Moon Probe: A Rare Interview With Keith Moon

Keith Moon

By 1972, Keith Moon had enjoyed nine years of a whirlwind lifestyle that took him to the very top of the international music scene with the Who. Even though his success resulted from hard, endless touring, Moon discovered the perfect environment for his erratic lifestyle. He felt at home on the road, claustrophobic at home.

After nine years, however, the Who no longer were compelled to prove themselves: Tommy, alone, had guaranteed their place in rock-and-roll history. Their massive debts long since settled, the bandmembers were ready for an extended break from the road — all of them but Moon, that is.

The hiatus seemed to pull Keith in two different directions. On one hand, his pranks grew more theatrical. And instead of performing them in hotel rooms or onstage, he started to play them on the general public. But Moon also moved out of London that same year, in an apparent effort to pull his failing marriage together, and escape London’s party scene. It was an interesting time for him to talk to the press.

Keith Moon granted veteran British music journalist Chris Charlesworth the following interview, which appeared in the April 22, 1972 edition of the long-standing British music paper, Melody Maker. It was rare to see Moon’s words in print, since most of the time the press wanted to talk only to Pete Townshend. Most readers at the time might have expected a string of one-liners, front to back. And Moon was more than willing to turn a phrase on cue. The surprising thing was how serious his tone could become when the interview led in that direction. –Editor

CC: When did you first start playing drums?
MOON: Twelve years ago, roughly. A friend of mine had a set and a record player in Wembley. I used to pop over to his place and play to records. I had a job selling sticking plaster at the time.

CC: What was the first group you played with?
MOON: I don’t think we actually had a name. If we did it was something like the Mighty Avengers or the Escort or some polite name. We played Shane Fenton or Johnny Kidd And The Pirates or “Spanish Harlem,” and Shadows stuff, and Zoots. We played local town halls or factory dances, weddings a specialty. I played in several different groups and I joined one called the Beachcombers.

CC: How did you meet up with the High Numbers?
MOON: We were working a circuit, which a group called the Detours used to work, and people used to come up to us and say, “You’re not as good as the Detours. They’re a smashing band.” After a couple of months of this I was fed up of people saying this and I decided to have a look at them. I had heard a rumor their drummer was leaving, too, so I went down to a pub near me, the Oldfield Hotel, to see them.

They were outrageous. All the groups at that time were smart, but onstage the Detours had stage things made of leather, which were terrible. Pete looked very sullen. They were a bit frightening and I was scared of them. Obviously they had been playing together for a few years and it showed as well. I asked the manager of the club to introduce me to them. I was standing there and I had a few drinks, so I thought I’d play. I crept around the side and asked Dave the drummer if I could do a couple of numbers. He said yes.

They were doing a lot of blues numbers and “Roadrunner” and really great stuff. I was fed up with “Spanish Harlem” and wanted to get into this band, so I got on the drums and I must have been outrageous. I had dyed ginger hair, ginger cord suit. I was horrible. I looked a right state. I did a couple of numbers and broke the bass drum pedal, being rather heavy handed.

They asked me over for a drink but they didn’t say much. They didn’t ask me to join the group but they said they were having a rehearsal at some West Indian Club. Nobody said I had joined the group but I went along. This chap from Philips Records, Chris Parmenter, turns up with another drummer because they had been offered a record deal by Philips and they badly wanted the other drummer out.

This chap from Philips turned up, and so did I, it was rather embarrassing. He set up his kit and I set mine and nobody was saying anything. The rest of the band just didn’t care. They were turning up in one corner and it was dead embarrassing. Then they asked me to play in the first number, but the man from Philips wanted to play. I can’t remember if he played or not, but the group said they didn’t want him. So I just stayed with them. Nobody actually said I was in the group. I was just there and I’ve been there ever since. They were an amazing crowd and they still are.

CC: How long were you with the group?
MOON: They were the Detours, then [early ‘64] on the circuit. Then they changed their name to The Who and they were The Who when I joined them. It was a friend of Pete’s idea to call them The Who. We went through various names, like any group. We had a manager called Pete Meaden who thought up The High Numbers and the mod image. I don’t think we quite knew what we were doing, but before we knew it, we had all this mod gear, feeling totally out of place. This phase lasted a long time and at the time there were these legendary fights within the group.

