Keith Moon played drums with the same hyper-kinetic intensity that he lived his life: frenetic to the point where chaos could erupt around him at any given moment. When it comes to the excess and antics of rock ’n’ roll, Keith Moon didn’t just partake, he wrote the playbook.
Sadly, Moon died on this day in 1978, taken far too early his 200mph lifestyle having taken its toll. Keith packed more into his 32 years than most people could manage in a couple of lifetimes, cruelly losing his life to an overdose of prescription pills designed to help alleviate the alcohol withdrawal he was experiencing while attempting to get sober.
Moon left a wealth of drumming, inspiring generations to come as one of the most energetic and exciting drummers of his (and of all) time, but he also left a lot of crazy stories.
Some reportedly true, many doubtless embellished, and a few that are entirely disputed. Here, we take a look at five crazy, funny, and often dangerous Keith Moon moments.
1. Banger O'Riley
When The Who featured as guests on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in September 1967, the band was asked by the hosts in advance to destroy their instruments. The Who performed two songs that night - I Can See For Miles, the band’s first Top 10 hit in the US, closing with My Generation.
Moon’s bass drum was rigged for a rehearsal of the finale, where a dramatic flash would signal the, ahem, explosive ending, but this was apparently too tame for Moon, who insisted the charge be made more impressive.
With the cameras rolling, the final notes of My Generation arrive and Moon’s bass drum explodes with the force of a small bomb, much to the shock of bandmates Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend. Townshend was immediately in front of the bass drum, and just moments before the explosion had his head parallel to the resonant head.
Famously, Townshend blames the explosion on his permanent loss of hearing in one ear, as well as setting his hair alight. Moon suffered a slice to the arm from a flying cymbal, while bassist John Entwistle survived the ordeal unscathed.
2. Herd (not) Immune
Ever the prankster, Keith Moon enjoyed performing practical jokes while on tour. When Peter Frampton’s band, The Herd served as The Who’s opening act in 1967, it was open season.
Frampton remembers, “At one theatre, Keith Moon stuck his head out of the dressing room window and the girls outside started screaming. He said to me ‘Here Pete, shove your head out’. The next thing I knew I was dangling out the fourth-floor window. Keith had one leg and John Entwistle had the other. There I was full dangle.”
But the antics continued on-stage, with The Herd’s keyboard player Andy Brown subjected to having his keyboard rigged with firecrackers, detonated remotely by a backstage Moon.
However, the most comical (and least dangerous) incident involved double-act Moon and Entwistle apparently setting up a wire and pulley on drummer Andrew Steele’s gong. Whenever Steele went to hit the gong throughout the show, it was moved just out of reach.
There are plenty of tales of rock ’n’ roll excess, but few culminate in the termination of a gig mid-set. That’s exactly what happened during The Who’s gig at San Francisco’s Cow Palace in November, 1973.
Moon reportedly arrived at the venue, and began suffering from pre-gig nerves - something he’d become used to dealing with regularly. In order to calm him down, Moon’s female accomplice offered him something to take the edge off.
What that substance was, exactly, is the stuff of rock folklore - some say horse tranquilliser, some claim it was elephant sedative, Daltrey has even said it was monkey tranqulliser.
Regardless, it was found to contain PCP - commonly used to sedate large animals. Moon took the substance, washed down with a glass of brandy and began the gig. During The Who’s set, Moon’s friend had a seizure and was taken to hospital, before Moon collapsed about 20 minutes later during Won’t Get Fooled Again.
“If you could just bear with us for about three weeks, we’re just going to go and revive our drummer by punching him in the stomach. He’s out cold." Pete Townshend told the crowd. "I think he’s gone and eaten something he shouldn’t, it’s your foreign food. But I’m afraid the horrible truth is, that without him we’re not a group and you’ll have to f***ing wait!”
Moon was revived backstage by the band’s roadies before insisting on returning to the stage. However, he didn’t last long before collapsing again and being taken off stage for the rest of the night.
Townshend addressed the crowd, asking if there was “somebody good” at playing drums in the crowd, and up stepped then-19-year-old Scott Halpin, fulfilling every rock fan’s dream of being invited on stage to rescue the gig.
“My friend was pushing me forward and saying, ‘Come on man, you can go up there and play, you can play,’” Halpin said. “He’s really the one that got me into it. It was ridiculous. The tom-toms were as big as my bass drum. I only played three numbers, and I was dead.”
“He was out for 24 hours, and as this drug left him we had to push him around in a wheelchair because his legs didn’t work." Daltrey told Howard Stern. "[His mouth and eyes] still worked, so we could give him some stick while we were pushing him in the wheelchair.
"It used to destroy him when he did it, he’d be really upset when he let us down, incredibly unhappy. We used to get pissed at him because we cared about him…but he seemed to have nine lives.
"I’ve seen Keith Moon dancing on top of an air conditioning unit 16 storeys in the air.”
4. Talking ’bout Pie Generation
When Oliver Reed too the role of Frank Hobbs in The Who’s rock-opera, Tommy, it kindled a friendship between the likeminded booze titan buddies that lasted for the rest of Moon’s life.
As Daltrey told Howard Stern in 2020, Moon allegedly beat Reed in a drinking competition. “Oliver had a kind of legendary name for being the drinker. He’d outdrink Richard Harris, Richard Burton…he’d put them all under the table. Until Moon came along."
“Moon challenged Olly Reed to a drinking contest. Olly lived in this great big monastery in Surrey, and he had a pub at the end of the drive. They got down to about the third bottle of brandy each and Oliver Reed passed out under the table. Moon stood up and said “F**k you, Olly! I’m going to the pub for a real drink!”
Skip to 1975, and Reed found himself walking down the red carpet at a film premiere in Hollywood, before a lemon curd pie was thrust into his face. Upon removing the pie remnants, Reed was greeted by a stranger who handed him a card, which read “Pie in the Face International” on the front.
On the back of the card were the words, “You have been selected by Mr. Keith Moon to become a member.”, with a certificate enclosed reading “You are a member, sponsored by Keith Moon".
5. Won't Get Pooled Again
One of Moon’s most infamous antics centres around his 21st birthday, where he allegedly drove a car into a swimming pool whilst trying to escape a police raid on a hotel party that turned feral in Flint, Michigan after The Who’s support slot with Herman’s Hermetts.
Moon’s version of the story involves him evading the law, jumping into the Lincoln Continental and letting the handbrake go before rolling into a swimming pool where his secondary school physics lessons kicked-in, allowing him to remain calm, eventually exit the car and float to the safety of the surface.
It’s a mad story for a number of reasons - first, it’s a car in a swimming pool. Chuck-in the fact that the car-obsessed Moon didn’t hold a driving licence, then add the confusion over whether it was a Lincoln, Rolls Royce or Bentley. But more than anything, it may not have actually happened at all.
The Herman’s gang deny it happened with drummer Barry Whitman claiming “There was no car in the pool, only all the pool tables and chairs, and Keith never came back dripping water.”
Singer Peter Noone backs up his bandmate, saying "That never happened. He would tell stories. He just forgot what happened.”. Even The Who’s late bassist, John Entwistle refuted Moonie’s claims, saying "He never drove a car into the swimming pool. He couldn’t even drive."
Meanwhile, Roger Daltrey remembers the incident, vaguely: "I saw it. We paid the bill. It was $50,000. It’s vague now, but I just remember the car in the pool. But then I read in the biography [Dear Boy by Tony Fletcher] that never happened, so maybe I’ve been living someone else’s life, I don’t know." Either way, it’s a great story.