Biography of Keith Moon by David M. Barling
Born Keith John Moon on August 23, 1946, to Alfred & Kathleen Moon in Wellesden, England. Moon was primarily raised in the Northwest London suburb of Wembley. Three years later, the Moons welcomed a daughter, Linda, to their family. Alf Moon earned his living as a maintenance mechanic for the Wembley council and Kathleen "Kit" Moon took on part time cleaning jobs.
As Kit Moon recalled, Keith "from the age of three, he would sit home for hours beside an old gramophone player and play 78 records of stars like Nat King Cole and Scots leader Johnny Shand."
The Moon family would listen to the BBC comedy troupe, the Goons, and Keith would then act the comedy sketches the next week at school. When Keith was 12, the Moons welcomed another daughter, Lesley, to the family. While at school, Moon received a prescient comment from his music teacher, "great ability, but most guard against tendency to show off." While in grammar school, Moon was a loner despite a hyperactive personality.
Moon joined the Sea Cadets and started playing the bugle and then, trumpet. At 13, Moon moved from the trumpet to the bass drum. Moon became a fan of the drums and would see the Movie, "Drum Crazy," about the late great Jazz drummer, Gene Krupa. In 1970 Moon stated about the picture, "That film was the only time I saw the way Krupa worked- all that juggling." Moon recounted, "Gene Krupa, Jo Jones, Buddy Rich . . . to me they were the best. I’d see a big band with a double bass drum setup, twirling the sticks, all the theatrics. They’re the people I really dug, growing up."
Autumn of 1961, Moon bought his first drum kit, a pearl blue Premier kit. Moon began practicing on his own. In 1962 Moon would gain admission to the Music Club at the Oldfield Hotel where Moon would watch various drummers and in particular, Screaming Lord Sutch and the Savages' drummer, Carlo Little. Moon asked Little for drum lessons and Moon would take lessons from Little for a few months. Summer of 1962, Moon would play in a band called the Escorts. A member of the Escorts recalled, "The way he decided to play drums was outrageous. But he emulated Carlo Little and was the only person to do so. He was a real character. Madness bordering on genius."
In December 1962, Moon responded to an ad for a drummer in the band called the Beachcombers, who despite their name were not a surf band. Moon, nicknamed "Weasel," enjoyed an 18 month stint with the band. Moon was such an intense drummer that six inch nails were hammered into the stage to fasten his kit with rope.
By mid-1963, Moon became an obsessive surf music fan to the extent that Moon imported from America surf records by Dick Dale, the Chantays and the Beach Boys to England. From late 1962 to his fateful spring of 1964, Moon worked at British Gypsum where Keith answered phones and processed sales orders. In April 1964, drummer Doug Sandom left The Who. Moon auditioned for The Who and was invited to join the band. For a couple of weeks, Moon would play in both the Beachcombers and The Who. Alf Moon was very much against his son leaving the stable Beachcombers for the explosive Who.
Recalling Moon's departure from the Beachcombers, their rhythm guitarist stated, "Keith was going to go forward because he couldn’t do anything else. He was a showman drummer, that was it. I always think he was the best drummer in the world, even with us."
At this time The Who were going through numerous management changes. The Who met Pete Meaden, a Mod. Under Meaden, the band's name was The High Numbers. The band dressed like Mods and appealed to Mods even though they were not Mods. The Mods were amphetamine takers who wore tab collars and Italian shoes and drove Lambretta scooters. The Mod credo was "clean living under difficult circumstances."
During their summer 1964 residency at the Railway, Pete Townshend broke his guitar against the Railway's low ceiling. A week later Moon started smashing his drumkit when the audience was disappointed when Townshend didn’t smash his guitar. Moon stated generally, "When I smashed my drums it’s because I was pissed off . . . [W]hen you’ve worked your balls off and you’ve given the audience everything you can give and they don’t give anything back, that’s when the *bleep* instruments go."
In August 1964, Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp took over management of the band. In October 1964 The Who again became the band's name. Soon after, The Who began a Tuesday residency at the Marquee Club with the poster of Pete Townshend in full arm swing declaring "Maximum R & B."
The Who signed a record deal which forced them to write their own material. In January 1965, Townshend composed "I Can’t Explain" with Moon playing the drums as if the fate of the free world depended on his performance. The next single was "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere" with Moon's drumming holding together the innovative feedback from Townshend's guitar.
In December 1965, The Who released the My Generation album with Moon co-writing the surf influenced instrumental "The Ox." Moon's performance on the record is still one of the greatest drum performances ever let alone on a debut record. The drum solo at the bridge of "The Kids Are Alright" was so far ahead of its time that it was edited out of the American release and wasn't released in America until 1994's Box Set, 30 Years of Maximum R & B.
Spring 1966 saw the release of the Townshend composed "Substitute," with manic Moon drumming that Keith later didn't recall playing at the session. About this time, Moon moved from a single bass seven piece drum set to a double bass nine piece drum kit.