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CC: When did [managers] Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp arrive?
MOON: They arrived when we were playing the Scene Club as The High Numbers. Kit first saw us in Harrow, and from there we signed with Kit and Chris. We’ve been stuck with them ever since. Somebody’s got to look after them.

CC: Is it true that when you first started playing the Marquee, fans were paid to come and see the Who?
MOON: This was the Shepherds Bush mod crowd who came to see us at the Goldhawk Road social club. Kit had an idea to get us into the West End and he wanted to form a nucleus of hardcore Who fans and call them the Hundred Faces. He would give them all a ticket and membership in the Hundred Faces, and make it very exclusive. This was the start of the Marquee sessions. We took the club on a Tuesday night because nothing ever happened on a Tuesday. We moved in and gave all these free tickets to these staunch supporters of ours from Shepherds Bush.

A massive invasion took place with these guys — their chicks and friends and a few people must have wandered in. gradually we built it up so that by the time we left the Marquee, it was getting packed. That was all our London Marquee, and the West End. People started coming from all over, the Elephant And Castle and East End.

CC: Had you started breaking equipment then?
MOON: We started earlier than that, actually. It was an accident at the Railway. Pete did it as a mistake. We were very visual onstage with theatrics, and Pete was always swinging his guitar about. One day — whack — the head fell off! The drums used to really disintegrate on their own — I hit them so hard. The fittings were designed for dance bands. When you got somebody like me, they just snapped off.

My whole style of drumming changed when I joined the band. Before, I had just been copying straight from records, but with The Who I had to develop a style of my own. I took [the idea] from Gene Krupa with all the stick twiddling and thought it was great. The sticks used to fly out of my hands because I was sweating like a pig. They’d just slide out. All these things had an effect on the audience.

They’d wonder what was going on. There was a lot of raving going on in the States, but over here the ravers were outnumbered by the Shadows-type nice groups.

CC: Can you remember making “Can’t Explain?” [single released February 1965.]
MOON: Yes, for us it was phenomenally successful because it got into the Top 20, and we can’t even do that now, not that we ever release anything. It was released about the time Pete started getting into writing. He had written a couple of things before, but now he had bought a pen and paper because we could afford it. We borrowed the money from Kit because we thought he was a millionaire. He probably had about £150, but that was a million to us. Chris Stamp had to go and work on films to keep us.

CC: When did you start playing outside of London?
MOON: We used to play some Sunday concerts with people like Dusty Springfield, Gerry And The Pacemakers, and massive bills. Each group had about three minutes. It was one number and off. Our one number used to last about 15 minutes, and we weren’t very popular so we didn’t do many. We invariably got into trouble for over-running and being generally nasty. Then we did [early British rock television show] Ready, Steady, Go and a Beatles show in Blackpool.

CC: Were you having trouble with record companies at this time?
MOON: One always is. The record companies are strange. Some try harder than others, but the ones we had weren’t trying at all. There were hassles everywhere. A lot of it was pointless. Now we get together and thrash things out, but then we weren’t equipped for that. We’d just smash each other in the mouth to solve things.

CC: When did you first go to America?
MOON: That was much later. We did the Ready, Steady, Go things, and then the Ready, Steady, Who record [an early EP]. Kit had some connections in Paris and we did a couple of shows over there [in 1964]. That was the first time we ever went abroad. I remember Kit taking me to a bistro and I threw up all over the drums. The group’s music was a lot of Motown stuff, which we got into at the Marquee. There was “Baby Don’t You Do It,” which we still do, and “Barbara Ann.” That’s the kind of music I was into then, as well as Who music.

CC: Were you ever a mod?
MOON: No, I was a rocker. Everybody was generally scruffy except John. We wore jeans and T-shirt gear basically. Pete would always wear comfortable clothes. The pop-art thing was Kit’s idea.

CC: You were always looked on as being an arrogant, nasty bunch.
MOON: We were. We were very nasty, and still are.

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CC: Were you living on pills or was that a publicity gimmick?
MOON: It was true. We had amazing things. We didn’t go out of our way to be nasty, we were naturally nasty. The press would ask these bloody stupid questions like, “What is the color of your socks?” and I’d think, “What’s that got to do with you?”

CC: Was it “My Generation” that made it in England for you?
MOON: Yes. We had “Anywhere, Anyhow” [sic] but that didn’t go well. “My Generation” made it over here but I can’t remember how we made it to America. The first time we went was the Murray The K Show [March, 1967]. He used to take a theater for two weeks and out on as many shows a day as he could possibly fit in. There was a minimum of four with the first starting at 11:00 in the morning. You could never leave the theater because you never knew when the next one was.

