Saturday, September 7, 2013

Keith Moon: Not To Be Taken Away

But he was, 35 years ago today.
File:Who Are You album cover.JPGKeith Moon was the most dynamic and entertaining drummer in rock history.  Above is the album cover of Who Are You, released on August 18, 1978, with Keith in the chair labeled Not To Be Taken Away.  He died three weeks later at the age of 32 after fourteen years with The Who.  The band went on but were never the same.

As a rock band The Who were unusually constructed.  Their songwriter, Pete Townsend, was a phenomenal windmilling rhythm guitar player, the leading practitioner of the Power Chord but not a great lead guitarist.  John Entwhistle was a pioneer on rock bass, creating an unprecedented, sophisticated and very loud sound.  Moon was an instinctive drummer who at different times played around the beat or along with melody and often was effectively the lead instrument in the band (listen to Happy Jack) - making him the only lead drummer in rock, leaving Entwhistle to hold the beat and keep the music from flying apart on the stage. Roger Daltrey sang.  It shouldn't have worked but it did and made for the most exciting live performances you'll ever see. The band managed to combine thundering loud rock with a fluidity and lightness very different from most other groups of the time (for instance, the great John Bonham of Led Zeppelin who had more of a four-square beat style).  For a good example listen to this middle section of Young Man Blues.

This excerpt from the 2009 documentary on The Who, Amazing Journey, features Keith and includes an interesting discussion on his drumming technique.
To give you a more detailed view of Moon's drum work take a look at this 2008 YouTube video by babyshambler doing Keith's drum part on Heaven & Hell from Live At Leeds.  babyshambler has a series of terrific Who drum videos on YouTube.For Moon's finest drumming listen to Sparks from Live At Leeds.  On this video (no visual, just the soundtrack) his part kicks in around 1:55 and features a blizzard of triplets and some very cool syncopation.

Moon's exuberant, irrepressible and out-of control life (see, for instance, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour show when he bribed stagehands to put extra gunpowder into his drum kit causing an explosion and permanent damage to Townsend's hearing) driven by his personality, aided and abetted by large doses of pills and alcohol, led to his early death.

By 1976 the toll his life was taking became evident in his drumming.  You can clearly see it in his last gig with The Who, in May 1978, a small show at Shepperton Studios filmed for inclusion in the documentary The Kids Are Alright.  Watch Won't Get Fooled Again and Baba O'Riley - Keith has gone from being the propulsive driving force of the band to struggling to keep up with Pete, John and Roger (who still make it an amazing performance).  The fluidity and dynamism of earlier days is no longer there.


  1. Great article, I'd like to add tho' that by Who's Next Keith's partying was catching up to him, a lot of stick tricks fade live, his stamina, and his just showing up, in fact before that tour they held a business meeting where the company informed him that from that point on all of his expenses related to damages, arrests, restitution, flights to catch up to the band etc would be coming out of his pocket. At the end of that tour the other three went home with 450k, Keith 50k, he did 400k worth of damage and didn't care.

    When you see Barbara Ann in KAAR that's the band trying to get him back in shape because he hadn't drummed at all in the years off and forgot how to play.

    I did a series on youtube called What If Keith Moon Had Not Been Taken Away? just do a search on it and check it out.

    If they ever do the movie I sure hope they keep it honest because Keith's life was very dark and sad, I believe when he accidentally killed his guard/driver Bolan he slid down a slope and was punishing himself and I do believe he committed suicide, 30 undigested Hemivevrin's in his stomach? 30? he was known for handfulls of pills, 6-7, not 30, and undigested means he took 40-50, that takes effort.

  2. There's a section in a docu where Larry Hagman describes taking Keith to rehab after another of many drug/alcohol induced breakdowns, he had many, the band hid them from the press, he got so bad by the early 70's if he didn't have a drink in a few hours he have seizures and end up in the hospital, Dr's catagorized him as hopeless and beyond treatment which was probably a huge mistake but back then treatment was viewed differently.

    This is the video of Larry Hagman's experience, they were good friends

  3. and this is one of my videos just experiments to get an idea of what the Who would have sounded like, the albums right after his death still had a writing style for his drums, I think it was ingrained in Pete OR he may have wrote some of them before, so what I did was looked at the fact that Glyn Johns was involved and it was he who got the drums on WRU simplified and got Keith to use a hihat by mounting one on the left.

    For this song I am certain he would have done something akin to Slip Kid, they would have kept him simple....for Keith but he still would have flavored gaps and spiced it up.

    1. Great comments! I am in full agreement. It's scary to see Keith's deterioration from the early 70s on. Took a look at your videos. Nice job!

  4. Great comments! I am in full agreement. It's scary to see Keith's deterioration from the early 70s on. Took a look at your videos. Nice job!