An extensive interview with Keith where they discuss a little of everything!
It is probably fitting that Keith Moon plays the most aggressive instrument — drums — in the most explosive of groups, the Who, for Moon, clearly seems more outrageous and more violent than any of his contemporaries. Behind him for a period of ten years, for more than a third of his life, he has left a trail of empty Courvoisier bottles, splintered drum kits, wrecked automobiles and gutted hotel rooms, punctuating every inconceivable incident with a bark of total pleasure and amusement.
There are uncounted "Keith Moon Stories" floating around. Keith tells several here. Unfortunately, much is lost in translating Moon to print. His energetic sprints around the room, his dozen or so precise vocal impressions and dialects, the rubbery, gap-toothed face, the singing and dancing, the infectious volleys of laughter — all must be experienced.
So must his $150,000 modern house, set on the site of an ancient monastery nearly an hour from London in the green suburban stockbroker belt. The walls of the bar are painted in a Marvel Comics hero-villain motif and the ceiling is draped like a sultan’s tent. The sitting room is a huge, richly-cushioned "conversation pit" with a color television and a stainless steel fireplace that’s never been used. There is almost no furniture, anywhere. But there is a stuffed albatross, a polar bear rug, several rifles, an old juke box and a sound system that will send multi-decibel music far beyond the boundaries of his seven-acre estate.
From the outside, the house looks to be a collection of square pyramids, painted a glaring white. On one side is a tree so large it had to be lowered in by two helicopters. On the other side workmen are presently excavating a swimming pool that will be lined with marble and will offer the underwater swimmer the latest recorded melodies.
When I arrived, the live-in housekeeper — Moon’s mother-in-law — was in Spain on holiday. His long-haired mechanic and driver, Dougal, was working on the engine of the 1936 Chrysler, which was parked between the XKE Jaguar and the Dino Ferrari. The missus, Kim, and the child, Mandy, six, were out. And the lord of the manor was banging away with a shotgun, firing randomly into the tall leafy reaches of a horse chestnut tree.
How did you come to the group to begin with?
First they were called the Detours, then the Who, then the High Numbers, then the Who again. I joined in the second phase, when they were changing from the Detours to the Who. I was in another group on the same pub circuit called the Beachcombers.
Does that mean surfing music?
It did when I joined, yeah. Ah-Hahaha!
Ever been surfing?
Once, and I nearly fucking killed meself. We were in Hawaii and I said I must surf, Jesus, I been buying surfing records for years, you know, I’ve got to try it. So I rented a board and paddled out with all these other guys. The wahinis were on the beach. Woodies. Surfers’ paradise, right? I look off in the distance and there’s a huge wave coming. I said to one of the guys, "What do I do?" And he said [Moon goes into a cool, anonymous American voice], "Well, okay, buddy, all you got to do when you see that wave there comin’ she hits boy she hits and you want to be traveling at relatively the same speed, so you paddle." Perfectly logical. I said great. And then this solid wall of water came. All of a sudden this bloody thing hit me up the arse and I move from like doing two miles an hour to 200! I’m hanging on to the sides of the bloody board, y’see, and I hear: "Stand up, man!" Stand up? So I stand up and I look up and there’s water all around me, I’m in a great funnel, a great big sort of tube of water. And then I see the coral reef coming up. I’d only been on me feet for about two seconds, but it seemed like a fucking lifetime. Sod it! Sod it! I fell off, the wave crashed down on the reef, the board went backwards and then was thrown up in the air by the water. I surfaced, shook me ‘ead and relaxed. Then I looked up and saw this bloody board coming from about sixty feet in the air straight at me ‘ead. I went under water and it went sssshhhwwwoooooom! I’ve got a bald patch ever since where it scraped me skull. Ah-Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha- ha! Jan and Dean never told it like it really was. Certainly bloody didn’t!
So the Beachcombers was a surfing band, sort of?
Sort of. It relied on vocals more than instruments. As I’m a disgusting singer … I mean, the boys don’t let me sing. I don’t blame them. I sometimes forget meself and join in and they have to come down on me: "Moon . . . out!" I mean I even get sent offstage during "Behind Blue Eyes" just in case I forget meself. It’s the only number of the Who’s that really requires precise harmony. The rest of it’s all: "Yeeeaaahhh-Magic-Bus!" We shout. It doesn’t matter. So they send me off during "Blue Eyes" because either I’m buggering about and I put the boys off or I try to sing and really put them off.
Anyway, I’d decided my talent as a drummer was wasted in a tight-knit harmony band that I heard of that sounded as loud as I did was the Detours. So when I heard their drummer had left, I laid plans to insinuate meself into the group. They were playing at a pub near me, the Oldfield. I went down there and they had a session drummer sitting in with them. I got up on stage and said, uWell, I can do better than him." They said go ahead and I got behind this other guy’s drums and I did one song — "Road Runner." I’d had several drinks to get me courage up and when I got on stage I went arrrrggghhhhhhhhh on the drums, broke the bass drum pedal and two skins and got off. I figured that was it. I was scared to death.
Afterwards I was sitting at the bar and Pete came over. He said, "You . . . come ‘ere." I said, mild as you please: "Yes yes?" And Roger, who was the spokesman then, said "What’re you doing next Monday?" I said "Nothing." I was working during the day. He said, "You’ll have to give up work." I said "All right I’ll pack in work." Roger said "There’s this gig on Monday. If you want to come we’ll pick you up in the van." I said "Right." They said they’d come by at seven. And that was it. Nobody ever said "You’re in." They just said "What’re you doing Monday?"
Were you being managed by Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp at this point?
