After performing with local band The Beachcombers, he joined The Who in 1964, before they had recorded their first single. He stayed with the band during their rise to fame, and was quickly recognised and praised for his distinctive drumming. He occasionally collaborated with other musicians, and later made appearances on radio and film, but he considered The Who his main occupation first and foremost, and remained a member until his death. In addition to his ability as a drummer, he developed a reputation for smashing his kit on stage and for destroying hotel rooms while on tour.
He had a particular interest in blowing up toilets using cherry bombs or dynamite, and destroying television sets. He enjoyed touring and socialising, and attempted to live his entire life as one long party, being especially restless during the occasions that The Who were inactive. His 21st birthday party in Flint, Michigan has become a notable example of decadent behaviour amongst rock groups. In the 1970s, Moon suffered from a number of tragedies, notably the accidental death of his chauffeur, Neil Boland, and the breakdown of his marriage. He became increasingly addicted to drink, particularly brandy and champagne, and started to acquire a reputation for decadence and dark humour, giving him the nickname "Moon The Loon".
After relocating to Los Angeles during the mid-1970s with his personal assistant, Peter "Dougal" Butler, he attempted to make his only solo album, the poorly received Two Sides of the Moon. By the time of The Who's final tours in 1976, and particularly during filming of The Kids Are Alright and recording of Who Are You, the gradual deterioration of his condition started to show, he blacked out on stage, and he was hospitalised on several occasions. Moon moved back to London in 1978, and died in September after overdosing on Heminevrin, a drug designed to help curb alcohol abuse. Moon took lessons from one of the loudest drummers at the time, Carlo Little, then playing with Screaming Lord Sutch, paying Little ten shillings a lesson. He initially played in the drumming style of American surf rock and jazz, with a mix of R&B, utilising grooves and fills of those genres, exemplified by the noted Los Angeles studio drummer Hal Blaine.
But Moon played faster and louder, with more persistence and authority. Moon's favourite musicians were jazz artists, particularly the flamboyant style of Gene Krupa. He also admired DJ Fontana, Ringo Starr, and The Shadows' original drummer, Tony Meehan. As well as drumming, Moon was interested in singing, particularly with backing vocals that involved a light-sounding falsetto and the vocal styling of Motown soul music.
One band Moon notably idolised was the Beach Boys. It was later said that even at the peak of The Who's fame, Moon would have left the group to drum for the Californian band. During this time, Moon joined his first serious band, The Escorts, replacing his then best friend, Gerry Evans In December 1962, he joined The Beachcombers, a semi-professional London cover band who played rock'n'roll and hits by groups such as The Shadows. During his time in the group, Moon incorporated various theatrical tricks into his act, including one instance where he "shot" the group's lead singer with a starter pistol. The Beachcombers all had day jobs, including Moon, who was working in the sales department of British Gypsum.
He had the most interest amongst band members to turn fully professional, and thus in April 1964, he auditioned for The Who, replacing Doug Sandom. The Beachcombers continued as a local covers band after his departure. A commonly heard, though disputed, story of how Moon joined The Who is that he turned up to a gig shortly after Sandom's departure, where a session drummer was used. Dressed entirely in ginger clothes and with his hair dyed ginger (Townshend later described him as a "Ginger Vision"), he claimed to his would-be bandmates that he could play better, and proceeded to play in the second half of the band's set, nearly demolishing the kit in the process. Moon claimed he was never given a formal invitation to join the band, and later jested to Ringo Starr, when asked how he joined the band, that he had "just been filling in for the last fifteen years." Moon's arrival in The Who changed the dynamics of the group.
Sandom had generally been the member to keep peace as Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend feuded between themselves, but because of Moon's temperament, this no longer occurred, so the group now had four members who would frequently be at conflict. "We used to fight regularly", remembered Moon in later years. "John [Entwistle] and I used to have fights – it wasn't very serious, it was more of an emotional spur-of-the moment thing". Although Townshend described him as a "completely different person to anyone I've ever met," Moon did form a rapport with him in the early years, with the pair of them enjoying practical jokes and comedy improvisations together.
His style of playing affected the musical structure, and while Entwistle initially found his lack of traditional time-keeping to be problematic, it created an original sound. Daltrey later said Moon's drumming style was an essential ingredient that held the band together, and that Entwistle and Townshend "were like knitting needles ... and Keith was the ball of wool." Moon was particularly fond of touring with The Who, since it was the only chance he regularly got to socialise with his bandmates, and was generally restless and bored when he was not playing with the band. This would carry over to other aspects of his life later on, as he acted them out, according to biographer Marsh, "as if his life were one long tour".
Antics like these earned him the nicknames "Moon the Loon" and "Mad Moon". 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. Keith Moon, Melody Maker, September 1970 Moon's style of drumming was considered unique by his bandmates, though they sometimes found his lack of conventional playing to be frustrating, with Entwistle noting that he tended to play at a faster or slower tempo depending on what mood he was in. "He wouldn't play across his kit," he later added.
"He'd play zig-zag. That's why he had two set 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," and that his instinct to play drum fills that matched the vocal lines exactly was "sheer genius." Contemporary critics questioned his ability to keep time, with biographer Tony Fletcher suggesting that the timing on Tommy was "all over the place". Who producer Jon Astley said "you didn't think he was keeping time, but he was". Early recordings of Moon on the kit tended to make the drums sound tinny and somewhat disorganised, and it was not until the recording of Who's Next, with Glyn Johns' no-nonsense production techniques and the requirement to keep to a strict-tempo synthesizer track, that he started developing a more disciplined performance in the studio.
