The Who’s drummer Keith Moon may well be one of the most talented people to have ever sat behind a drum kit but he was also a man who lived life on his own terms, a factor which meant that he was often a liability to his bandmates and, as it turns out, paying audience members too. That infamous unpredictability once led to one instance in which his bandmates were forced to replace him with an audience member after he passed out on stage while in the middle of one of The Who’s notorious performances.
The night in question was November 20th 1973, a time when one teenage fan managed to live out his dream and become, if only for a short while, the drummer in The Who. For one night only at the esteemed San Francisco’s Cow Palace in front of 14,000 fans, one Who fan lived out every fan’s fantasy. Scott Halpin didn’t even have a ticket before he and his friend made the trek from Monterey but even after snagging a ticket from outside the venue from a tout, nobody could have predicted the fairytale ending for the 19-year-old.
That fateful evening Moon apparently arrived at the venue with a young female fan on his arm and was nervous ahead of the first date of the US tour. It’s still not sure what he did take to calm his nerves, though it is alleged that it was some form of an animal tranquilliser which he washed down with brandy. A potent concoction of booze and downers was always likely to flirt with settling the nerves to an inescapable dormancy. It certainly did the job and knocked him straight out in front of thousands of fans.
From the moment that the set began it was clear to anyone in attendance that something was off with Moon and that he wasn’t all there. However, during ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’, the drumming supremo stopped functioning behind the kit, clearly too inebriated to make any real mark on proceedings. Rather than call off the gig and get him the help that he obviously quite urgently needed, Pete Townshend instead told the audience: “We’re just gonna revive our drummer by punching him in the stomach. He’s out cold. I think he’s gone and eaten something he shouldn’t have eaten. It’s your foreign food,” he light-heartedly joked with the audience while clearly angered by Moon’s determination for destruction.
After being revived backstage, Moon then returned to the stage but quickly passed out yet again during ‘Magic Bus’ and was then taken away for the rest of the evening. The British rockers then immediately asked Artimus Pyle, the drummer from openers Lynyrd Skynyrd to jump but, alas, he was too afraid of slipping up as he had never played the songs before. Townshend, on a whim, asked the 14,000-strong crowd whether there was a drummer in the house and Halpin miraculously then got the chance to drum for his favourite group.
Scott Halpin has said in the past that the final thing he remembered was seeing off a shot of brandy and being introduced to the crowd by Roger Daltrey. It’s a surreal moment and must have all felt like a vivid dream, undeterred, the amateur delivered the goods on the highest of pressurised situations.
Halpin went on to get married, manage a rock club and be a prominent figure in the Californian music scene but sadly passed away because of a brain tumour in 2008, aged just 54. Following his death, Halpin’s wife Robyn wrote to Pete Townshend’s office to tell him the news and to her astonishment, his response was the definition of classy: “Scott is often in my mind and always with the greatest gratitude and affection,” Townshend wrote.
“He showed such youthful courage and humour standing in for Keith Moon that fateful day. Scott played so well too. He played drums brilliantly, smiled and went home. I measure my life by great and good people I have occasionally met. Scott is one of the great and good ones. I worked that out in 30 minutes. That must surely say something about the man.”
For one night only, Halpin got to live out his ultimate fantasy of playing with his favourite band and had an out-of-body experience that is as wild as it gets. It’s a fantasy many of us would kill to have enjoyed and while we’re sure he would have liked to have sat next to Moon to perform, being the percussionist he was, there’s something perhaps a little more special about him taking over the reins. Watch the moment it went down below.