In May, 1966, Moon and Who bassist John Entwistle were late to the gig that night because they were entertaining Beach Boy, Bruce Johnston. Townshend and Who singer, Roger Daltrey were extremely angry at Moon and Entwistle as they started the concert with a different rhythm section. During the finale of "My Generation," Townshend accidentally hit Moon in the head with his guitar and bruised Moon's face in addition to giving Moon a black eye. Moon and Entwistle for 24 hours quit the band. Pete Townshend profusely apologized to Moon who while accepting the apologies was looking to work with other bands including The Animals.
Fall 1966, The Who released the single "I'm a Boy" with the B-side, "In The City," a Moon-Entwistle composition. The Who performed on the British television show "Ready, Steady, Who" with Moon singing "Barbara Ann" and Jan & Dean's "Bucket T," which went #1 in Sweden on the Ready, Steady, Who EP. Winter 1966, The Who released the album A Quick One (Happy Jack in the U.S.) with two Moon songs, one an instrumental “Cobwebs and Strange” and with Keith singing "I Need You." "Happy Jack," the single, featured Moon as the lead instrument propelling the song as well as carrying the melody. At the end of "Happy Jack," Townshend can be heard saying, "I saw ya," after Moon was spotted sneaking into the control room from which he was banned due to his distracting vocals.
By 1967, Moon had established himself as one of the premier drummers in popular music. Guitarist Jeff Beck recruited Moon for his nascent band, Jeff Beck Group. Moon screamed and thundered on "Beck's Bolero" on the Truth album. Summer 1967, Moon unveiled his infamous "Pictures of Lily" Premier drum kit with the lettering "Keith Moon, patent British exploding drummer" amid pictures of naked women. The Who played the Monterey Pop Festival where at the conclusion of their set Moon destroyed his drum kit.
On August 23, 1967, Keith Moon's infamous 21st Birthday party that would become the stuff of legend. Moon recalling the party in 1972 in Rolling Stone magazine came up with a fanciful tale about driving a car in the swimming pool, escaping by waiting for the physics to be right and earning The Who a lifetime ban from the Holiday Inn for eternity. Neither the car in the pool nor the lifetime ban from the Holiday Inn happened. Moon while running away from the party because he was de-pants, tripped, fell and knocked out a front tooth. Moon spent the most of the rest of the night at the dentist's office getting his tooth fixed. Winter 1967, The Who released the album The Who Sell Out a tribute to pirate radio and its ad jingles. Sell Out featured Entwistle-Moon advertisement jingles among Pete Townshend's songs. Moon's "Girl's Eyes" was released on the Sell Out re-issue. Moon's drumming is transcendent on "I Can See For Miles."
May 1969, The Who released the double album Tommy. Moon came up with the idea of the holiday camp that was used in the song cycle with Keith singing "Tommy's Holiday Camp," a Townshend song based on Moon's holiday camp idea. Tommy is a deaf, dumb, and blind kid who becomes a Messiah and later is forsaken by his followers. "Amazing Journey/Sparks" "Underture" and "Smash the Mirror," are Moon’s notable performances. "Pinball Wizard" released as a single from Tommy had the b-side of "Dogs Part 2," a Moon composition that featured a drum break throughout the song with dogs barking the lead vocal. Moon also sang on "Cousin Kevin Model Child" which was released on the re-issue of Odds & Sods.
August 1969, The Who played Woodstock that has been described as their worst gig ever, yet, Moon gave an outstanding performance particularly on "Sparks," "Acid Queen" and "I'm Free."
January 1970, Neil Boland, Moon's driver, was accidentally killed in a melee with Skinheads. While Boland was outside of Moon's Bentley trying to clear an exit from the Skinheads, Moon took the wheel and stepped on the accelerator. Moon accidentally ran over Boland and killed him. Subsequently, Moon was depressed and some say he was never the same. Moon stated, "I'll always have his death on my conscience."
February 1970, The Who played at Leeds University for a live album. Live at Leeds is considered live rock & roll at its finest particularly "Summertime Blues" and "My Generation."
In January 1971, Moon made his acting debut in the Frank Zappa conceived, 200 Motels, a film about a musician's life on the road. Moon wanted to be an actor after his involvement in this film.
Summer 1971, The Who released the album Who’s Next . The original cover idea was to have Moon dressed in woman's undergarments. Moon produced the violin solo at the end of "Baba O’Riley." Moon's drumming is superlative particularly on "Bargain," "Going Mobile" and "Won’t Get Fooled Again." The press party for the release of Who’s Next was held at Moon's recently purchased Tara estate in Chertsey, England.
In 1972, "Relay" was released as a single with the Moon composition "Wasp Man" as the B-side. Moon acted in the motion picture, That'll Be The Day, as drummer J.D. Clover. Moon played Uncle Ernie in the stage production of Tommy. Summer of 1973, Moon would do a series of music radio shows for the British Broadcasting Corporation including "Life with the Moons," a series of skits, routines and send-ups while Keith would play some of his favorite music.
