This year marks the 50th anniversary of Keith Moon’s international arrival as “British Patent Exploding Drummer”, a legend The Who sticksman had painted on his kit for the group’s summer 1967 tour of North America, which climaxed when he notoriously blew up his drums with ‘cherry bomb’ fireworks on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour TV show.
But, as revealed in a 22-page cover feature in the latest MOJO ’60s magazine (on sale in the UK from Tuesday, March 7), this was only the start of Moon’s madcap adventures in the USA.
Moving to Los Angeles in the mid-’70s, when The Who were off-the-road for months at a time, the drummer’s intake of drugs and booze – and his spending – spiralled out of control, placing huge pressure on The Who’s manager Bill Curbishley.
“I used to agonise over whether to do deals that would make money for him,” Curbishley told writer Rob Chapman. “I suppose I felt I was an enabler. I remember one instance when he phoned me and said, ‘I need money’, so I sent him $30,000. Three or four days later he says he needs a bit more, so I said, What have you done with the money? He went through [a list], and I said, That leaves $9,000 – what did you do with that? He said, ‘Well, it was Ringo’s birthday, so I got a plane and I wrote Happy Birthday Ringo in the sky.’ I told him if he wants more money to call Ringo, and put the phone down.”
It was around this time that Moon developed a fractious relationship with his Malibu neighbour, the actor Steve McQueen, who was incensed when, not long after moving in, the drummer reportedly offered drugs to his teenage son Chad. When Moon discovered McQueen was trying to buy his home so he could evict him, the British Patent Exploding Drummer detonated. “He built a ramp and bought a motorcycle, which was going to go over the wall like Steve McQueen in The Great Escape,” says Curbishley. “He got dressed up as Hitler and knocked on McQueen’s door, and when McQueen opened it he got down on his hands and knees and bit his dog.”
Read the full story of Keith Moon’s unbelievable – and tragically short – life in MOJO ’60s Vol 9, available in UK shops from Tuesday, March 7, 2017.
Also in Volume 9 of MOJO’s spinoff sister magazine:
• Amazing in-depth features on the creation of The Doors’ epoch-shaking first album
• Motown greats The Temptations’ controversial move into psychedelic soul
• The tragicomic brilliance of Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band frontman Viv Stanshall
• The making of Dusty Springfield’s peerless Dusty In Memphis album
• The enduring rivalry between guitarists Bert Jansch and Davy Graham that changed the way folk music was played.
• Plus: rare Hendrix photos, The Zombies guide us through their 1968 masterpiece Odessey And Oracle, sonic visionary Joe Meek is saluted, The Velvet Underground are born.
The magazine comes with two deluxe pull-out posters of Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart.