Keith John Moon was a English drummer for “The Who”, a well known rock band that formed in 1964. Regardless of your age or taste in music, The Who are just a band everyone has heard of. Fans of CSI will be able to sing three of their songs even if they have never intentionally listened to one of their songs. CSI uses Who Are You? for their theme, CSI Miami uses Won't Get Fooled, and CSI New York chose Baba O'Reilly.
One of the key elements that drove The Who to superstardom was their exceptional skill while playing live. Keith Moon's drumming, in particular, was spectacular. Keith John Moon was born at Central Middlesex hospital on the 23rd of August. He grew up in Alperton near Wembley, a suburb of London.
His mother, Kathleen Moon, was a cleaner, and his father, Alfred Moon, was a maintenance mechanic. Keith was brought up with his two sisters, Linda and Leslie.
At school, he was not a great student. He failed his eleven plus and was unable to attend grammar school. He enrolled at Alperton Secondary Modern School. Although, in the 60s, a formal diagnosis was unlikely, he is believed to have suffered from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder which may have explained his academic struggle.
Children with ADHD often need specialist teaching to succeed, which was simply unavailable. Even at a young age, he was interested in science kits and creating explosions in particular. This would prove to be an interest throughout his life, to the despair of hotel owners worldwide. He was also a practical joker extraordinaire.
Keith's musical life began when he was twelve. He joined the sea cadets band as a bugler. He found the bugle too difficult, though, and gave it up in favour of the drums. He was able to practice his drumming by calling in at Macari's Music Studio on Ealing Road. He developed at least the basics of drumming during his time there. However, drumming would continue to be just a hobby for several more years.
He left school at only fourteen and attended Harrow Technical College. The skills he learned there got him his first job as a radio repairman. His job was merely a means to an end, and he used his wages to buy his very first drum kit. Keith was passionate about music and admired DC Fontana, who was Elvis' drummer and Pretty Things' Viv Price. However, he idolised the Beach Boys, and The Who's frontman Roger Daltrey once said that Keith would have left the band and joined the Beach Boys in a second if they had ever asked him.
Now that Keith had money coming in, he worked on improving his drumming. He took lessons with Carlo Little, a member of Cyril Davies' All Stars and a founding member of Screaming Lord Sutch's Savages. While taking lessons, he replaced his best friend in a band called The Escorts, the first serious band Keith had joined. He later moved on to a cover band called the Beachcombers, but every member of the band had a day job. Keith's ambition was to play the drums professionally, leading him to audition for The Who.
It may or may not be true, but the rumour is that Keith's was not a normal audition. Following former drummer Doug Sandom's departure, The Who were playing a show using a session drummer till they found a permanent replacement. Keith arrived and certainly made an entrance! He had dyed his hair ginger and wore a ginger suit.
He walked calmly up to the band and announced that he could play better than the drummer they were using. They told him to give it a try, and with a lot of Dutch courage inside him, he went to town on the drum kit, breaking two drums and the bass pedal in the process. He made a quick exit to the bar, convinced he had blown his chance. In Keith's words:
"Afterwards I was sitting at the bar and Pete came over. He said: 'You … come 'ere.' I said, mild as you please: 'Yes, yes?' And Roger, who was the spokesman then, said: 'What are you doing next Monday?' I said: 'Nothing.' I was working during the day, selling plaster. He said: 'You'll have to give up work … there's this gig on Monday. If you want to come, we'll pick you up in the van.' I said: 'Right.' And that was it." The rest was history!
Keith's arrival made a significant change to the band's dynamics. Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend tended to argue and former drummer Sandom was usually the peacemaker. Now the band had four volatile temperaments at play, and fights were common, but there's no denying his contribution to the band's sound. He attacked the drums as if they had done him a massive wrong, and many other drummers thought his style seemed almost insane.
Whatever the fireworks his playing on The Who's single I Can't Explain was a stunning foil for Roger Daltrey's explosion into the chorus. His drumming also gelled beautifully with Pete Townshend's performance on guitar. Sometimes it appeared they shared musical telepathy, adjusting to each other and complementing each other's playing perfectly.