No, we were with a man who made doorknobs — young naive lads we were. This man’s suggestions were the only ones we got, except the lewd ones from the audience. We really didn’t have faith in ourselves then. Then when we settled in, the suggestions seemed ludicrous, so we decided to get rid of him, and Kit Lambert came to see us playing at the Railway Hotel in Harrow. We had a meeting. We didn’t like each other at first, really. Kit and Chris. They went around together. And they were . . . are … as incongruous a team as we are. You got Chris on one hand [goes into unintelligible East London cockney]: "Oh well, fuck it, jus, jus whack ‘im in-a ‘ead, ‘it ‘im in ee balls an’ all." And Kit says [slipping into a proper Oxonian]: "Well, I don’t agree, Chris; the thing is … the whole thing needs to be thought out in damned fine detail." These people were perfect for us, because there’s me, bouncing about, full of pills, full of everything I could get me ‘ands on … and there’s Pete, very serious, never laughed, always cool, a grass-head. I was working at about ten times the speed Pete was. And Kit and Chris were like the epitome of what we were.
When you went with them, the mod image was …
. . .forced on us. It was very dishonest. The thing was Kit’s idea. We were all sent down to a hairdresser, Robert James. Absolutely charming lad. We were then sent to Carnaby Street with more money than we’d ever seen in our lives before, like a hundred quid [$250] each. This was Swinging London. Most of our audiences were mods, pill-heads like ourselves, you see. We weren’t into clothes; we were into music. Kit thought we should identify more with our audience. Coats slashed five inches at the sides. Four wasn’t enough. Six was too much. Five was just right. The trousers came three inches below the hip. It was our uniform.
Was the next image Kit’s idea too — the pop art thing?
That was Pete’s idea. He had some friends at art college who were interested in pop art and they suggested to Pete that this was going to be big. So I had a target T-shirt and Pete had a jacket made from a union jack. It was just a way of dressing up the music, putting it across.
Your motto at the time was "maximum R&B." What did that mean?
We were playing a lot of Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, Elmore James, B. B. King, and they are maximum R&B. You can’t get any better. Most of the songs we played were their songs. Pete really got into his writing stride after "Can’t Explain." Of course any song we did get hold of, we weren’t playing straight from the record. We "Who’d" it, so that what came out was the Who, not a copy.
Like "Summertime Blues"?
Exactly. That’s a song that’s been "Who’d."
How did the stuttering effect in "My Generation " evolve?
Pete had written out the words and gave them to Roger in the studio. He’d never seen them before, he was unfamiliar with the words, so when he read them through the first time, he stuttered. Kit was producing us then and when Roger stuttered, Kit said [Oxonian accent]: "We leave it in; leave in the stuttering." When we realized what’d happened, it knocked us all sideways. And it happened simply because Roger couldn’t read the words.
The first American tour. Do you remember it with fondness?
For me it was a tour of discovery. It was three months with Herman’s Hermits. Backing up the Hermits was ideal. It was a position that suited us. We weren’t on the line. If the place sold only a portion of what it could have sold, the disaster was never blamed on us, it was blamed on Herman’s Hermits. We didn’t have the responsibility. We had time to discover. We found the good towns.
Which ones are they?
For the Who they’re New York, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Cleveland. They have the best audiences for us.
Was it on this tour you had your infamous birthday party?
Yes. That’s how I lost me front tooth. In Flint, Michigan. We had a show that night. We were all around the Holiday Inn pool, Herman’s Hermits and meself. I was 21 and they started giving me presents. Somebody gave me a portable bar and somebody else the portable booze. I’d started drinking about ten o’clock in the morning and I can’t remember the show. Then the record companies had booked a big room in the hotel, one of the conference rooms, for a party. As the hours went on, it got louder and louder, and everybody started getting well out of their minds, well stoned. The pool was the obvious target. Everybody started jumping in the pool with their clothes on.
The Premier Drum Company had given me a huge birthday cake, with like five drums stacked up on top of each other. As the party degenerated into a slanging, I picked up the cake, all five tiers, and hurled it at the throng. People started picking up the pieces and hurling it about. Everybody was covered in marzipan and icing sugar and fruit cake. The manager heard the fracas and came in. There it was, his great carpet, stained irrevocably with marzipan and fruit cake trodden in, and everybody was dancing about with their trousers off. By the time the sheriff came in I was standing there in me underpants. I ran out, jumped into the first car I came to, which was a brand new Lincoln Continental. It was parked on a slight hill and when I took the hand brake off, it started to roll and it smashed straight through this pool surround [fence] and the whole Lincoln Continental went into the Holiday Inn swimming pool, with me in it. Ah-Ah-Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha!
So there I was, sitting in the eight-foot-six in the driver’s seat of a Lincoln Continental, under water. And the water was pouring in — coming in through the bloody pedal holes in the floorboard, you know, squirting in through the windows. In a startling moment of logical I said, "Well I can’t open the doors until the pressure is the same . . ." It’s amazing how I remembered those things from my physics class! I knew I’d have to wait until the pressure was the same.
First I looked to see if I’d have to kick the bloody windscreen [windshield] out to swim clear. I didn’t know if I had enough clearance to open one of the doors. I’m in a swimming pool you remember and a Lincoln Continental is quite wide. Luckily, as I’d gone in, it’d settled to one side, with the passenger door up against one of the sides. So my door— I could open it.
So I’m sitting there, thinking about me situation, as the water creeps up to me nose. Today, I can think of less outrageous ways of going than drowning in a Lincoln Continental in a Holiday Inn swimming pool, but at that time I had no thoughts of death whatsoever. There was none of that all-me-life-passing-before-me-eyes-in-a-flash. I was busy planning. I knew if I panicked, I’d have had it. So when there’s just enough air in the top of the car to take a gulp, I fill up me lungs, throw open the door and go rising to the top of the pool. I figured there’d be quite a crowd gathered by now. After all, I’d been down there underwater for some time. I figured they’d be so grateful I was alive, they’d overlook the Lincoln Continental. But no. There’s only one person standing there and he’s the pool cleaner and he’s got to have the pool clean in the morning, and he’s furious.
