From the Archives: Keith Moon
A Q&A with the Who’s unhinged British millionaire drummer
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 jukebox 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 house-keeper ”“ 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 miss-us, 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-Haha 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 wahines 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 two hundred! 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 underwater and it went ssssshh-wwwoooom! 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: “Yeeeaaaahhhh-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 group like the Beachcombers, and the only 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 onstage and said, “Well, 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 onstage I went arrrrrggghhhhhhh 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: “Yesyes?” And Roger, who was the spokesman then, said, “What’re you doing next Monday?” I said, “Nothing.” I was working during the day, selling plaster. 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 that 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 ‘Otel in ‘Arrow. We had a meeting. We didn’t like each other at first, really. Kit and Chris. They went ’round 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-‘ead. 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 mod 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 audience were mods, pill-‘eads 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.
Your motto at the lime 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 ‘old 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 ‘Erman’s ‘Ermits. Backing up the ‘Ermits 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 ‘ave sold, the disaster was never blamed on us, it was blamed on ‘Erman’s ‘Ermits. 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 ‘Oliday Inn pool, ‘Erman’s ‘Ermits 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 ‘ad booked a big room in the ‘otel, one of the conference rooms, for a party. As the hours went on, it got louder and louder, and everybody started getting well out their minds, well stoned. The pool was the obvious target. Everybody started jumping in the pool with their clothes on.
The Premier Drum Company ‘ad given me a ‘uge 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’d started picking up the pieces and ‘urling it about. Everybody was covered in marzipan and icing sugar and fruitcake. The manager ‘eard the fracas and came in. There it was, his great carpet, stained irrevocably with marzipan and fruitcake trodden in, and everybody 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 handbrake off, it started to roll and it smashed straight through this pool surround [fence] and the whole Lincoln Continental went into the ‘Oliday Inn swimming pool, with me in it. Ah-Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha!
So there I was, sitting in the eight-foot-six in the driver’s seat of a Lincoln Continental, underwater. And the water was pouring in ”“ coming in through the bloody pedal ‘oles 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 ‘ow I remembered those things from my physics class! I knew I’d ‘ave to wait until the pressure was the same.
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 ‘Oliday Inn swimming pool, but at that time I ‘ad 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 ‘ave ‘ad 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 ‘e’s the pool cleaner and ‘e’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 ‘is ‘and on ‘is 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-Hahaha!
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 ‘e ‘ad 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 ‘ad chartered me a plane because they ‘ad 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 accent], “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-Haha Hahaha!
By now I’d learned ‘ow destructive we’d all been. During the merriment someone ‘ad upset all the fire extinguishers and turned them on all the cars in the car park. Six of them ‘ad to ‘ave 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-Hahahaha! I wasn’t earning ‘alf 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 ‘appened. Luckily, ‘Erman’s ‘Ermits 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 ‘at and sent it off to the ‘Oliday Inn with a small compliments card with “Balls” written across it ”“ and the words, “See you soon.” Ah-ha-ha-Ha-Ha-Ha Ha-ho-Hahaha!
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 ‘Oliday 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 ‘atchet and chopped the ‘otel room to bits. The television. The chairs. The dresser. The cupboard doors. The bed. The lot of it. Ah-ha-ha-Hahahahahahaha Hahaha! It happens all the time.
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. Was it?
The way the story goes, Pete put the neck of his guitar through a low ceiling when he jumped too ‘igh, but that’s not it. It ‘appened when somebody got pissed off with the gig, with the way things were going. When Pete smashed his guitar it was because ‘e 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’d 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 ‘ave to play it. Because there are some people in the audience who’ve only come to ‘ear 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 ‘ad 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 ‘appen. 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.
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, ‘e’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-Hahahahahaha! Some people say I’ll do anything for the press, it’s true . . . that I make meself too available. I just like to ‘ave fun.
For instance . . .
There was the time Keith Altham and Chris Williams, who look after our PR, phoned me up and said I ‘ad 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 ha’-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, uhhhh: 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 ‘ospital 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 . . . ‘obble 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 ‘obbling along the street again and this bloody lorry comes along as I’m crossing the street and it screams to a ‘alt 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 ‘eartless 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-Hahahahah-ha-hahaha! Haha!
Have you ever been injured in any of your stunts? Aside from the missing front tooth?
