In November 1973, Scot Halpin, a 19-year-old kid, scalped tickets to The Who concert in San Francisco, California. Little did he know that he’d wind up playing drums for the band that night — that his name would end up etched in the annals of rock ‘n’ roll.
The Who came to California with its album Quadrophenia topping the charts. But despite that, Keith Moon, the band’s drummer, had a case of the nerves. It was, after all, their first show on American soil in two years. When Moon vomited before the concert, he ended up taking some tranquillizers to calm down. The drugs worked all too well, not least because the tranquillizers actually ended up being PCP. During the show, Moon’s drumming became sloppy and slow, writes his biographer Tony Fletcher. Then, halfway through “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” he slumped onto his drums. Moon was out cold. (See it all happen above.) As the roadies tried to bring him back to form, The Who played as a trio. The drummer returned, but only briefly and collapsed again, this time heading off to the hospital to get his stomach pumped.
Scot Halpin watched the action from near the stage. Years later, he told an NPR interviewer, “my friend got real excited when he saw that [Moon was going to pass out again]. And he started telling the security guy, you know, this guy can help out. And all of a sudden, out of nowhere comes Bill Graham,” the great concert promoter. Graham asked Halpin straight up, “Can you do it?,” and Halpin shot back “yes.”
When Pete Townshend asked the crowd, “Can anybody play the drums?” Halpin mounted the stage, settled into Moon’s drum kit, and began confidently playing the blues jam “Smoke Stacked Lighting” that soon segued into “Spoonful.” It was a way of testing the kid out. Then came a nine minute version of “Naked Eye.” By the time it was over, Halpin was physically spent.
The show ended with Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend, John Entwistle and Scot Halpin taking a bow center stage. And, to thank him for his efforts, The Who gave him a concert jacket that was promptly stolen.
As a sad footnote to an otherwise great story, Halpin died in 2008. The cause, a brain tumor. He was only 54 years old.