So I went back to the party, streaming water, still in me underpants. The first person I see is the sheriff and he’s got his hand on his gun. Sod this! And I ran, I started to leg it out the door, and I slipped on a piece of marzipan and fell flat on me face and knocked out me tooth. Ah-ha-ha-Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!
I spent the remainder of the night under the custody of the sheriff at a dentist’s. The dentist couldn’t give me any anesthetic because I was pissed out me mind. So he had to rip out what was left of the tooth and put a false one in, and the next day I spent a couple of hours in the nick [jail]. The boys had chartered me a plane because they had to leave on an earlier flight. The sheriff took me out in the law car and he puts me on the plane and says [American], "Son, don’t ever dock in Flint, Michigan, again." I said, "Dear boy, I wouldn’t dream of it." And I was lisping around the new tooth. Ah-Hahahahaha!
By now I’d learned how destructive we’d all been. During the merriment someone had upset all the fire extinguishers and turned them on all the cars in the car park. Six of them had to have new paint jobs; the paint all peeled off. We’d also destroyed a piano. Completely destroyed it. Reduced it to kindling. And don’t forget the carpet. And the Lincoln Continental in the bottom of the pool. So I got a bill for $24,000. Ah-Hahahahaha! I wasn’t earning half that on the tour, and I’d spent everything by the time I’d got to Flint, Michigan, I was in debt up past me eyebrows before this happened. Luckily, Herman’s Hermits and the boys split it up, about 30 of us all gave a thousand dollars each. It was like a religious ceremony as we all came up and dropped a thousand dollars into a big hat and sent it off to the Holiday Inn with a small compliments card with "BALLS" written across it – and the words, "See you soon." Ah-ha-ha-Ha-Ha-Ha-ho-Hahahahaha!
You can’t have destroyed as many rooms as legend has it.
You want to bet?
Have there been other times when . . .
Lots. Yes. I get bored, you see. There was a time in Saskatoon, in Canada. It was another Holiday Inn and I was bored. Now, when I get bored, I rebel. I said, "Fuck it, fuck the lot of ya!" And I took out me hatchet and chopped the hotel room to bits. The television. The chairs. The dresser. The cupboard doors. The bed. The lot of it. It happens all the time.
Do you have difficulty getting rooms today?
Of course I do, dear man. I’m banned everywhere. With my record I’m not surprised. That’s why I have to buy me own hotels. Even I ban me. I won’t allow me-self to stay at me own hotels. Ha-ha-ha-ha.
What possessed you to carry an ax to begin with?
I honestly don’t know. It’s not that I’m not willing to say. I honestly don’t know why. I have a certain respect for ax-murderers, at least the blunt instrument men as opposed to the insidious poisoners, because it does involve actual close contact with the victim. With a bomb or poison there’s no human warmth at all. But with a blunt instrument you’re totally involved with your victim. It’s so wonderful. But with a bomb it really does take all the fun out of it.
Do you still stay at Holiday Inns?
I think they almost welcome us. It’s like a break from tradition. It gets them out of the tedium of guests who are so boring, so absolutely boring. There’s no excitement from [goes into another American accent] Chuck from New York City who’s away for a couple of days and wants a little fun on the town: "Well, I guess I’ll go and get myself some good-looking hooker and take her back to my hotel room and we’ll drink some wine and hopefully I’ll lay her."[Back to fiis normal voice.] That’s it. That’s the typical Holiday Inn guest. And we turn up: "’allo, sweet’eart. Get your knickers off!" Boom! There goes another room. What’re you gonna do about it! Send us the bill. Fuck the expense. This is the attitude. I go in there . . . they say he’s a fucking madman. And they’re fucking right!
I’ve always heard it was Pete who started the destruction onstage, but you make it sound as if it might’ve been your idea.
The way the story goes, Pete put the neck of his guitar through a low ceiling when he jumped too high, but that’s not it. It happened when somebody got pissed off with the gig, with the way things were going. When Pete smashed his guitar it was because he was pissed off. When I smashed me drums, it was because I was pissed off. We were frustrated. You’re working as hard as you can to get that fucking song across, to get that audience by the balls, to make it an event. When you’ve done all that, when you’ve worked your balls off and you’ve given the audience everything you can give, and they don’t give anything back, that’s when the fucking instruments go, because: "You fucking bastards! We’ve worked our fucking balls off! And you’ve given us nothing back!"
That’s one way the instruments got smashed. Another way was if a member of the group was too fuckin’ stoned to give their best. Then he was letting down the other three. In a lot of cases it was me, through drinking too much. You know, just getting out of it at the wrong time. Then Pete or Roger or John says, "You cunt! You fucking let us down! You fucking bastard, if you want to get pissed, why don’t you wait until after the show!"
But every time you destroyed your drum kit, or Pete wrecked his guitar it wasn’t motivated by anger …
Not every time. It became expected — like a song, a Number One record. Once you’ve done it, you’re committed to it. You have to play it. Because there are some people in the audience who’ve only come to hear that one song. You know they’re there. You can’t ignore them. So what we do is make a spot in the act that does the job. Every part of the act works to a part of the audience, and the act as a whole must work to the entire audience.
Wasn’t it pretty expensive?
It was fucking expensive. We were smashing up probably ten times if not more than we were earning. We’ve been going successfully for ten years, but we’ve only made money the last three. It took us five years to pay off -three years, our most destructive period. We had to pay all that back. Musicians are renowned for not paying their bills. And we were no exception. We put it off as long as we could. But when the writs started coming in, the court orders, the injunctions, the equipment confiscations, then we had to pay. And we paid for five years.