I broke me collarbone once. That was in me own ‘otel, 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 ‘old of me ‘ead, the other got ‘old 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 collarbone, 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 Top of the Pops New Year’s Eve special, and two days before I ‘ave 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 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 Hahahahahaha-Hahahahahaha!
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 ‘appen to me. AaaaHhhhhh-Hahaha-Ho-Haha ha! I think unconsciously I want them to ‘appen, 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-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 ‘er stride.
How did you meet her?
Eh-eh-eheeeee-eh-eh-eh. Ah-Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha! 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” Stewart 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 are 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.” Hahahahahahaha!
I don’t remember. We were in the bar car and we both got paralytic. I only remember the trip back. Oh-hee-Ha-Ha-Haha!
How’d your mother-in-law come to live with you?
She’s me ‘ousekeeper. 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 ‘adn’t learned ‘ow 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 ‘ouse there’s no real accepted idea of anything.
Do you have “favorite” drummers?
Not many. D.J. Fontana [Elvis’ original drummer] is one. Let’s see . . . the drummers I respect are Eric Delaney and Bob Henrit [from Argent] and . . . I got a ‘uge 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.
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-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? 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 ‘is 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 ‘e writes is suitable for the Who. When he gets an idea ‘e thinks is right for the group, ‘e brings it in and we try it. It’s not very often that ‘e’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 an’ 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 onÂ Tommy?
With disbelief. Ah-Hahaha. 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 ‘Ouse 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 ‘ouses. I enjoyed them. Nice sound. But it was a bit strange. It was rather like playing to an oil painting.
Did there come a time when you got tired of Tommy?
Oh, yes. Very shortly after we made it. Ah-Hahahahahahaha-Haha! 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 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 ‘ouse. 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 ‘ouse, 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 a ‘otel two years ago for Â£16,000 [$40,000]. I sold it last week for Â£30,000. Now, out of that Â£14,000 profit, I should probably see two. Doesn’t matter, because I sold the company that I bought the ‘otel with at a net loss of 10,000. So when I start a new company, I’ve got a Â£10,000 tax deficit. So in actual fact I made 12,000.
[As he said this, the face of his $5,000 wristwatch popped out onto the cushion next to him.]
My god . . . look at that! My watch has started molting. It’s the season. It’s autumn. In autumn, all the expensive watches in Surrey begin molting. Ah-Oh-ho-hahahahahaha!
You 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.
Can you tell me what you’re worth?
I don’t know. Not now. Some time ago me accountant told me I ‘ad a lot of money. I said, “‘Ow much?” He said, “Well, you’re very well fixed.” 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-Hahahahahahahahahaha! I’d bought four ‘ouses, a ‘otel, 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. Ha-Ha.
I get accused of being a capitalist 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 capitalist pig. I suppose I am. But, ah . . . it ah . . . it’s good for me drumming, I think, Oh-Hooooo-Hahaha!
You really do have troubles with cars?
I came off the road in the AC Cobra at one hundred and ten. 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, Haha Hahahahahahahaha! 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.
When did the group swing away from drugs toward booze?
Ah-Ha . . . a change-of-pace question. Ah-ha-ha-ha Haha Ha! 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-Hahahahaha. Funnily enough. Oh, Viv and I, we’re great friends. We visit each other in the ‘ospital frequently, Ahahahaha Hahaha! Either I’m in a ward having me limbs set, or Viv’s in a ward ‘aving ‘is ‘ead 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?
I supplied the booze, Ahahahaha Hahahahahahahahaaaaaaa!
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 ‘appened 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 and I turned up. 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 ‘Arry was standing there with an ‘alf-pint mug. I knew at that moment it was destiny put us together. Ahhhh-Hahaha Hahahahaha!
So we were drinking brandy at nine and, thanks to Mai Evans, white wine all the rest of the day. Then about six o’clock somebody came ’round and slipped little envelopes into our ‘ands. It was a pay packet! I ‘adn’t ‘ad a pay packet in ten years. And ‘Arry’d never ‘ad one. We were pretty well out of it and we looked at each other and then tore up one-hundred and seventy pounds in one-pound notes, threw it up in the air and danced about, cackling like schoolboys, Ahhhh-Haaa-Hahaha-Aa-Haaaa-Haaa-haaa! Dancing and leaping about, clutching bottles of Blue Nun liebfraumilch in our hands, singing, “We’re millionaires, aren’t we?”
This story is from the December 21st, 1972 issue of Rolling Stone.