We had eight minutes and it was insane. We always ran overtime, but the reaction we got was amazing, because we were into smashing everything up. Eventually he let us go on a bit. The Cream were with us then on the show, and Wilson Pickett and Mitch Ryder. The next time we went to the States was for Monterey [July ‘67], but that was just in and out. Then we concentrated on New York, which was Kit’s plan. He wanted to take New York and go on to the West Coast using the same formula as we had at the Marquee. We wanted to build up a solid New York following and move out from there.

CC: Were you very much in debt by then?
MOON: Very much so. I don’t think it was because of living too well, although Pete and I are spenders. We are extravagant, to say the least. The main things were the instruments. We’d do a show and get £100, but a guitar would be £150, and a drum set £100. The debt got up to £30,000 or £40,000, and probably a lot more.

CC: Was there a time when the relationship within the group worsened because of the mounting bills?
MOON: The thing that kept us together was the fact that we knew all along we were going to get somewhere. We didn’t have to convince each other. We were supremely confident. It was a very tough band and nobody would concede. Nobody would say they were leaving the group except in flashes of temper.

CC: How much did the debt reach?
MOON: The figures were astronomical. We used to have meetings that were more like post mortems. Our accountants were pale, ashen figures. We’d pick up the accounts and throw them all over the office, falling about with laughter. There was no account, just debt, debt, debt, with nothing coming in.

It became so huge with equipment costs, van costs, cost for going to the United States — which was amazingly expensive. Over here we would get £200 a week, which sounded great, but it wasn’t. We got about £600 for the Murray The K Show, but we were booked into one of the most expensive hotels in New York. $5,000 would go in two days. We should have a broom cupboard, but there we were in a suite ordering Oysters Rockfeller. We didn’t have any idea at all of money.

CC: When was the turning point as far as money was concerned?
MOON: In the States, I can’t remember. Ready, Steady, Go was the turning point here after “My Generation” made it. Believe it or not it’s only since Tommy that we have started to have a bit of profit. Before that, nothing, and we had to pay back everything we had borrowed. We did a tour of the States with Herman’s Hermits and lost money. We did a tour in a bus, which we thought was the cheapest way of doing it, but once again the bus came to thousands of dollars.

The money we were earning meant nothing. Going from one gig to another would cost more than the gig money, and on top of that we had the equipment bills. Every night, regular, we’d break the gear. By this time I’d got some stronger drums, but I deliberately broke them.

CC: Were you beginning to develop a following in the United States?
MOON: On the Herman’s Hermits tour we were second on the bill, closing the first half, and about this time we started picking up fans. It was by playing, not records. It was a slog going around with a big group. The turning point in the States was Tommy in all respects: money-wise, audience-wise, and respect-wise. That got a lot of hassles with the record company sorted out because they respected us then. They would arrange things like free publicity and receptions for us.

CC: You had trouble following Tommy?
MOON: Yes. That’s why we put the live album out [Live At Leeds]. We couldn’t really follow it up. We wanted to do a positive step in another direction, otherwise Pete would be writing Tommys for the rest of his life.

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CC: Who came up with “Summertime Blues?”
MOON: We all had a meeting where we were rehearsing and decided we needed some new material to replace Tommy. We all went home and sorted through old records that we could do a version of. Some we came up with were no good, and others were great, like “Summertime Blues.” We dug up “Young Man’s Blues,” too. The Live At Leeds album represented the stage act as it was for a time, but then we got to putting more of Tommy into it.

CC: You have a reputation for wrecking hotel bedrooms. When did this start?
MOON: When hotels started doing things to me. To be treated like dirt is bad. That’s not the way I want it. If I have a room and the waiters won’t send up drinks or room service in a couple of hours, it’s bad. You can’t go onstage full of food. If a meal takes two hours to arrive, I’ll freak out and throw it against the wall. The waiter will go and get the manager and we’ll be thrown out.

CC: Are you banned from many hotels?
MOON: We’re banned from whole chains. Other groups say it’s bad for them, but if they’re willing to put up with that kind of treatment in hotels, good luck to them. But I’m not.

CC: There are lots of stories about you exploding doors off walls. Are they true?
MOON: Yes. We went to one hotel and they actually locked the doors with the suitcases in while we were out. They demanded cash in advance. They hadn’t told us about this before. They just sealed them. Now that’s not nice, so I blew the door off the hinges and got my luggage. A few hotels still remember us, but now we have sussed out the good ones.