And then dropped the destructo routine?
We dropped it as a theatrical routine. We still destroy our equipment occasionally, but not on order. We’d committed one of the cardinal sins: We’d actually let the theatrics overtake the music. You can’t let that happen. The music must be first. So we just turned around and said, "Well, this has got to fucking go, we can’t have this every show . . ." Because it was becoming too hackneyed. The spontaneity was lost.
Has there been much violence within the group itself?
Yes, but not too recently. There was a time when there were a lot of personal differences. I was taking a lot of speed. Roger wasn’t, because it used to fuck his voice up. Roger was drinking and we were all speeding. And this caused a breach. I always loved the boys, but in the early days it was a bit difficult to get across, because we were all wary of each other.
We’ve had several critical points when it’s been touch and go. One time in Sweden, Roger blew up: "You’re all fucking junkies! I’m not having any truck with ya. Sod you! The group’s finished as far as I’m concerned!" And then he took a swing at me. It happened all the time.
We re there really fist fights?
Of course, absolutely. And I’ve got the scars to prove it. Really. There are still a few bottle scars and knife marks about the body.
Oh, we didn’t mess about. We don’t mess about now. We go on stage and that violence is working within the band. Now we’ve learned to channel it. Then it wasn’t channeled. It was just raw.
Come on. You really went at each other with knives?
Yes. Smashed glasses. Smashed bottles. This was eight years ago. Finally we realized we had to have a truce. We realized we were destroying each other when we should have been destroying the audiences out front. But it was incredibly violent for a time. It was common knowledge in England, because there were a lot of people coming to see our shows and we came on with sticking plasters, bleeding . . . There were even fist fights on stage. Everybody was leaving the group. Every five minutes somebody was quitting the group.
At what point did this stop?
This seething hotbed of violence? Ah-Ah-Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha! When we realized there was no future in it. I quite easily could see me-self getting knifed to death or stabbed in the face with a broken bottle, and so could everyone else in the group. The realization that we had so much energy, that we felt so deeply about it as we did to go at each other — that prompted a review of the whole situation. It was when we recorded "My Generation" we started coming together. After that it was less stormy. Pete said it about me: "It wasn’t until . . . y’know, Keith and I were always fighting until I saw the good in ‘im and ‘e saw the good in me." This is what happened. We had a major revolution within the group.
Were there ever disagreements over who was the group’s spokesman?
Only in the early days. At one time Roger was the group’s spokesman. Now most people say Pete is. The thing is, it doesn’t matter … who says it. At one time we placed great importance on a spokesman and who that spokesman was. Not now. Whoever it is, he’s just a mouthpiece for the organization, and one mouth is as good as another.
You all seem to be fairly available to the press.
We’re doing fuck-all else. Ah-Hahaha-hahaha! Some people say I’ll do anything for the press, it’s true . . . that I make meself too available. I just like to have fun.
For instance …
There was the time Keith Altham and Chris Williams, who look after our PR, phoned me up and said I had to be at their office at three o’clock for an interview. Well, you know, the pubs shut at three, so I was rather delayed, because they don’t turn out until ten past, and they don’t turn me out until half-past. So it was quarter to four before I eventually started. I was back up my office at Track [Records] and finally I remembered; I’d forgotten all about it. So, uhhh: Oh Christ, they’re gonna be angry. Right opposite the office is a chemist’s, so I sent Dougal, me driver, over there to pick up some rolls of bandages and plaster and I did all me leg up, strapped me arms up and purchased a stick, a walking stick. Then I went over to the office. "Sorry I’m late but the hospital delayed me."
I’d called earlier and told them I’d been run over by a bus on Oxford Street. They didn’t think that unlikely. I think they’ve adopted the attitude that anything’s likely with Moon, y’see. So I walk into the office . . . hobble in, actually . . . and they say, "’ow did it ‘appen?" I said, "I was just crossing Oxford Street and a Number Eight from Shepherd’s Bush ‘it me right up the arse and sent me spinning across Oxford Circus." So Keith and Chris say they’ll cancel the interview. I say no, but maybe they’d be so kind as to carry me down the four flights of steps to the street. They thought I’d come up by meself, on me walking stick, y’see.
So they carried me down the stairs and we’re walking along, I’m hobbling along the street again and this bloody lorry comes along as I’m crossing the street and it screams to a halt in front of me. I say, "’ang on, mate, I can’t go fast on these legs," and Keith has a go at the lorry driver: "You ‘eart-less bastard, can’t you see this man’s injured! ‘ave you no ‘eart, ‘ave you no soul, you bastard! Trying to run over a cripple!"
We went on to the interview and in the middle, after about four brandies, I just ripped off all the plaster and jumped up on the seat and started dancing. Ah-Hahahaha-ha-ha-HaHa!
Wasn’t there a publicity stunt involving your hovercraft?
A-Ha-HaHaHa-haha. -It’s only a small hovercraft. You’ve seen it, out there on the lawn. Well, these people from the Daily Mirror came down to do an article and the day before they came, it blew up. It was only firing on one cylinder. But I thought we could get by and I suggested a storyline— you know, here’s a new way for the blokes to commute, by hovercraft. My plan was to take the hovercraft down to the railway crossing by trailer and photograph it hovering over the tracks, pointed toward London. We got it going okay, got it in position over the tracks and it broke down. And when one of these bloody things breaks down, you can’t move it, because it’s got no wheels. There we were with this big machine laying across the tracks. We couldn’t move it.
