The floor tom was often the first to go, looping skyward over the back of the stage. Smoke already would have been billowing out from behind the band. As the music quickly disintegrated into sounds, the bass drums would lurch forward together, the result of a two-footed kick, bringing down the remaining components of the set like a house of cards in a stiff wind. After the dust settled, the band members would be seen disappearing backstage like ghosts, while the announcement came over the P.A. system. “The Who show is over. There will be no encore.” The audience hardly ever needed any further explanation.
To talk about Keith Moon’s relationship with his drums, you have to accept his definition of what a drum set was. And it wasn’t just something he kept the beat with. Keith used his drums to express his complex personality by creating music, comedy, tragedy, and performance art.
Keith’s obsession with drums started when his father bought him his first drum set of $17, and the young boy immediately took to them. Keith’s mother, Kitty Moon, said, “That’s what he really wanted. As soon as Keith came in contact with the drums, that was all he seemed keen on. Of course we all thought it was a passing fad, like everything else, but he stuck with it and got better and better. All of his energy went into it.”
Although the manufacturer of Moon’s first drum set is unknown, it was surely a basic four-piece European kit of dubious durability. But regardless of its construction, the set served to introduce the fledgling drummer to the percussive arts, and was quite possibly the drum set that Keith used on his original Who gigs. Bob Henrit, current drummer for the Kinks, was a close friend of Moon’s during the early ’70s: “ I don’t think Keith Moon would have been at his best behind a small kit. His approach was more global. He was something of an octopus.” Who bassist John Entwistle remembers that Moon’s drums were so lightweight that he brought a yard of rope to their early gigs in order to secure them onstage.
Even though Moon came to be closely associated with Premier drums for the lion’s share of his career, he actually used a mix of drums during his early years with the Who, including Premier, Ludwig, and Fibes. However, two years after joining the Who in 1964 Moon began feeling the limitations of a small set. According to former Cream drummer, Ginger Baker, it was he who first gave Moon the idea of using two bass drums. Moon obviously liked the idea, and immediately commissioned Premier to assemble a double-bass set.
Moon’s 1965 Set
Drums: Ludwig Super Classic
1. 22" Bass Drum
2. 16" Floor Tom
3. 13" Mounted Tom
4. 14" Metal Snare Drum
A. 20" Ride
B. 18" Crash
C. 14" Hi-Hats
This signaled the beginning of Moon’s long affiliation with Premier drums, and his obsession with unusually large sets. He now wanted to use any available means to bring his talents into the spotlight. In an early interview Moon said, “The drummer was always at the back and very rarely noticed. He was the least photographed, the least interviewed. When I started twirling my sticks around and standing up and those kinds of things, nobody else did that kind of thing in rock.”
The impact of Moon’s double-bass kit was immediate. Al Kooper, former keyboardist for the Blues Project and Blood, Sweat, and Tears, remembered his first sight of Moon’s drums when he appeared on the bill with the Who at a Murray The K show in New York City. “Keith Moon flailed away on those clear plastic drums and it seemed like he had 20 of them. It was the first time any of us had seen the typical English drum kit. There are usually six to eight tom-toms of various sizes, as compared to two or three in most American drum sets. And huge bass drums, one of which said ’The’ and the other, of course, ’WHO.’”
Moon’s exhibitionism only increased as word spread of the Who’s outrageous equipment and its subsequent ritualistic destruction. Keith once said, “When Pete smashed his guitar, it was because he was pissed off. When I smashed my drums, it was because I was pissed off. We were frustrated.”
Despite Moon’s justification, however, much of his drum destruction was an obvious result of mischievousness rather than pure frustration. For example, he exhibited nothing short of premeditated anarchy on the Smothers Brothers television shown of the late ’60s when he secretly attached a number of exploding charges to his drum shells. At a given moment during the Who’s set, Keith signaled a co-conspirator who detonated the caps. A million things then seemed to happen at once: Television viewers’ screens momentarily flashed bright white, Moon flew backward, falling behind the drum stand, the drums lifted themselves off the stage and disintegrated into tiny fragments, while everyone – including the other members of the Who – clutched their ears in unbridled horror. As the smoke cleared, a dazed Keith Moon could be seen grimacing with pain, a result of the shrapnel that had pierced his arms and legs. All throughout America teenage drummers were thrilled!