5 Little-Known Facts About Keith Moon, The Who’s Manic Drumming Maestro

Back in their ’60s and ’70s heyday, The Who‘s four members essentially all played lead. Roger Daltrey was the lead singer. Pete Townshend played lead guitar. John Entwistle attacked the bass like a lead instrument. And if you think about it, Keith Moon played lead drums. On most of The Who’s classic tracks, all four members of the band are doing their own thing.

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In theory, it shouldn’t work. There is too much energy coming from too many directions. But, as we all know, it completely worked, and continues to work. The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Cream, and Vanilla Fudge all featured a similar band dynamic. But not to the same extreme; they didn’t have Keith Moon in their bands.

Usually the drummer’s job is to take one for the team, to provide a solid foundation on top of which the “real” music can lay. But not Moon. Instead of simply dropping the beat for each song’s framework, he is playing his own single-instrument concerto. It somehow lives within the same space as the other three members’ parts, but exists as its own free-standing, bombastic statement, too.

Here are five little-known facts about the late Who drummer, Keith Moon.

1. Extended Drum Kits

Moon loved to push the envelope with bigger and bigger drum sets. His first drum set was a Premier blue-pearl four-piece. He rigged rope around the pieces, as he played so rambunctiously that he needed to stabilize them. In 1965, he moved up to a Ludwig five-piece. This was the one he used on the early Who television appearances in the U.K. In 1966, he jumped to a nine-piece Premier kit that featured a double-bass drum setup. This was reported to be a direct response to Ginger Baker of Cream ordering a double-bass drum kit. 

In 1973, the kit jumped to 13 pieces. The double row of Premier tom-toms surrounded Moon, and two gongs and tympani completed the collection. By the end of the drummer’s life, he’d upped the kit even more. As he told International Musicians and Recording World in 1978, “I’ve got 16 drums in my kit, and on every song, I use a different set of four or five. So, eventually, I’ve used all 16 drums.” 

2. Moon Rarely Used Hi-Hats…Onstage

Moon complained that hi-hat cymbals weren’t loud enough for his taste. He rarely used them. For some stretches on tour, he wouldn’t even have one on stage. Recordings, however, were a different thing altogether; he did use them more in the studio setting. Check out the below video to hear the isolated drum track of “Who Are You.”

3. “Beck’s Bolero

When Jeff Beck was encouraged by Yardbirds management to pursue solo projects, he recruited Jimmy Page on guitar, and the original plan was to use the entire rhythm section of The Who. Entwistle and Moon were discontented with their current situation and were happy to work on the new project. At the last moment, Entwistle was not available, and John Paul Jones stepped in to take over the bass duties. (You can hear Moon yell on the final recording when he knocks over a microphone with his drumstick.)

The song was initially only released as a B-side, but it eventually got a bigger audience when it was included on the Jeff Beck Group’s album Truth. The song represents the first step toward the birth of a new group for Page, who would employ the heavy drum, light guitar approach to the sound of his post-Yardbirds project: Led Zeppelin.

4. The Herd

During The Who’s 1967 U.K. tour, their opening act was The Herd. Fronted by the teenaged Peter Frampton, the band had several Top 10 U.K. hits. But that didn’t stop Moon and Entwistle from pranking them relentlessly. They rigged up an elaborate pulley system to drummer Andrew Steele’s gong so that it could be pulled out of reach at just the time it was to be struck. And Moon connected firecrackers to keyboardist Andy Bown’s rig that could be detonated electronically from backstage.

5. He Was the Most…

Roger Daltrey told NPR about Moon, “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.”

[RELATED: Behind the Death of Keith Moon]

By all accounts, Moon lived life all the way. From trashing hotel rooms to driving a car into a swimming pool. The drummer wanted to entertain people, but first and foremost, he wanted to entertain himself. And what he arrived at wasn’t always politically correct. He dressed as a Nazi and visited the local pub to get a rise out of the patron. He hired nine taxi drivers to block the street so he could safely throw all of the contents of his hotel room to the ground level without the danger of hitting a pedestrian. He had an appetite for explosives. As Daltrey indicated, Keith Moon was the most… everything. And he couldn’t keep it up; he died of an accidental overdose in singer/songwriter Harry Nilsson’s London flat in 1978. Although he looked to be in his 50s, Moon was only 32.

Photo by Jack Kay/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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