So I did the only thing possible, I went to the telephone box, called the station-master’s office and said [proper British accent], "Yes, ‘ello there, dear boy, I’m representing Wimpey’s and we were taking two condensers across the track out here in one of our lorries and unfortunately one of them has fallen off." I explained that the condensers weighed 30 tons each and asked them to hold all trains. Then I rushed back to the stalled hovercraft. It was laying across both tracks and blocking both lanes of the road, so the automobiles were beginning to back up, too. Ah-ha-ha-Ha-hahahaha! Oh, it was wonderful.
I had to hold up the main line to London for half an hour. I kept racing from the hovercraft to the telephone. They were telling me how many trains were waiting and they said they were sending help. I said, oh my . . . thank you very much, but it’s not necessary as we’d now got the condenser back on our lorry . . . but unfortunately the lorry had stalled. We were expecting the great express to thunder down on us at any moment. Ah-Hahahahahahahaha! Finally, when enough car traffic had backed up, we collected all the drivers and put them to work, helping us shift the bloody hovercraft off the tracks. At last we pushed it off, just as the telephone rang and a voice said, "We can’t ‘old the trains any longer." I said, "That’s all right, send them through." And all these trains started coming through — for an hour! Ha Ha Ha Hahahahahahaha! So far as they were concerned, we had these two huge articulated lorries with 60 tons of electrical condensers stalled across their track.
Have you ever been injured in any of your stunts? Aside from the missing tooth?
I broke me collar bone once. That was in me hotel, the one I own, one Christmas. I collapsed in front of the fire at four o’clock one morning and some friends of mine decided to put me to bed, and they were in as bad a state as I was, but they were still on their feet. Just about. One of them got hold of me head, the other got hold of me feet and they attempted to drag me up the stairs. They got me up two flights and then promptly dropped me down both of them, breaking me collar bone, y’see. But I didn’t know this until I woke up in the morning and tried to put me fucking shirt on. I went through the fucking roof.
Now … I was supposed to do a television show, the Tops of the Pops New Year’s Eve special, and two days before I have me arm all strapped up so I can’t drum. I went to me doctor, dear Doctor Robert, and he gave me a shot on the day of the gig so I wouldn’t feel anything. I put a shirt over the cast, fastened the drumstick to my wrist with sticking plaster, sat down behind the drum kit, and got Mr. Vivian Stanshall to tie a rope around me wrist. We then threw the rope over the lighting pipe overhead, the one that holds the floods and all, and I kept an eye on the television monitor; every time I was on camera, I’d give the signal to Viv, and he’d give me a pull on the rope, which caused me right arm to shoot up and then come crashing down on the cymbal. Ah ah ah ah Ha-hahahahahahahaha!
Were there other broken bones?
Yes, two. I broke me ankles. I had a party at me house out in Highgate. I was dancing at the top of the stairs, fell down and broke one of me ankles. I had to go to the hospital, where they strapped it up and said I had to walk with crutches. Then they sent me over to physical therapy where they teach you how to use crutches. A nun came up to me and took me to a simulated staircase — five steps up, a small platform or landing, five steps down again. She said, "What you do is put your good foot forward, then take the weight with the crutches, swing your rotten leg up, take the weight again, swing the good foot forward again …" And so on. It was a lot easier than it sounds. I went right up to the top, and the nun was all smiles. She told me to go down the other side. So I thought: Right. . . and I threw the bad leg out, missed with the crutches, fell down and broke me other ankle. Hahahahahahahahahahahaha! They had to rush me from out-patient’s right back to in-patient’s again. This was right before the Isle of Wight festival and the good Doctor Robert had to come over to the island and give me pain-killing injections in me ankles. Terrific.
These farcical situations … I’m always tied up in them. They’re always as if they could be a Laurel and Hardy sketch. And they always happen to me. I think unconsciously I want them to happen, and they do.
Is that the image you have of yourself?
I suppose to most people I’m probably seen as an amiable idiot … a genial twit. I think I must be a victim of circumstance, really. Most of it’s me own doing. I’m a victim of me own practical jokes. I suppose that reflects a rather selfish attitude: I like to be the recipient of me own doings. Nine times out of ten I am. I set traps and fall into them. Oh-ha-ha-ha Ha-Ha-Ha! Of course the biggest danger is becoming a parody.
Your wife, Kim, must be extraordinarily sympathetic and patient.
She is. She sort of takes it in her stride.
How did you meet her?
Eh-eh-eh-eeee-eh-eh-eh-eh. I met her in Bournemouth when I was playing a show. She was 16 and she hung out at the club when we worked, the Disc. Sometime later when I went down to see her, I was on a train and Rod Stewart was on the train. This was about ten years ago. We got chatting and we went to the bar car. It was Rod "The Mod" Stew-art in those glorious days and he’d just been working with Long John Baldry. He was playing a lot of small discotheques and pubs, doing the sort of work we were doing. I said to Rod "Where you going?" He said, "Bournemouth." "So’m I," I said, "I’m going down there to see my chick." He said, "So’m I." So I showed Rod a picture of Kim and he said, "Yeah . . . that’s ‘er." Hahaha-hahahaha!
I don’t remember. We were in the bar car and we both got paralytic.
How’d your mother-in-law come to live with you?
She’s me housekeeper. And she’s a great cook. You see, I was cradle-snatching. I snatched her daughter at 16, right out of convent school, and she hadn’t learned how to cook yet, so I said, "Get your mother up ‘ere." She’s been living with us for about a year now. She’s not the accepted idea of a mother-in-law. At my house there’s no real accepted idea of anything.
Do you play the Who records here in the house?
Yes. [He walks to the juke box, punches up "Can’t Explain" the Who’s first single.]
Do you have other favorite Who tracks?