Keith's drum performances continued to be a highlight across the whole My Generation album and on several of The Who's singles. However, he saved his best playing for The Who's fourth album, Tommy, a rock opera composed by Pete Townshend. He is the beating heart and the driving force behind the songs, and his playing verges on miraculous.
In live shows, Keith was a force of nature. He struck the drums so hard he must have been exhausted by the end. He was never a fan of solo drums, and his kit grew steadily throughout his career. It was one of the biggest kits in rock and at one time boasted twin bass drums, twin timpani, at least ten tom-toms, a snare, six cymbals and a gong.
His style of playing was also utterly unique. Bandmate John Entwhistle once mused, "He didn't play from left to right or right to left, he'd play forwards. I've never seen anyone play like that before or since."
For all his success musically, Keith was a troubled young man. He lived a hedonistic rock lifestyle and began taking amphetamines during his earliest years with the band. He also drank heavily and quickly burned through his earnings. He was thrown out of the London club Speakeasy on three separate occasions.
Drink and drugs combined with a love of explosions that he had had since childhood led to him causing a lot of destruction. He was famous for destroying his drum kits at the end of shows, and as a kit cost around £90 at the time, this was a substantial expense.
He then began to extend his destruction to hotel rooms, friends' homes and even his own home. He had a tendency to throw furniture from upstairs windows. He did this partly due to the influence of booze and drugs and partly due to a love of showing off to shock people. Once, he was on his way to the airport when he made the car turn around, claiming to have forgotten something. He re-entered his room and lobbed the tv into the hotel's pool. He then walked calmly back to the limo, saying "I nearly forgot."
One of Keith's favourite pranks was to blow up toilets. He'd loved explosions since his school days, and in 1965, he bought a large case of cherry bombs. Later he moved on to fireworks and finally sticks of dynamite! One particularly bad incident occurred when The Who were touring with Herman's Hermits. They stayed at a Holiday Inn in Michigan.
Keith was already drunk when he went on stage and when he returned to the hotel, all hell broke loose. There were food fights, items thrown in the pool and a piano was wrecked. Keith broke part of his tooth ad had to have it removed without anaesthetic because he was so drunk. The police were called, and both bands were presented with a combined bill of $24,000 for the damage they had caused.
These destructive tendencies meant The Who were in a lot of debt until Tommy put them on a more secure footing. Even after that, Keith continued to spend big and rack up debt. He hovered on the verge of bankruptcy more than once. His unrestrained spending all but wiped out the band's profit on their 1975 UK tour.
To add to his woes, Keith also experienced health issues related to his alcoholism and drug abuse. He passed out on stage more than once, and shows had to be rescheduled. At one show during the Quadrophenia show, he passed out twice and ended up being replaced by a drummer from the audience.
Then, during The Who's US tour opening in 1976, he passed out again. After the show, he demolished his hotel room, cutting himself very badly in the process. Luckily the band's manager Bill Curbishley found him and got him to a hospital before he bled to death.
Keith also had a tempestuous romantic history. He began dating Kim Kerrigan in 1965 after she came to one of their shows. She was pregnant within a year, and she moved in with Keith and his family. They married in 1966, and their daughter Amanda was born a few years later. It was a difficult relationship. Keith could be very jealous and, at times, was violent towards her. Eventually, Kim left Keith when his behaviour became too extreme. They divorced in 1975.
Friends believe Kim was the only true love of Keith's life, although, in 1978, he began dating Swedish model Annette Walter-Lax. She said he was so sweet when sober, and she lived in hope that he would get help and dry out.
Sadly, this never happened. He attempted to dry out in 1978 but refused to enter a hospital to do it. He was prescribed the sedative clomethiazole to take the edge off his withdrawal. His doctor warned him to take no more than three in a day.
By September, Keith's health was so poor he was struggling to play the drums. On the 6th, he and Annette had dinner with Paul and Linda McCartney and watched a preview of The Buddy Holly Story. He and Annette turned home, and after an argument, he took more clomethiazole. When Annette checked on him later, he was dead. An autopsy later revealed he had 26 pills in his stomach when just six would have been enough to kill him.
Keith was cremated at Golders Green crematorium, and his ashes were sprinkled in the garden of remembrance there. He was just thirty-two. The Who continued to thrive, but they lost the blazing vitality Keith had brought. Another star that burned out far too quickly.