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Playing Like Keith Moon By David Blampied
Posted On 09/15/2008 01:00:55 by blampied
Playing Like Keith Moon, By David Blampied

I have always liked the Who, great songs powerful rock anthems driving drums and some of the best rock bass lines ever played as well as powerful vocals. As a drummer I never gave Keith's drum playing a lot of thought. I reserved my "top" drummer list for guys like Neil Peart, John Bonham, Steve Gadd, Cozy Powell….guys like that.

But it wasn't until I was recently hired to play in a "Who" tribute show that I really started to put some of these Who songs under my microscope. And to be honest what I found was really amazing, and I was quite pleasantly surprised at what I found. I almost really feel embarrassed to admit that after playing drums for over thirty years just now am I really appreciating Keith Moon. Ok that's not really fair like I said before; I always liked the Who, and I liked Keith's drumming. But it's different when you learn the songs note for note. Keeping the "purest" fan's in mind I didn't want anyone to doubt for a minute I didn't do my homework. I do take pride in my work.

What I found looking deep into the music of the who was a dynamic drummer with taste and flare and emotion. For someone who never formally studied he had an amazing intuition and how his parts should be played.

The story of Keith Moon is a story of a man with many sides; a lot of what we've heard about Keith's short life is funny, scary, dark, inspiring and sad. During his life he earned a reputation as an out of control rock star. Perhaps Keith felt the need to live up to his reputation for too long; longer than his body could take physically and eventually causing his death. The real tragedy is by all accounts at the end of his life it seemed as if he was finally turning things around for himself.

His Drumming

Keith Moon's style was unique, the whole time throwing all the rules and discipline of a drummer out the window. Although not the most technical of drummers, he made up for his lack of time keeping skills with speed and power, often filling tiny gaps with elaborate and explosive rolls.
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. 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,14" snare, 12x8" tom, 16x16" floor tom, hi-hat, 2 crashes 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 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 customized Premier double kit. Whether Ginger 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.
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" and 22" crashes plus 22" crash/ride and no hi-hat. Again the configuration would vary based on the damage from the previous performance.

Premier Custom Built (mahogany)
1. Two 22″ bass drums
2. Two timbales
3. 16″ single-headed tom
4. 15″ single-headed tom
5. 18″ floor tom
6. Two 16″ x 18″ floor tom
7. 14″ single-headed tom
8. 13″ single-headed tom
9. 12″ single-headed tom
10. 10″ single-headed tom
11. 14″ mounted tom
12. 13″ mounted tom (more likely a 14″ x 10″ mounted tom)
13. 12″ mounted tom (more likely a 14″ x 10″ mounted tom)
14. 14″ x 6½″ or 5½″ snare
15. One or two Premier 22 1/2 timpani

Likely Paiste 2002 series
a. 22″ ride
b. 20″ crash
c. 14″splash
d. 18″ crash
e. 14″ hi-hat
f. One or two Paiste gongs (1x30″, 1x36″)

Moon was never as quadrapedal as today's modern double bass players, 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 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.

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."

The Songs, why Keith is a legend

Baba O'Riley
For example, during "Baba O'Riley" what on the outward appearances seems like a simple drum part, (a basic snare on two and four, bass on one and three/&), if you really listen close to what he's doing you will hear a world of tasteful little parts. Small and light snare accents between two and three, lightly playing triplets between bass and snare hits. Another thing I found interesting about Keith's drumming was he did not accenting all of Pete's power chords. Hypothetically, if you gave Baba O'Riley to 10 regular drummers that never heard that song before, the instinct is to play every power chord a guitarist pulls out with an accent crash. And you would have all 10 drummers playing every accent with a crash. Keith doesn't do that, I'm not sure how he derived at this decision but it really makes the drum part interesting.

Going Mobile
This could quite possibly be one of the finest examples of how fantastic Moon was. I can guarantee that no other drummer would have been able to invent this part. If you play this song for any drummer and he's not impressed…punch him square in the face and tell him to start playing the flute as soon as he picks up his teeth.
Again, the little things he has going on in this song really take over the regular beat most guys would have played for this song. The little snare fills, sharp and precise, the snare/tom triplets, the cymbal crashes, all over the place. All over the place but everything he does just works, kind of like controlled kayos. No two measures are the same. How he goes to just playing the bass drum and the snare during the" going mobile" in the verses. The double time at the end of the song and those amazing fills. Somewhere around 2min.:30sec in the song he starts to really turn up the heat and the groove just catch's on fire. Nobody at any time told Moon to play bass drum on one and three and snare on two and four; even if they did I doubt he would have listened. Thankfully not because this song just plain rocks and the drum part Moon plays makes it.

Can You See the Real Me?

Like "5:15", "Going Mobile", "Can you see the real me" just drives a hard groove from beginning to end. The one thing about this song it's Keith's endurance like "Won't get Fooled Again" it's basically a long drum fill throughout the entire song. The accents at the end of this song are just over the top. When I listen to this song I get a sense that Keith Moon was paving the way for drummers like Carter Bruford. A good example of Moon's power and drive as one of the most celebrated rock drummers.

Keith's life, his humor and charismatic personality, his unusual but yet powerful and creative drum playing will continue to fascinate and inspire generations of drummers and musicians to come. There never was, nor will their ever be another like him.

Tags: Keith Moon


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