I was listening to The Who Sell Out the other day and it was the first time I’d listened to it for ages. Yeah, I was really pleasantly surprised. You work on an album and when it comes out, it’s always a bit anti-climatical because you remember what went down in the studio, and how good the tracks sounded in the studio through all the big Lockwoods. It’s always a bit of an anticlimax to hear it on a radio. Then because you’ve been in the studio a long time, you go on tour . . . and when you tour you’re still playing songs from the album, because it’s just been released and you’re out there selling it. When you finally get back home, you’ve been playing those songs for months and months and you don’t really play the record. Anyway I was really pleased with The Who Sell Out. I really liked "Mary-Anne With the Shaky Hand," I really liked a lot of the songs on that album.
That was the album with the parodies of commercials on the cover — you and Pete and John and Roger acting out television commercials. What were those album picture sessions like?
It was a package — everything was hooked to the commercial, musical bridges and links, the artwork, everything. And we had a baked bean link … a teenage problem spot cream link … we had a Charles Atlas course . . . and we had Odorono. I took the teenage spot cream, because I was the youngest. Peter had the Odorono. I’m not saying anything more. Ah-Hahaha! He had trouble with his feet. Oh-Ho-Heee-Haha! John had the Charles Atlas course, because ‘e was biggest, and had a hairy chest — even though it was Roger’s wig, stuck on and dyed. Oh-Ho-Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha-HaHaHaHa! None of us would dare go into the tub filled with baked beans, which the photographer had bought the day before and kept overnight in his deep freeze. So there it was, this bath, full of freezing baked beans. So we’d all had our shots taken when Roger arrived. He came in. We said, "Right . . . now we’ve done ours, all you’ve got to do is get into that bath of beans. Strip off … down to your underpants . . . and get into that bath of beans. And he did it. We got a beautiful color shot — this off-orange bean color and this sort of … blue Roger.
So much for me favorite Who tracks. Ah-ha-ha-ha-Ha-Ha-Ha!
Do you have "favorite" drummers?
Not many. DJ. Fontana [Elvis’s original drummer] is one. Let’s see . . . the drummers I respect are Eric Delaney and Bob Henrit [from Argent] and … I got a huge list, really, and all for different reasons. Technically, Joe Morello is perfect. I don’t really have a favorite drummer. I have favorite drum pieces and that’s it. I would never put on an LP of a drummer and say everything he did I love, because that’s not true.
By "drum pieces" do you mean tracks that feature drum solos?
Personally, I don’t think there’s anything as boring as a drum solo. Do you think if everything stopped and a guitarist carried on: DEEEEEEEEE – UUUUUUU, DEEE EEEEEEEEEE- DEEEEEEEEEUUUUU UUUUU. DEE DEE UUUU … do it that long and it’s okay, but carry it on for another five minutes: DEEEEEEEEEEUUU UUUUUUUUDEEEEEEEEE UUUUUU DEE DEE DEE UUUUUUU DEEUUUU DEEEEE – UUUUUU DEEEE DEEEEE EEEE DEEEEEEEE IIIIIIIII UUUUUU DEEEEEEE I UUUUUU DD EEEEE UU UUUUUUUUUUUU DEEE DEEEEEE DEEEEEE DEEEEEEUUUUUU IIIUU. Could you listen to five minutes of that? I couldn’t. I couldn’t sit through a bass either: THUM THUM – THUM – THUM THUUUUUUUUUMMMMMMM. Five minutes later: THUM THUM THUUUM. Boring. Fucking boring. The Ox — John Entwistle—once described the Who as four soloists all playing solos at the same time. That’s it. That’s my drum solo. I’m the only one in the band playing drums.
How’d you start on drums?
Jesus Christ, I think I got a free drum kit in a packet of corn flakes. Ah – Ha – Ha -ha-ha-ha-ha! But no … drum solos are fucking boring. Any kind of solo is. It detracts from the group identity.
How much of a group effort are the songs? Pete brings you demos on which he’s played all the parts. How much do you change those demos when you record?
Not a hell of a lot. Because Pete knows. When Pete writes something, it sounds like the Who. The drum phrases are my phrases, even though it’s Pete playing drums. He’s playing the way I play. He’s playing my flourishes. The same thing for the bass part, and the guitar, of course, is his own. Only the vocals change some.
Are many of the songs rejected?
No. He obviously writes a lot more … I mean, not every song that he writes is suitable for the Who. When he gets an idea he thinks is right for the group, he brings it in and we try it. It’s not often that he’s wrong.
Do you rehearse a lot?
We’ve always prepared for live shows meticulously. But we rehearsed a damn sight more often several years ago than we do now. Now we’ve reached a peak in the band . . . well, we reached it a long time ago … so now Pete plays us a number or we listen to a number and we can get it off pretty much if not the first time, the second or the third, and by the fourth or fifth it’s begun to be battered into shape. In the old days, we were still getting the group together, still working out our own relationships.
The Who’s never really been a "singles band." Was this by design?
Pete wrote "Can’t Explain" as a single. He wrote "My Generation" as a single. But he’s never really been one for writing singles. He doesn’t like to sit down and write a single. He likes to write a project. . . and an LP is viewed as a project, a group project. A single is something you take off an LP. We don’t go in and do singles. The singles market really is not our market. If one of the tracks on an LP sounds like it might be a single, then it’s released as such.
We had a period of singles after "My Generation" — "I’m a Boy," "Substitute," "Happy Jack." But then we went into making LPs. And once you get into making LPs, it’s very difficult to go back to making singles.
Two years later, how do you look back on ‘Tommy?’
With disbelief. Ah – Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha! I can’t believe we spent six months doing it. It took six months to make. That’s studio time and that’s talking about it, discussing it, arranging it, producing and writing it. Getting it all together. Recording it and then saying we could do it better and recording it again. Six months continuously in the studio.
