Did Pete write parts with you and Keith in mind?
Towards the end he did. Particularly for me because he started playing bass like I do [laughs], but early on, we didn’t know one another’s playing that well yet.
But what would he put on the demo for Keith?
Just the basic feel. Then he’d usually have Keith lay down his own click track and we’d all play to that. Other times, like on “Won’t Get Fooled Again” [from Who’s Next], we just played to the synthesizer.
Did you prefer using click tracks?
No, we all hated playing with them. First off, click tracks did my left ear in. I lost a frequency.
If you fell out of time with the click did everyone just keep going?
No, we’d start over again. We stayed pretty close to it. Keith would have little messages coming through his headphones on his click track saying, “middle eight coming up 1-2-3-4 …”
Did Keith, or anyone else in the band, have trouble getting inspired in the studio?
Well, obviously we were at our best playing live, but there wasn’t really a problem with inspiration in the studio until our last couple of albums. On Face Dances [released after Moon’s death, with Kenney Jones on drums], which we made with producer Bill Syzmczyk, he got us to do three takes in a row for each song and then took the best bits and stuck them together. So we did sort of a Frankenstein job on it. I thought our last albums ended up being so perfect that they weren’t perfect, you know. They were too tight and sterile.
What was Keith’s playing like toward the end?
He was fluctuating between genius and complete rubbish, so you had to get him on the right day.
You wrote “Dr. Jeckyll And Mr. Hyde” (from Magic Bus: The Who On Tour) allegedly about Keith’s mood swings, and Peter and Roger have described his personality as being always “up.” Were there any tracks where a more subdued Keith Moon was evident as far as dynamics or technique?The only song I’ve ever heard him play absolutely straight drums on was a song I wrote called “905” (from Who Are You) because it needed a very strict beat.
How did you get that from him?
I just told him it needed to be real simple and strong, otherwise the song wouldn’t come off. There was one song which we nearly wrecked the band over and that was “Substitute” [from Meaty Beaty Big & Bouncy]. When he first heard the track he said, “When did you record that? Where did you get that drummer from?” And I said, “It was you.” And he said, “I don’t remember doing this.” And I said, “You did!” and he said, “Bullocks! You got some other guy and I’m leaving the band!” So finally I said, “Listen to the drums. You’re screaming!” So he listened a bit and went, “Oh yeah, it’s me … well when did we do it?” And I said, “Last week” [laughs].
Supposedly, Keith didn’t like – or had problems with – playing “swing” or “jazz” eighth-notes and their related feels, like shuffles.
There were just some beats he had a lot of trouble with, like shuffles or playing in 6/8. On “I’m Free” (from Tommy), me and Pete had to play drums and Keith played the breaks because he couldn’t get the intro. He was hearing it differently from how we were, and he just couldn’t shake it off. So we put down the snare, the hi-hat, and the tambourine part and he came in and added all the breaks. When we did it live, the only way to bring him in was for Pete and I to go like this [makes an exaggerated high step], which must have looked completely nuts.
What was the basis of his unorthodox style of drumming?
Well, on his breaks, for instance, he wouldn’t go around the toms like someone normally would. He didn’t play from left to right or right to left, he played forwards. It’s hard to explain. He went from the snare to the toms a lot, and he’d always start his breaks with his left hand instead of his right, which was sort of strange. When you see him playing mad breaks, he’s not going around the kit, he’s going forward: His arms are moving forward from the snare to the toms. I’ve never seen anyone play like that before or since. Keith himself didn’t know exactly what he was doing. If we had two years off while Pete was writing he wouldn’t play drums at all. We’d come back to record and realize that Keith had forgotten how to play, so we’d have to go into rehearsals and jar his memory.
When did he begin using double bass drums?
Sure. I’d been playing with straight drummers all the time. In fact, before Keith helped to define my approach, part of my style came about by playing with [original Who drummer] Doug Sandom. He had a weak-sounding snare drum and couldn’t afford to buy another, so I used to slap the strings with my right hand to emphasize the snare on 2 and 4. Of course once Keith turned up all hell broke loose. I remember one of the first gigs we did together was a wedding! He set up his drums – it was a small set, Premier I think – and went around the entire kit with a nylon rope. Of course, we were curious. Anyway, at one point in the reception, the power went off, so we pointed to Keith to take a drum solo and then we realized why: He was hitting so hard the drums were spilling out and falling over [laughs]. Later on, one of the reasons we had to build up our amplification was because he was so loud. I mean, think about it – having to get big amps because the drummer is so loud, but the drummer isn’t even miked up! On most of the gigs we did with our double Marshall Stacks, he wasn’t even miked.
What track reminds you most of Keith?
I think the track that really epitomized Keith is “The Ox” (from The Who Sing My Generation), which is an instrumental. There’s a lot of really great drumming on Quadrophenia. “Won’t Get Fooled Again” (from Who’s Next) is classic.
As Keith’s closest friend in the band, how would you describe his attitude towards his playing?
Well, he used to always look at other drummers who were more accomplished technically and say, “They’re good, but I don’t want to do that.” One sentence he said kind of sums up his attitude towards himself. He became outraged once because one of us had a go at his drumming ability after a frustrating recording session. He said, “Look I’m the best Keith Moon-type drummer in the world.” In other words, “This is me, this is the way I play.” And that says it all.