Keith Moon, Drummer of The Who, Passes Out at 1973 Concert; 19-Year-Old Fan Takes Over

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. (Watch a condensed version of the whole affair, from start to finish, above. Or watch another take below.) 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.

The video at the top shows where The Who asks for a drummer in the audience and Halpin takes over. The second video shows Moon passing out beforehand. You can watch the complete concert on YouTube here.

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Comments (11)
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  • wyclif says:

    “Smokestack Lightning”, two words not three.

  • ML says:

    Halpin was the guy for the job, right time, right place– once in a lifetime event on film! Amazing. What a memory.

  • Francisco Avendano says:

    Who? Interesting story, I like their music. Legendary rock band.

  • rick says:

    that dude mustve had balls of steel to get up there and fill the shoes of one of the best drummers of all time

  • Rachael says:

    I was about 10 rows from the stage and about 50ft from that kid Scott? Did not know him but I can remember hearing Pete clearly say Can anybody play the drums? and this kid with his own sticks raised them up!! Great night…great memory,,, Long live rock!! :)

  • Toni says:

    Great video, but that’s not the whole thing at all. I was hoping to see Halpin play! :,-( Poor Keith. Kind of hard to believe he kept it together as long as he did – both at this concert, and in his life in general.

  • Julie Biddle says:

    I was at a Preservation Hall Jazz Band concert at Massey Hall in Toronto a few years ago. They did the first set without drums – their drummer had sprained an ankle somehow getting off the bus. He was across the street in the Emergency room at St. Mike’s Hospital getting it checked out. The second set a fan sat in and I’ve never seen a grin that big in my life. I’m sure it was an absolute dream come true for him.

  • Rui says:

    but in videos drums are so low I can’t hear :'(

  • DCooper says:

    Painting which celebrating this – Substitute – Moon / Horse / Cow

  • THC4 says:

    I remember reading about this in the SF Comical and seeing it on channel 2 news. At the time I wasn’t quite old enough to appreciate the historical aspects. After watching the video for the first time I’m amazed and blown away by the whole thing. A piece of rock history.

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