Other than with disbelief, how do you remember it?
Well, it is disbelief. I just can’t believe that we did that album. It was an amazing album to do. It was, at the time, very un-Who-like. A lot of the songs were sort of soft. We never played like that. And we didn’t have an idea then as to how it was all going to turn out. Here we were, spending all this time on a project that none of us really knew all that much about.
Who came up with the phrase "rock opera?"
Pete. We really didn’t know what else to call it. And people kept asking what we were doing.
Then came the ‘Tommy’ tours …
Because we’d been in the studio so long, we immediately went on an American tour. We incorporated a lot of Tommy. In fact, the act was mostly Tommy. After that, on the Opera House tour, we played just two numbers to warm up, we’d do "Summertime Blues" and "Can’t Explain" or something, and then we’d do the opera. We did about six or seven opera houses. I enjoyed them. Nice sound. But it was a bit strange. It was rather like playing to an oil painting.
How did ‘Tommy’ change things for you . . . now that the Who had done a "serious" work? Or didn’t it change?
It did change. Before, if we were sitting backstage, people’d just barge in and help themselves to a drink. Now, they knock at the doors and when they come in, we’re sitting with champagne on ice that’s been provided by the management. . . and we’re all sitting on the velvet chairs the opera stars used. People would treat us slightly reverently. They talked in whispers. We didn’t. Whisper, that is. We were still getting pissed and shouting about the corridors. Ah-ho-Hooo-Ha-Ha-Hahaha!
Did there come a time when you got tired of ‘Tommy’?
Oh, yes. Very shortly after we made it. Ah-Hahahahahahahahaha! Yeah, it started becoming a bit of a bore. Everywhere we’d go we’d do our little show, and it became so we were playing it in our sleep. Toward the end we got bored. We played it 18 months nonstop. All the spontaneity was going. So somebody finally said, "All right, sod it, out with it! Who’s next?" And it was. That was the next album.
The Who’s always been a working band, a touring band. Do you still enjoy the road?
[Using a soft voice, as if delivering a eulogy] I love it. It’s my life. If I was to be deprived of touring … I love the responsibility of … being responsible for the enjoyment of a packed house. And knowing the four of us can go onstage and give enjoyment to that many thousand people, that’s fucking something, man, that does me right in. If I’m good and the group is good, you can get 14,000 . . . 140,000 — get them on their fucking feet. Yeah. That’s where it’s at. That’s what it’s all about for me.
Do you think the top groups are charging too much for concert tickets? Honestly.
The fact is when the four of us go on tour we take a road crew of 20. We have to charge the prices we do to get the sound right, to get the lighting right, to get the hall right. We don’t overcharge. In fact, a publication I’ve got right there, from the Student Union, says the Who are among the bands that don’t seem too involved with money. And we’re not. We’re more involved with giving a fucking good show. If it costs us every fucking penny we’re making, it doesn’t worry us. I’d rather give a good show than make money. On a British tour it’s impossible to make money any way at all. With the tax situation and the size of our crew . . . but people still complain. They see pictures of the house, they see pictures of me in my cars. These things didn’t come from my tours here. I don’t make money in England. I make it abroad.
Also I made it by investment. I bought an hotel two years ago for £16,000 [$40,000]. I sold it last week for £30,000. Now, out of that £14,000 profit, I should probably see two. Doesn’t matter, because I sold the company that I bought the hotel with at a net loss of 10,000. So when I start a new company, I’ve got a £10,000 tax deficit. So in actual fact I made 12,000.
[As he said this, the face of his $5,000 wrist watch popped out onto the cushion next to him.]
My god . . . look at that! My watch has started moulting. It’s the season. It’s autumn. In autumn, all the expensive watches in Surrey begin moulting. Ah-Oh-ho-hahaha-hahahaHahahaha!
You’ve turned into a businessman, then?
You have to, when you make money. Either that or you turn into a bankrupt. The money’s got to work. Everything’s got to work. I work. There’s no reason why the money shouldn’t.
Sure, it’s true for anyone who’s aware of the implications of having money. You’ve got to be aware. Once you have money, apart from fairweather friends, there are worse oppressors, like the tax office, and to bypass those you have to invest. I don’t do it, of course. I have somebody who I trust do it for me.
[Looking at watch, lying in bits.] Fucking cheap watches! All they do is tell the bleeding time . . . and I’m not really all that interested. Ah-hahahahahahahaha.
Can you tell me what you’re worth?
I don’t know. Not now. Some time ago me accountant told me I had a lot of money. I said, "’ow much? I mean, am I a millionaire?" "Well, technically, yes." So I said, "What should I do about it?" and he said, "Well, obviously if you’ve got that much money and you’ve got these tax bills, it’s logical to spend money so that you can claim it against the tax that’s owed." "I see … so I should spend money?" "Well, yes, you should." So six weeks later I’d spent it all. Ah-ha-hahahahahaha! I’d bought four houses, a hotel, eight cars, a swimming pool, tennis courts, expensive wristwatches — that fall apart, a riverside bungalow just five minutes away, furnished in French renay-sance-period furniture. I’d spent it all. It was gone! Ah-hahahahaha-hahahaha-Ha!
I get accused of being a capitalistic bastard, because, you know: "How many cars you got?" "Eight." "Big ‘ouse?" "Yes." Well, I love all that. I enjoy it. I have lots of friends over and we sit up, drinking and partying. I need the room to entertain. I enjoy seeing other people enjoy themselves. That’s where I get my kicks. I’m kinky that way. I have the amount of cars I do because I smash them up a lot. Six are always in the garage; it’s a fact. They’re always saying I’m a capitalistic pig. I suppose I am. But, ah … it ah … it’s good for me drumming, I think. Oh-Ho-Hahahaha!
