Keith Moon Biography
|Name: Keith Moon||Drums: Premier|
|Born: August 23, 1946||Cymbals: Paiste, Zildjian|
|Origin: Willesden, England||Sticks: Many|
Who Is Keith Moon?
Keith John Moon was born to Alfred “Alf” and Kathleen “Kit” Moon at Central Middlesex Hospital in what was then the Urban District of Willesden, London in England. For the first three years of his life, Keith Moon was raised in Tokyngton, Brent in London. Keith Moon could be described as having a restless nature with a very comedic vein to it, and exhibited a great affinity to music from the get go.
“From the age of three, he would sit for hours beside an old portable gramophone player, and play old 78 records of stars like Nat King Cole and Scots bandleader Jimmy Shand.” – Kit Moon in Dear Boy: The Life Of Keith Moon.
In June of 1949, the Moon’s had their second child, Linda Moon. In 1950, the family moved to the Northwest London suburb of Wembley, Middlesex where Keith Moon spent most of his early years of life. Keith Moon began his studies in the local primary school, Barham, in September of 1951. Keith Moon’s teachers were very fond of him, but he was always getting into trouble because of his very laid-back attitude towards school.
In 1955, rock ‘n’ roll hit the United Kingdom (U.K) with Bill Haley’s “Rock Around The Clock”, which became #1 in November of that same year. In the following years, artists like Elvis Presley, Gene Vincent, Little Richard, and Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers further established rock ‘n’ roll in England. Keith Moon was, like the majority of youngsters, floored by this new musical craze. He became a fan overnight.
London’s school system was a very unforgiving one, because of the 11-plus. The 11-plus was an exam taken by all students that were in their last year of primary education – between 11 and 12 years of age. Passing the exam meant graduating to the higher ranks of the schooling system – grammar school (a form of high school) and then, college for the brightest of minds. To an extent, it guaranteed a secure and well paid job as well. Those who did not attain scores in the top 25% (that is, those who failed) were deemed unsuitable for either an academic or technical curriculum. And so those students, who were basically perceived as outcasts, were sent to secondary modern schools where they’d be taught a wide range of simple but practical skills.
Keith Moon’s odds of being successful with the 11-plus weren’t that brilliant. Keith Moon’s short attention span, coupled with the limited number of students the local grammar school was accepting, despite the enormous amount of kids from the post-war baby boom of the 1940s that were taking the exam, single handedly sealed his fate. And so, in the late spring of 1957, Keith Moon failed his 11-plus exam and was enrolled in the Alperton Secondary Modern School for Boys where he floundered.
Disenchanted with school, Keith Moon found in music an outlet for all of his energy and creativity. In 1958, the year the Moons welcomed Lesley Moon to the family, a 12 years old Keith Moon joined the local Sea Cadets Corps. He started as a bugler before moving on to the trumpet, an instrument Keith Moon wasn’t very good with. Keith Moon’s first experiences with drums came at the age of 13, when he moved from the trumpet and bugle to the bass drum. The desire to play drum set didn’t take long. Johnny Kidd and The Pirates’ “Shakin’ All Over” was the song that really started Keith on the path to drumming greatness.
Keith Moon’s love for drums were further fostered by British big band musician Eric Delaney, when he watched him playing on tympani and on a drum set with two bass drums on television. The Gene Krupa Story (1959) – released in the United Kingdom as Drum Crazy – introduced Keith Moon’s biggest influence to him, Gene Krupa. Gene was Keith Moon’s first big drumming hero. With his over the top performances, crazy showmanship trickery, and bigger than life charisma, Gene Krupa influenced Keith Moon tremendously.
In 1961, and after passing the Royal Society of Arts (RSA) examination in English and science, a 14 years old Keith Moon left Alperton. In the late spring of that same year, Keith Moon met Gerry Evans, a 15 years old teenager that worked in the drum department at Paramount Music, a music store in London’s West End. Unlike Keith Moon, Gerry had a drum set at his parents house and really knew how to play. Keith and Gerry hit it off from the get go. It was through Gerry that Keith Moon had his first experience with a drum set.
“(…) He was like a madman let loose on a drum kit with no idea what he was doing. He was just hitting everything in sight, and making a load of noise. (…) There was no way that this guy was going to be a professional drummer, it was impossible because he didn’t have a clue he was like the worst drummer you’d ever seen in your life.” – Gerry Evans in Dear Boy: The Life Of Keith Moon.
Eventually, Gerry landed a gig as the drummer for a local cover band called The Escorts. Keith Moon attended the band’s rehearsals, where he helped Gerry set his drum set. In return for his help, Keith Moon was given the opportunity to play with the band. Although he had a poor sense of timing and accuracy, the band really enjoyed having Keith Moon around because of his enthusiasm and great sense of humor. Keith Moon’s enthusiasm for drumming was still well alive inside of him, but he still lacked a drum set where he could practice on.