Biographer Fletcher considers the drumming on this album to be the best of Moon's career. Unlike several contemporary rock drummers such as Ginger Baker and John Bonham, Moon hated drum solos and refused to play them in concert. At one Who show, Townshend and Entwistle decided to spontaneously stop playing to hear Moon play a drum solo. Moon immediately stopped too, exclaiming, "Drum solos are boring!" Although not a strong vocalist, Moon was enthusiastic about singing and wanted to sing lead with the rest of the group. While the other three members handled the vast majority of the vocals on stage, Moon would semi-regularly attempt to sing backing, particularly on I Can't Explain.
He also liked to provide humorous commentary during song announcements, though sound engineer Bob Pridden preferred to mute his vocal microphone on the mixing desk where possible. His propensity for making his bandmates laugh around the vocal microphone whilst recording led them to banish him from the studio when vocals were being recorded. This led to a game, Moon sneaking in to join the singing. Moon's interest in surf music and his desire to sing lead led to him doing so on several early tracks, including "Bucket T" and "Barbara Ann" (Ready Steady Who EP, 1966), and the high backing vocals on other songs, such as "Pictures of Lily". At the end of the song "Happy Jack", Townshend can be heard saying "I saw ya!" to Moon as he tries to sneak into the studio. Moon's performance on "Bell Boy" (Quadrophenia, 1973) saw him abandon "serious" vocal performances to perform in character with an exaggerated character performance, which gave him, in Fletcher's words, "full licence to live up to his reputation as a lecherous drunk," adding it was "exactly the kind of performance the Who needed from him to bring them back down to earth." Moon was credited as composer of "I Need You", which he also sang, and the instrumental "Cobwebs and Strange" (from the album A Quick One, 1966), the single B-sides "In The City" (co-written by Moon and Entwistle), "Dogs Part Two" (1969) (sharing credits with Townshend's and Entwistle's dogs, Towser and Jason), "Tommy's Holiday Camp" (1969), "Waspman" (1972), and "Girl's Eyes" (from The Who Sell Out sessions; featured on Thirty Years of Maximum R&B and a 1995 re-release of The Who Sell Out).
Moon also co-composed the instrumental "The Ox" (from the debut album My Generation) with Townshend, Entwistle and keyboardist Nicky Hopkins. The Who song "Tommy's Holiday Camp" (from Tommy) was credited to Moon, who suggested the action should take place in a holiday camp. The song was written by Townshend, and although there is a misconception that Moon sings on the track, the version on the album is Townshend's demo. However, Moon did sing the song in live concerts and in the film version of Tommy. Moon is credited with producing the violin solo on the song "Baba O'Riley". He sat in with a gig with East of Eden at the Lyceum, playing congas, and afterwards suggested the idea of performing on the track to the group's violinist, Dave Arbus. While Moon generally stated he was only interested in working with The Who, he did participate in outside musical projects.
In 1966, Moon worked with Yardbirds guitarist Jeff Beck, session man The Who's Nicky Hopkins, and future Led Zeppelin members Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones to record an instrumental, "Beck's Bolero", which was released as the B- side to Hi Ho Silver Lining and appeared on the album Truth. Moon also played timpani on another track, a cover of Jerome Kern's, "Ol' Man River." Moon was credited on the back of the album as "You Know Who". Moon may have inspired the name for the band "Led Zeppelin". When he was briefly considering leaving The Who in 1966, he had been chatting to Entwistle and Page about forming a supergroup. Moon or Entwistle remarked that a particular suggestion had gone down like a "lead zeppelin" (i.e.
"lead balloon"). Although the supergroup was never formed, Page remembered Moon's odd expression and later adopted it as the name of a new band. Moon's friendship with The Beatles led him to occasional collaborations with them. In 1967, Moon contributed brush drums to the Beatles' single "All You Need Is Love". On 15 December 1969, he joined John Lennon's Plastic Ono Band for a live performance at the Lyceum Ballroom (now the Lyceum Theatre) in London for a UNICEF charity concert.
In 1972, this performance was released as a companion disc to Lennon's and Ono's Some Time In New York City LP. Moon's continuing friendship with Entwistle led to him making an appearance on Smash Your Head Against the Wall, Entwistle's first solo album and the first by any member of The Who. Moon did not play drums on the album, which was covered by Jerry Shirley, and restricted himself to percussion. Rolling Stone's John Hoegel praised Entwistle's decision not to let Moon drum, claiming it helped distance the album from the familiar sound of The Who. Moon became involved in solo work when he moved to Los Angeles in the mid-1970s. In 1974, Track Records/MCA released a Moon solo single that covered The Beach Boys songs "Don't Worry, Baby" and "Teenage Idol".
The following year, he released his only solo album, pop covers entitled Two Sides of the Moon. Although this featured Moon's singing, much drumming was left to other artists, including Ringo Starr, session musicians Curly Smith and Jim Keltner and actor/musician Miguel Ferrer. Moon played drums on only three tracks. The album had a negative reception from critics.
NME's Roy Carr wrote, "Moonie, if you didn't have talent, I wouldn't care; but you have, which is why I'm not about to accept Two Sides of the Moon. Dave Marsh, reviewing the album in Rolling Stone, wrote "There isn't any legitimate reason for this album's existence." During one of his few drum solo performances on television, for ABC's Wide World, Moon played a five minute drum solo using transparent acrylic drums filled with water and goldfish, and dressed as a cat. When asked by an audience member what would happen to the kit, he joked that "even the best drummers get hungry." His performance did not go down well with animal lovers, and several called the station to complain. Read more on Last.fm.
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