborated on about his technique. This is something no author has so far attempted.
Moonie lived just down the road from me in Enfield, one of London’s leafy suburbs, which was something of a curate’s egg for me since he preferred to go home via a cup of tea at my place after he’d been clubbing – whatever time it was!
In 2008, English Heritage, who dish these things out, declined an application for Moonie to be awarded a blue plaque. It appears they decided that “bad behaviour and overdosing on various substances wasn’t a sufficient qualification.” The UK’s Heritage Foundation ultimately overturned the decision and presented a plaque which was unveiled in March 2009.
I make no apologies for saying I have always thought of Moonie as a ‘flawed genius’ and as I wrote this piece I began to realise how fatuous and ultimately wasteful and possibly even ridiculous his life had been. Of course everyone around him knew he wasn’t going to make old bones and we also knew he wasn’t going to listen to advice or criticism. But we still didn’t expect him to kill himself. I know by definition it wasn’t actually suicide but, whatever you want to call it, he hastened his own death with his incorrigible behaviour and frankly, we all encouraged it. But I suspect he knew himself better than anybody else as evidenced in a quote I found.
“When you’ve got money and do the kind of things I get up to, people laugh and say that you’re eccentric, which is a polite way of saying you’re f**cking mad.”
One thing is for certain, whether we considered him to be f**cking mad or not, we aren’t ever going to see his like again.
Bob Henrit © 2017