In the fall of 1961, Keith Moon began taking classes once again. This time around, they were evening classes at Harrow Technical College, London. His RSA in science coupled with his very inquisitive mind, indicated a natural predisposition towards the world of electronics. This facility of his helped him land a job with a company called Ultra Electronics. Knowing Keith Moon was already making some money, Gerry was able to secure a very good deal on a used Premier pearl-blue drum set that was for sale in Paramount Music. Keith Moon was finally set. He could finally start working towards his dream of becoming a rock-star.
Keith Moon is perceived as a drummer who’s the direct result of innate talent. However, Keith Moon actually had drum lessons when he began playing. The drum teacher in question was not a teacher per se, but a reputed rock drummer. Carlo Little had a very heavy and loud style of playing that catered to Keith Moon’s taste. After watching him perform a few times, Keith Moon approached Carlo Little to ask for drum lessons. Carlo eventually accepted, and for the following weeks helped shape Keith Moon’s basic drumming fundamentals. The lessons had a very good effect on Keith Moon, who was, for the first time, able to focus on something.
In July of 1962, Keith Moon had his first opportunity to perform with a band when Gerry wasn’t available to play a series of gigs with The Escorts. Keith Moon was Gerry’s natural replacement since he attended the band’s rehearsals and knew how to play all the songs. Keith’s playing with the band on stage was still very heretic and inconsistent, but his bandmates actually loved it. Seeing potential in Keith Moon, The Escorts decided to keep playing with him behind Gerry’s back. So, they used both drummers interchangeably. The addition of Keith Moon to the band helped them secure a lot more gigs than what they were getting at the time with just Gerry on drums.
After leaving The Escorts, Keith Moon auditioned successfully for another cover band, The Beachcombers. Soon after joining the band, Keith Moon took a job in the sales department at a plastering company known as British Gypsum, where he answered phones, took and processed sales orders. In the summer of 1963, and with 18 years of age, Keith Moon fell in love with surf rock music. It quickly became one of Keith Moon’s most influential styles of music. With the addition of Keith Moon to the band’s ranks, they were getting more and more paying gigs. Keith Moon’s enjoyment of playing with The Beachcombers was severely hindered when they refused to become professional musicians.
While working with The Beachcombers, Keith Moon regularly attended The Detours’ concerts during their Thursday night residency at the Oldfield in 1964. The band’s drummer, Doug Sandom, had heard from his brother-in-law that Keith Moon wanted to play for The Detours. The Detours were going after a record deal with Fontana Records at the time, so of course, the band had future prospects that catered to Keith Moon’s desire of becoming a professional musician.
The record deal The Detours were going after was only going to happen if they enlisted a new drummer, a better drummer. That was the wish of the record company. So after filling his last contractual obligations with the band, Doug Sandom left. In February of 1964, The Detours change their name to The Who. Knowing The Who were in search of a new drummer, Keith Moon approached the band during one of their live acts and asked them to try out for the open vacancy. In April, and after an impromptu audition at the Oldfield Hotel in Greenford, West London, Keith Moon was invited to join The Who as their drummer. Keith Moon kept playing with The Beachcombers even after joining The Who. Keith eventually quit The Beachcombers to focus on the band he thought was going to make it big in the greater scheme of things, The Who.
Career Highlights & Musical Projects
Keith Moon’s drumming is featured on The Who’s first 8 studio albums, and in a bunch of live and compilation albums. The 1971 album Who’s Next is their best selling album to this date, with over 3 million copies sold worldwide. The album was launched six years after The Who’s breakthrough album My Generation (1965), and five years after the album known as A Quick One in the U.K. and as Happy Jack in the United States. A Quick One is regarded as a turning point in The Who’s sound, due to the departure from the surf rock and rhythm & blues(R&B)/pop that influenced My Generation. A Quick One also encompasses The Who’s first rock opera tune in the form of “A Quick One, While He’s Away”. They would expand on this concept by launching rock opera albums in the years to come. The first one was the double disc Tommy (1969); certified platinum in the U.S. in two separate occasions. The second one was the double disc Quadrophenia (1973); certified platinum in the U.S. as well.
In between those critically acclaimed albums, The Who released the concept album The Who Sell out (1967), a collection of tunes mixed with fake commercials and public service announcements. In 1975 and 1978 the Who released The Who By Numbers and Who Are You, the last studio albums to feature Keith Moon on the drum set. If you’d like to learn more about The Who’s discography, click on this link.