CC: Is your reputation as a drummer overshadowed by your reputation as a looner?
MOON: I’ve no real aspirations to be a great drummer. I don’t want to channel all my energy into drumming, or to be a Buddy Rich. I just want to play drums for The Who, and that’s it. I think a lot of my lunacy is because I want to do some film work. Pete has got his writing, John has got his writing and producing, and Roger has got his farm. My interest is into filming and videoing. Since I’ve moved here I’ve stopped raging around the Speakeasy and other clubs as much as I did.

CC: Do you get frustrated when you are off the road for a great length of time?
MOON: Yes. This is why the video and film work come in. Pete’s writing and I don’t feel I am a particularly good writer. We intended to go back on the road once we have something to go on the road with. Pete’s writing at the moment and we intend to do our own film. That’s what we’ll be into later on this year.

CC: Do you see much of the rest of the group when you are off the road?
MOON: Not as much as I would like to. We had a meeting the other day and it’s amazing how much you miss them. Pete came over once, and I’ve been to see John a couple of time. The only reason I don’t see Roger is because he lives miles away.

CC: Why do you think The Who have stayed together for so long while so many groups who started at the same time have finished?
MOON: Because they’re not The Who. Obviously their personalities weren’t meant to stay together. I love the other members of the group dearly. You’ve got to be involved with the people you are working with and the people you are producing the act for. If you don’t get this involvement then the group breaks up. We found we can get involved with each other to mutual satisfaction.

CC: Why don’t The Who ever do encores?
MOON: I don’t think there’s any point. If you’ve done all you can, leave it at that. I don’t agree with encores. Sometimes it gets to the point where the crowd won’t leave unless you do, but I’ve seen so many groups do an encore after very short applause, and then they say they’ve done six encores. What’s all that about? We all feel the same way about that sort of thing.

CC: Have you a favorite Who album?
MOON: The one I have seen playing recently, and which has surprised me, is The Who Sell Out. I am pleased with that now, although I didn’t think much of it at the time.

CC: Do you have any favorite drummers from other groups?
MOON: I think the drummer with Argent is very good, Bob Henrit. And Ringo, whose drumming is incredible. His bass drum work is great. Those two are my favorites.

CC: You have an enormous drum kit onstage. Do you play all of it?
MOON: Sometimes I use the two tom-toms on my left for sticks and drinks and towels.

CC: You have a glass kit as well.
MOON: I got it in the States. I have never got a good sound with it. Visually is all I got it for, for television and miming.

CC: Why did you move out of London?
MOON: I had a house in Chelsea and it just got ridiculous. I could never get any peace. Regular, every night at 3:05 when the Speakeasy bar shut, the telephone would go. Immediately the cars would arrive outside the door. They’d all troop in and it was always the same. I couldn’t stand it anymore. I used to dread going back there. I do have to get to sleep, believe it or not. You just couldn’t live there, so I got a suite at a hotel, and then I found this place.

CC: Did you spend a lot of time going around clubs in London in the early days?
MOON: Yes, I’ve always liked clubs. The Scotch of St. James, Annabels Tramps, or Speakeasy. You could generally find John or me down there. We often used to go clubbing together.

CC: Do you think The Who would carry on if one member had to leave?
MOON: I don’t think it would carry on. It would naturally fall apart. I don’t think one member of the group would get fed up before we all did. If somebody wanted to leave they would have done it years ago. It will reach a point where we can’t do any more. I can see us working together all our lives. Certainly there’s no one I’d rather work with than The Who.

CC: Do you have a lot of respect for Townshend?
MOON: Yes. Pete and I didn’t get on well at the beginning. John and I were the only two who went out together. We had respect for each other and that has grown. Pete writes whatever he wants to say, and always thinks about us playing it.

CC: What kind of music do you prefer playing at home?
MOON: Surfing music and mid-‘50s American pop. I love the titles, and songs about ridiculous things, like affection for two tons of metal. I find it terribly funny, like “Tell Laura I Love Her.”

CC: Do you still keep a hotel near Oxford?
MOON: I’m in the process of flogging [unloading] it. I want to get one nearer London.

CC: Can you see yourself as a publican [bartender] when you retire?
MOON: I’ll either be on one side of the bar or another.