Fall 1973, The Who released the double album Quadrophenia composed by Pete Townshend with Moon singing "Bell Boy." Quadrophenia is about the four-faceted Jimmy, a Mod from 1964-1965, who climbs on The Rock to examine his life. Each member of The Who had a theme. Moon's theme was "a bloody lunatic, I'll even carry your bags," needing the attention of others while keeping up a front of self-containment at the same time. "The Real Me," "Bell Boy" and "Love Reign O'er Me" are the significant tracks. Moon also sang on "We Close Tonight" which was released on the re-issue of Odds & Sods.
November 1973, Moon passed out during the San Francisco stop on the Quadrophenia tour. Video of this event can be found on the 30 Years of Maximum R & B video release.
In 1974, Moon completed acting roles in two movies, Uncle Ernie in Tommy and J.D. Clover in in Stardust, the sequel to That'll Be The Day. Moon visited Los Angeles and stayed in a rented Santa Monica beach house with John Lennon, Ringo Starr, Paul McCartney and Harry Nilsson. Moon had such a good time that he would soon move to Los Angeles for the partying and an attempt at an acting career. While in Los Angeles, Moon hosted the popular American Television show, In Concert, which featured Keith playing a drum solo with goldfish swimming in his drum kit. The Who released Odds & Sods, a collection of Who B-sides and rejected album songs that included Moon singing a bit on "Now I'm A Farmer."
In March 1975, Moon released his only solo album, Two Sides of the Moon, with Keith singing on all of the tunes which included a John Lennon original and cover songs loved by Moon. Moon received a $200,000 non-refundable advance for the album. Moon stated at the time of the release of the solo album, "I didn't know I was capable of some of the vocals that I had done . . . My commitment to the album is total, I wouldn't bother with it otherwise. I think it's commercial and will sell." In 1997 the solo album was re-issued with eight additional tracks.
Fall 1975, The Who released The Who By Numbers. Moon's excellent drumming can be heard on "Dreaming From the Waist," "Success Story" and "In Hand or Face."
In 1976, Moon sang "When I'm Sixty Four" for the soundtrack record to the movie All This and World War II.
In 1977, Moon appeared in the movie Sextette. Moon also appeared in concert on stage with Led Zeppelin.
Summer 1978, The Who released the album Who Are You with Moon singing a bit on "Guitar and Pen." During one of the recording sessions when Moon was struggling, Keith declared, "I am the best Keith Moon style drummer . . ." Moon's drumming drives the title track. Chillingly, the album cover has Keith Moon sitting on a chair that states, "Not to be Taken Away."
Posthumously in 1979, The Who released the feature films, Quadrophenia with Keith Moon as Executive Producer and The Kids Are Alright, with Keith Moon as a featured performer. In Kids, Moon, in response to the director asking for the truth, states tellingly, "No, I mean, the truth as you want to hear it. I can't do that. You couldn't afford me."
Keith Moon is rock and roll's greatest drummer. Moon's fills, rolls, patterns and toms' work pushed rock drumming beyond the limits of the then rock drummer. From his punk playing on "My Generation" to his playing to the synthesizer tracks like "Baba O'Riley," "Won't Get Fooled Again" and the Quadrophenia album, Keith Moon expanded the range and vocabulary of the rock drummer. Moon's style ranged from big band, surf, rock and proto-punk. On Moon's drum style, John Entwistle stated, "[Moon] didn't play from left to right or right to left, he'd play forward. When you see him playing mad breaks, he's not going around the kit, his arms are moving forward from the snare to the toms. I've never seen anyone play like that before or since."
On advice Moon would give to people taking up the drums, Keith is attributed with saying, "Learn guitar." If one listens to Moon's playing (or sees video of The Who live), Keith is playing off of Who guitarist, Pete Townshend more than Moon is keeping time by playing off of Who bassist John Entwistle.
Moon's greatness behind the drumkit is often overshadowed by his public image as "Moon the Loon." Keith Moon is known more for dressing up like Adolf Hitler (in places such as Steve McQueen's Malibu house), striping naked in airports and on television shows, destroying hotel rooms, swinging from chandeliers, throwing televisions out of hotel windows, putting cherry bombs in toilets, leaving a hovercraft on train tracks disrupting train schedules, being quick with word play, puns and the funny joke, passing out at concerts and consuming super human amounts of alcohol and pharmaceuticals. This public image of Keith Moon was so pronounced that the Muppet character, Animal, whose credo is "Drums. Women. Food." was inspired by Moon.
Keith Moon's commitment to The Who and his love of all things Who made Moon The Who's biggest fan. Moon stated time and again that there was nothing more important to him than The Who.
On September 7, 1978, Keith Moon died in his sleep due to an overdose of the prescription drug, Heminevrin.
Keith Moon was survived by his ex-wife Kim, a daughter, Amanda, a loyal girlfriend Annette and countless Who fans.