The records made pop stars and mod icons of The Who. The drumming on them ranks among Keith Moon’s finest. The band’s spare instrumentation left space for the drums to become a lead voice. Moon rose to the occasion brilliantly, solidifying his unique style over the course of the first three Who albums: My Generation in ’65, A Quick One in ’66 (released as Happy Jack in the U.S.), and The Who Sell Out in ’67. His plangent, clattering tone was like nothing anyone ever had heard before. He put Premier drums on the map. The company showed their gratitude by building Keith the fabled “Pictures Of Lily Kit,” decorated with dayglo nudes and Union Jacks.
Keith Moon was the first drummer to expand the size of the rock kit, adding a second bass drum, a brace of mounted toms, and, depending on his changeable mood, two or three extra floor toms.
For the latter, he found novel uses. A highlight of Who shows circa ’67-’68 was Townshend’s “mini-opera,” “A Quick One While He’s Away.” During the piece’s “cowboy” section – a medley of tunes representing Townshend’s interpretation of early country and western – Moon would hoist one of his floor toms up across his snare and play a pattern on the shell. The section completed, what’s a body to do with the now-cumbersome floor tom? Moon’s solution was to hurl it high overhead. Wafted toward the rafters by a series of proto-power chords, the poor thing was – usually – caught by Moonie’s longtime aide, Dougal Butler.
With the success of the first singles, Keith Moon lost no time in setting up his own pop-star lifestyle. In March of 1966, he married 17-year-old model Kim Kerrigan, daughter of a retired Bournemouth tea-planter. The couple’s daughter, Mandy, was born in August of ’66. They set up housekeeping in a small flat in Highgate, North London, above a used-car showroom. The place is remembered for several things: among them is a resident and not-very-toilet-trained baby fox and its pop art installation piece. Ah, here comes our second Keith Moon story.
One evening Moonie hurled a champagne bottle against the wall, having, of course, drained its contents, along with the contents of Lord knows how many other receptacles. The bottle lodged itself halfway in the plaster, sticking up a jaunty angle. Rather than remove it and repair the wall, Moon hung an ornate gold picture frame around the bottle. Here was a man born to make art of wanton destruction.
Flying objects and domestic strife were, apparently, common to the Moon household. By all accounts, Keith never took marriage very seriously. His real home, it’s been suggested, was the rock-and-roll road. His fondness for trashing the living quarters thoughtfully provided by the world’s hotel chains vied with The Who’s onstage destructiveness to all but beggar the group by the late ’60s. When Moon played on Jeff Beck’s Truth album in 1968 (credited only as “You Know Who”), there was speculation that he was lining up a safe haven against The Who’s seemingly inevitable shipwreck.
But rescue came in 1969, in the form of Tommy, the rock opera that finally established The Who with American audiences, ushering in an era of relative financial stability. Moon bought Tara House, a pyramid-shaped residence in Chertsey. Keith, Kim, and Mandy moved into Tara with two other members of Kim’s family: her mother, Joan, and younger brother Dermot. While Joan proved a ready drinking partner for Keith, her presence at Tara may have aggravated the Moon’s already-troubled marriage.
Tommy also brought Pete Townshend new prestige as a serious rock auteur. This meant there was more need than ever for comic relief – someone to play Sancho Panza both inside and out of Pete’s increasingly elaborate narrative compositions. Keith Moon filled the bill admirably. And his demonstrative drumming took on new importance as The Who evolved toward arena rock with 1970’s Live At Leeds and ’71’s Who’s Next. Quadrophenia (1972) provided an outlet for Moon’s comedic talents and epic-scale drumming.
On a personal level, though, the ’70s were not kind to Keith Moon. The decade started badly with the accident death of his chauffeur and bodyguard, Neil Boland, on January 4, 1970. Apparently, Boland had stepped out of Moon’s Rolls Royce to deal with some skinheads who were blocking the car’s path in front of a Herefordshire nightclub. Moon slipped behind the wheel, the skins knocked Boland onto the pavement, the car went into gear and rolled forward, crushing the chauffer’s skull. The incident sent the drummer into a chronic, moths-long depression.
By October of 1973, Kim had left her husband for good, eventually divorcing him (and later marrying Faces keyboardist land McLaglan). In interviews, Roger Daltrey suggested that Keith never recovered from losing Kim. Townshend, for his part, has said that Boland’s death had a deep and lasting effect on Moon, precipitating the chain of self-destructive events that led to his own end.
What’s certain is that, as the ’70s wore on, Moon devoted himself more and more to activities outside of The Who. He made his screen debut in Frank Zappa’s 1971 film, 200 Motels, playing a nun. In ’73 he had a slightly more normal role as – what else? — a rock drummer, in the film That’ll Be The Day which also starred Ringo Starr, Billy Fury, and David Essex. He was also in the following year’s sequel, Stardust. Moon did some drumming on John Lennon’s Sometime In New York City in 1972, on a Screaming Lord Sutch album the same year, and on an increasingly forgettable string of records into the mid-’70s.