Ginger Baker’s Contemporaries

Keith Moon

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The Legendary "Pictures of Lily" Kit
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the Patent British Exploding Drummer

The one thing that has to be clearly identified about the Moon’s drumming is that he was completely self taught – he had no tutoring or almost none. He was a complete original with absolutely no knowledge of drum rudiments – "A flam triplet – do you drink it or swallow it, dear boy?" [my joke]. That was both Moon’s strength and weakness.

Moon joined the Who simply because he was different and LOUD. He fitted into Townshend’s concept and added a rhythmic variety that there other drummers didn’t. His kit at these times was standard: 22" bass, snare, 12x8" tom, 16x16" floor tom, hi-hat, 2 crash and a ride cymbal. They were initially Ludwig then a Premier. With the move to the Premier he adopted 2 top toms, as used by Dave Clark. The actual configuration varied as it depended on the damage wrought by the auto-destruction display.

The high mortality rate of Moon's (and other drummers' he used!) kits meant that he was continuously replacing/upgrading. A loose sponsorship with Premier evolved into a long-term arrangement that benefited Moon in terms of replacement drums and also the company as they developed reinforced drums to meet Moon's playing demands. Sometime around May/June 1966, Moon emerged with a fully customised Premier double kit. Whether Baker or Moon had the idea first is unknown and neither of them has ever laid any claim. It’s reasonable to say that both were heading in that direction and the both jumped together.

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Windsor Jazz & Blues Festval, July 30 1966
The Who were the Sat.  Headliners &
Cream - Sunday

This Premier kit was huge: 2 x 22" bass drums (bracketed together), 3 14x8" top toms, 3 16x18" floor toms (arrayed 2 on his right and one on his left) and a Ludwig 5.5" Supra-phonic snare. Cymbals were very modest: 18", 20" 22" crashes plus 22" crash/ride and NO hi-hat. Again the config would vary based on the damage from the previous performance. Tuning was critical because of the equal sizing of the drums, and Moon was extremely demanding – "The tuning of Moon’s drums was a revelation…The sound from Moon’s superbly-tuned kit was awesome – unlike some of the other headliners’ kits I’d found myself playing." (Jeff Brown briefly subbing for Moon in May 1966 [from ‘Mojo’]). This massive kit was built to be loud, very loud - Moon was competing with the Marshall Stacks and was not going to be outdone

The big evolution in his technique was when he adopted the double kit:.."once he got a really big kit with two bass drums, that’s when he really started shining." (John Entwhistle in ‘Mojo’). The kit allowed Moon to evade his fundamental technical limitations and create a unique technique/style.

Moon was never as quadrapedal as Baker and he was never able to maintain a dialogue between all his limbs. This is especially evident in his use of the hi-hat, which was very limited and was overwhelmingly used as a crash/ride cymbal, even in the studio (there are a few examples of using it in the foot operated mode). Live, he usually locked it slightly open and pounded it. With the double kit he disposed of it all together and even replaced it with a ride cymbal. It did reappear from time-to-time, but again as a crash/ride. The bass drums were played in unison, there are few examples of broken patterns. The bass drums laid down a unison pounding triplet beat over which Moon flailed the rest of the kit.

The key to Moon’s drumming is his arms and especially the way he would lead with the left. Most drummers, including Baker, build patterns beginning with their right, leaving the left on the snare to follow. Moon would explode with his left and often match it with his right but each going in different directions – thus the layout of the drums with the middle mounted tom tuned higher and then the left and right lower plus the left floor tom. Or often the right would be crashing cymbals while the left would pound the snare/toms. The long, fast runs around the toms, and sometimes back as well, are the stuff of legends.

Moon used light sticks with matched grip, plus some unusual grips at times, and  the mallet end often. He can be classed as a fast drummer as well as a showman – throwing the sticks and catching them without missing a beat (on a good night). He never took a solo except for some quick fills of a bar or two in length. Brushes were never used though felts and tympani were used in the studio.

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Note: the left grip, drum miking, the WEM side foldback (1970?)

Keith’s drumming can be more accurately described as being for effect. It was arguably the most distinct part of the Who sound and often the dynamic force, though such a statement is pretty marginal considering Pete’s rhythm/lead and the Ox’s thundering bass. The real key is that Moon and Townshend shared a unique rhythmical link that they drew from each other – just watch the videos and see how musically and visually they are locked together. Without Pete, Moon was simply lost. Without Moon, the Who was a much lesser band.

Moon's greatest limitation lay in time keeping – he was an excellent timekeeper, but erratic. It was probably a result of life-style combined with a lack of training. These lapses were a source of great tension in the band, with Townshend knocking him out with a flying guitar on one occasion. He also had major problems with uneven times e’g 5/4, 7/8. However he was one of the first drummers to play to primitive sequence tracks on "Who’s Next" – now the standard recording approach.

Moon’s lack of training increasingly became a liability as his legendary lifestyle dragged him down. John Entwhistle: "The weird thing about Keith was that he didn’t know how he played the drums. If we took a year or two off we’d go into a rehearsal situation and he’d have to learn how he played again. We’d have to play something he already new so he could re-teach himself how to be Keith Moon." He was heading for dismissal from the Who when he died in 1978. If that had occurred, it probably would have been the end for him anyway.

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Tuning up 1  - Windsor Blues Festival July '66
The Double Bass Kit - note the layout, no hi-hat as described above

Despite of, or because of, his technical limitations he was one of the great drummers of Rock music: a completely unique and irreplaceable legend. His legacy remains in the area of dissipated lifestyle and massive over-configured drum kits (in the ‘70’s) rather then sheer drumming. But he has left us a lot of great recordings from 1966 –74.

Greatest moments: "Underture" (‘Tommy’), "Young Man Blues" (‘Live at Leeds’), "Behind Blue Eyes/Won’t Get Fooled Again" among many. Just listen to ‘Live at Leeds’ and ‘Isle of Wight’ – not a false stroke, at his magnificent peak.

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Tuning up 2  - Windsor Blues Festival July '66
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Graeme Pattingale 1999