Besides his work with The Who, Keith Moon took part in various side projects in music and cinema. In 1966, he worked with Yardbirds guitarist Jeff Beck, session musician Nicky Hopkins, and future Led Zeppelin members Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones on the instrumental track “Beck’s Bolero”. On 15 December 1969, Keith Moon joined John Lennons, Eric Clapton, George Harrison, Nicky Hopkins, Yoko Ono, Billy Preston and Klaus Voormann to form the John Lennon’s Plastic Ono for a UNICEF charity concert.
In 1975, Keith Moon released Two Sides of the Moon, a solo album worth of covers. Keith Moon was more of a singer in that album than a drummer. Keith Moon drummed in three tracks, leaving the remaining ones for Ringo Starr, Curly Smith, Jim Keltner and actor Miguel Ferrer. Later that year, Keith Moon played drums on the track “Bo Diddley Jam” on Bo Diddley’s The 20th Anniversary of Rock ‘n’ Roll album. In 1976, Keith Moon covered The Beatles’ song “When I’m Sixty-Four” for the soundtrack of the documentary All This and World War II.
In 1971, Keith Moon had a cameo role in Frank Zappa’s 200 Motels as a nun fearful of death from overdosing on pills. In 1973, Keith Moon played the role of a drummer named J.D. Clover, for the movie That’ll Be the Day. Keith Moon reprised the role for the 1974 sequel Stardust. Keith Moon appeared as “Uncle Ernie” in Ken Russell’s 1975 film adaptation of The Who’s rock opera Tommy. Keith Moon’s last role was in the movie Sextette (1978), starring Mae West.
Keith Moon was also invited by the Monty Python to play smaller roles in the movie Monty Python’s Life of Brian. Unfortunately, Keith Moon was never able to take part in that project due to his untimely death. Keith Moon died on the September 7, 1978 in his home. The cause of death was revealed to be an overdose of pills Keith Moon was taking to alleviate his alcohol withdrawal symptoms as he tried to dry out on his own at home.
What Can We Learn From Keith Moon?
Keith Moon’s drumming was rich in distinctive traits. The first one, and maybe the most surprising is the inexistent of hi-hats for a lot of the live and studio work he did with The Who. In the occasions Keith Moon had hi-hats in his regular setup they were usually permanently mounted in the half-open or closed positions. Opening/closing the hi-hats is rare in recordings where Keith Moon was featured. Many of you may see this as monstrosity since the hi-hat has been an integral part of the drum set since the 1930s. However, we encourage you to see this otherwise.
It doesn’t matter if Keith Moon’s hi-hat work is either a testament of his limitations or just a good example of his own personal approach to the drum set. What matters here is that Keith Moon’s attitude towards the hi-hat is indeed a great example of thinking and playing outside of the box. It’s an example of tempering with something we take as granted, for coming up with new possibilities. This is what we’d like you to focus on. Take this example and apply it to you drumming. Try to play without a hi-hat to see what you can come up with. See what other instruments you could use instead. Another cool idea is trying to play your drum set without a snare drum. Since the snare drum and the bass drum are the most important instruments on the drum set, this will challenge you tremendously, while helping you develop very original material of your own, whether in drum beat, drum fill or drum solo format.
Keith Moon’s creativity didn’t stop on his hi-hat. The drum parts Keith Moon wrote for The Who’s songs were actually quite peculiar, if not unconventional from today’s standards. The verses for the song “Who Are You” from the album Who Are You are a great example of that. You see, while most drummers tend to keep consistent patterns in between similar sections of a song (like the first and second verses) Keith had a tendency to naturally change them at taste. This was one Keith’s strongest traits. This approach is actually a breath of fresh air. You can use it towards enriching a song by embellishing the basic groove you wrote for a given section of a song with some cool rhythmic variations.
Keith Moon’s drumming was highly influenced by guys like Carlo Little, Cozy Cole and Gene Krupa. From Carlo, Keith Moon took the obnoxiously loud way of hitting drums and cymbals. The first time Keith Moon took drum lessons with Carlo Little, the first thing he noticed was the way Carlo could get a very pronounced and loud sound from his bass drum. After learning how to play the bass drum like so, Keith Moon kept building on that knowledge. Because of his very sparse use of the hi-hat foot pedal, Keith Moon often used his two bass drums to play unison strokes. This of course, generated thicker and louder sounding bass drum strokes, than if played with only one pedal.
Gene Krupa and Cozy Cole pioneered the use of tribal-sounding patterns played on the toms, something Keith Moon really loved about their playing. And as such, Keith Moon brought that type of pattern to The Who’s songs. You can find them in songs like “Anyhow, Anywhere, Anyway”, “Pictures Of Lily” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again”, just to name a few. You’ll also notice that during some of the drum fills from those songs, Keith Moon has the tendency to play the bass drum, adding a lot more energy to those patterns. This is another one of his popular techniques, and one you should try to incorporate into some of your drum fills.