You really do have trouble with cars?
I came off the road in the AC Cobra at 110. We flew over a canal and sort of collapsed in a mangled heap in a field about ten foot from a reservoir. The Cobra people were very unhappy when I took the wreckage into their garage — they only made about 98 of them and they’re touchy about how they’re driven. I only drive any car once. Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha-ha-ha-ha. I’ve tried to bump-start the 1936 Chrysler several times, always with disastrous result. Once I tried to bump-start it with my X-type Jag, which is built so low to the ground, it slid under the Chrysler. Another time I tried to bump-start with the Rolls . . . forgetting there was nobody sitting in the Chrysler. I pushed it right into the fish pond on the front lawn.
There’s never more than two of the cars on the road at any one time. The hot rod bucket-T, the Ford T with the Chevy V-8 … I hit a tree with that one. The newest one is the Ferrari Dino. I’ve had it less than a week and it’s in the garage. My driver, Dougal, took it through the car wash and all the electrics fused. Wonderful car .. . absolutely and purely wonderful. I can recommend the Ferrari Dino to all the ROLLING STONE readers. Ah-ha-ho-Hahaha! You know I bought a second Ferrari, a Daytona? I’d forgotten I bought the first one. I have such a rotten memory.
When did the group swing away from drugs toward booze?
Ah-ha … a change-of-pace question. Ah-ha-ha-ha-ha-Hahahaha! I think we just sort of grew out of drugs. The drugs aren’t necessary now. They were then, as a crutch. We went through just about everything. Not Roger so much. He smoked, but that was it. The rest of us went through the same stages everybody goes through — the bloody drug corridor. You know. We were no exception. Eventually we stopped fucking about with the chemicals and started on the grape. Drinking suited the group a lot better. When we started drinking, that’s when it all started getting together.
We’re all pretty good drinkers. After the show there’s always the celebration drink, or the non-celebration drink. Then there’s always the clubs — John and I, generally, go clubbing. We just like the social side of drinking. Everybody I know is a drinker. I’ve met most of my best friends in pubs.
How did you meet Viv Stanshall?
In a pub. Ah-ha-Hahahahahahaha. Funnily enough. Oh, Viv and I, we’re great friends. We visit each other in the hospital frequently. Ahahahahahahaha! Either I’m in a ward having me limbs set, or Viv’s in a ward having his head set. We’ve been playing on each other’s records. We share the same sense of theater, so we go to the theater together. We go to films together. We buy the same comedy records — Monty Python, Marty Feldman, the Goons. Pete gave me a complete collection of the early Goon shows.
We went to see Liberace together. If the fans today think David Bowie’s doing anything new, they should play the Liberace record of 1963, the one with the white piano and the gold candelabra. [There followed a four-minute long, word-for-word, lisp-for-lisp copy of Liberace’s act, as remembered by Moon and delivered with flourishes.] Liberace still hasn’t been beaten.
How did you come to produce Stanshall?
Well, the Bonzo Dog Band had broken up and we’d been out a few nights together. We’d been to the theater, we’d been to the Palladium to see Liberace, and Viv had a couple of songs and I had some studio time. So we said let’s get some musicians together and go in and make a record. So we did. On one side it was Vivian Stanshall and His Gargantuan Chums. On the other side, Vivian Stanshall and Big Grunt.
What did you do as producer?
1 supplied the booze.
Whatever happened to all the Who films we’ve heard so much about over the years? Your publicity guy told me you’ve announced at least half a dozen and that he doesn’t pay any attention to film talk now.
I’d like to know meself. They’ve just never turned out to be Who films. We’ve never yet had a script that we’ve all liked. I think there must be a Who film. I think it’ll be a gross injustice if there’s not a Who film. There must be a Who film. Because there’s so much Who to go ’round.
You’ve been in two films without the others?
Yeah, one was 200 Motels with Frank Zappa, the other was Countdown with Harry Nilsson, both with Ringo.
I was at the Speakeasy with Pete, and Frank happened to be at the next table. He overheard some of our conversation and leaned over and said [American voice], "How’d you guys like to be in a film?" We said [English accent], "Okay, Frank." And he said [back to American], "Okay, be at the Kensington Palace Hotel at seven o’clock tomorrow morning." I was the one who turned up. Pete was writing and sent his apologies and I was given the part Mick Jagger was to play — that of a nun. Mick didn’t want to do it.
Then there was a bit in one of the local papers that said Ringo was making Countdown with Peter Frampton and Harry Nilsson and a lot of others, so I called Ringo up and said, "Is there a part in it for me?" He said yes. I do some drumming.
Was that your first meeting with Nilsson?
Yes. We were supposed to be on the set at six, but it was nine before everyone was there. Then somebody brought out a bottle of brandy. Me, I think. Ah-Ha-Ha-Hahaha! And Peter Frampton said no, no, too early, and some of the others said no. But Harry was standing there with an half-pint mug. I knew at that moment it was destiny put us together. Ahhhh-Hahahahahahahahaha!
So we were drinking brandy at nine and, thanks to Mal Evans, white wine all the rest of the day. Then about six o’clock some body came ’round and slipped little envelopes into our hands. It was a pay packet! I hadn’t had a pay packet in ten years. And Harry ‘d never had one. We were pretty well out of it and we looked at each other and then tore up £170 in one-pound notes, threw it up in the air and danced about, cackling like schoolboys. Ahhhh-Haaaa-Haaaa! Dancing and leaping about, clutching bottles of Blue Nun Liebfraumilch in our hands, singing, "We’re millionaires, aren’t we?"