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Keith Moon: The Extraordinary Drummer of The Who

Keith John Moon, born on 23rd August 1946 and passing away on 7th September 1978, was a remarkable English musician known for his extraordinary drumming with the iconic rock band, The Who.

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Early Life and Musical Beginnings

Keith Moon’s journey in music began in Wembley during the early 1960s. He initially played with a local band known as the Beachcombers. However, his real breakthrough came when he joined The Who in 1964, just before they recorded their debut single. Moon quickly gained recognition for his distinctive drumming style, which heavily emphasised tom-toms, cymbal crashes, and dynamic drum fills.

Throughout his tenure with The Who, Moon’s drum kit grew in size, earning him a place in history alongside the likes of Ginger Baker as one of the earliest rock drummers to consistently use double bass drums in his setup.

Moon’s Unique Style and Eccentric Behaviour

Keith Moon was not just a talented drummer but also a showman who added a unique flavor to The Who’s live performances. He was notorious for his on-stage antics, including smashing his drum kit and wreaking havoc in hotel rooms while on tour. Moon’s fascination with creating chaos extended to blowing up toilets with cherry bombs or dynamite and destroying television sets. He was an eccentric personality who enjoyed the rock and roll lifestyle to the fullest.

One infamous example of Moon’s decadent behaviour was his 21st birthday party in Flint, Michigan. This event exemplified the excesses often associated with rock groups during that era.

Personal Struggles and Tragedies

Despite his musical success, Keith Moon faced several personal setbacks in the 1970s. He tragically experienced the accidental death of his chauffeur, Neil Boland, and went through the breakdown of his marriage. Moon also battled alcoholism, which contributed to his reputation for decadence and dark humour, earning him the nickname “Moon the Loon.”

His health deteriorated over time, with instances of passing out on stage during The Who’s performances. By the time of their final tour with him in 1976, and especially during the production of albums like “The Kids Are Alright” and “Who Are You” it became evident that Moon’s condition was worsening.

Moon’s Legacy

Despite the challenges he faced, Keith Moon’s drumming style continues to be celebrated by critics and fellow musicians. His posthumous induction into the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame in 1982 marked him as the second rock drummer to receive this honour. Moreover, in 2011, a Rolling Stone readers’ poll ranked him as the second-greatest drummer in history.

In 1990, Keith Moon was also posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of The Who, cementing his legacy in the annals of rock history.

Early Life and Influences

Born in Central Middlesex Hospital in northwest London, Keith Moon exhibited hyperactivity as a child, along with a strong passion for music and a love for The Goon Show. Despite facing challenges in his early education, he found his calling in music, initially attempting to play the bugle in a local Sea Cadet Corps band but eventually switching to the drums.

Moon was known for his interest in practical jokes and explosions. He honed his drumming skills at Macari’s Music Studio on Ealing Road and eventually left school at the age of 14. He continued his education at Harrow Technical College, which eventually led to a job as a radio repairman, enabling him to purchase his first drum kit.

Influences and Early Years in Music

Keith Moon’s early drumming style was heavily influenced by jazz, American surf music, and rhythm and blues. He particularly admired jazz greats like Gene Krupa and emulated their flamboyant styles. Moon’s love for Elvis Presley’s original drummer, DJ Fontana, as well as other drummers like Tony Meehan and Viv Prince, played a crucial role in shaping his drumming style.

In addition to his drumming skills, Moon had a strong inclination towards singing, with a special interest in Motown music. He idolised The Beach Boys, and Roger Daltrey later mentioned that Moon would have even left The Who to play for the California band during the height of their fame if given the opportunity.

Joining The Who

Keith Moon’s journey took a significant turn when he joined his first serious band, the Escorts. Shortly after that, in December 1962, he became part of the Beachcombers, a semi-professional London cover band. During his time with the Beachcombers, Moon introduced theatrical elements to his performances, including antics like “shooting” the lead singer with a starter pistol.

In April 1964, at the age of 17, Keith Moon auditioned for The Who as a replacement for Doug Sandom. The audacious story goes that he appeared at a show dressed in a unique ginger outfit and dyed hair, showcasing his drumming skills. After a memorable performance, he was asked to join the band.

Moon’s Impact on The Who

Keith Moon’s entry into The Who brought significant changes to the group’s dynamics. Moon’s personality and temperament often led to conflicts among the band members. While they had occasional disagreements, the early years were marked by camaraderie, practical jokes, and improvised comedy. Moon’s drumming style, characterised by unconventional timekeeping, contributed to the band’s unique sound.

Moon’s love for touring extended to his desire to socialise with his bandmates regularly. He was always restless when not performing live, leading to his infamous nickname, “Moon the Loon.”

Drumming Style and Legacy

Keith Moon’s drumming style, although unconventional, was regarded as unique and revolutionary by his bandmates and critics. He had a habit of playing at varying tempos, following his mood rather than conventional timekeeping. This unorthodox approach had a profound impact on The Who’s musical structure.

While early recordings of Moon’s drumming may have sounded disorganised, his discipline in the studio improved, especially during the recording of “Who’s Next” Many consider the drumming on this album to be the best of Moon’s career.

Unlike some of his contemporaries, Moon despised drum solos and refused to play them during concerts. He once famously declared, “Drum solos are boring.” His unconventionality extended to singing, as he occasionally sang lead vocals and provided humorous commentary during song announcements.

Keith Moon’s Songwriting

Moon’s creative talents extended to songwriting as well. He co-composed several tracks for The Who, including “I Need You,” “Cobwebs and Strange,” “In The City” (co-written with Entwistle), and “Girl’s Eyes.” He also contributed to “Dogs Part Two,” “Tommy’s Holiday Camp,” and “Waspman.” His versatility and ability to create unique compositions added depth to The Who’s music.

In addition to his drumming and songwriting, Keith Moon also made valuable contributions behind the scenes. He produced the violin solo on “Baba O’Riley” and collaborated with other musicians on various projects.

Keith Moon’s extraordinary talent and eccentric personality left an indelible mark on the world of rock music. His legacy lives on, with fans and fellow musicians continuing to celebrate his unique drumming style and contributions to The Who’s iconic sound.