The Unforgettable Night When a ‘Who’ Fan Stepped in to Fill for Keith Moon
via James Marshall / YouTube
Few stories rival the surreal night of November 20, 1973, when 19-year-old Scott Halpin found himself thrust onto the stage to play drums with one of the biggest rock bands in the world – The Who.
Halpin, alongside his friend Mike Danese, journeyed from Monterey, California, to witness The Who’s sold-out show at the San Francisco Cow Palace.
Little did they know that fate had an extraordinary role in store for Halpin that evening.
As the concert unfolded, Halpin noticed something amiss – the band’s iconic drummer, Keith Moon, seemed off. Moon’s erratic playing hinted at a larger problem, later revealed to be the result of consuming a concoction containing PCP, known as ‘angel dust.’
“You could tell Keith Moon was messed up,” Halpin recalled.
During the performance, Moon’s condition worsened, leading to a dramatic halt during “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” Eyewitness Joel Selvin described the moment:
“And then he fell backward, and had to be dragged offstage.”
Despite backstage efforts to revive Moon, the drummer struggled and eventually passed out. The band valiantly attempted to continue the show, with Pete Townshend humorously suggesting they’d revive Moon by punching him in the stomach.
In a backstage scene reminiscent of rock ‘n’ roll chaos, Artimus Pyle, drummer for Lynyrd Skynyrd (the opening act), was asked to fill in but declined due to fear and unfamiliarity with The Who’s repertoire.
It was at this juncture that Halpin’s friend pushed him forward, encouraging him to take the stage.
“My friend was pushing me forward and saying, ‘Come on man, you can go up there and play, you can play,’” said Halpin.
With Townshend half-jokingly asking the audience if there was a drummer in the house, Halpin and Danese seized the moment, waving their hands in the air.
“He’s really the one that got me into it,” Halpin said, crediting his friend.
Halpin’s impromptu drumming debut included renditions of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Smokestack Lightning” and The Who’s “Naked Eye.”
Although a bit hazy in Halpin’s memory, video evidence captured the young fan holding his own on stage.
Halpin’s unexpected foray into drumming became the stuff of legend, and after the show, he and Danese, still shell-shocked, enjoyed backstage hospitality before embarking on their long journey home.
While Halpin’s drumming stint with The Who was a brief episode in his life, it left an indelible mark.
His wife, Robyn, reached out to Pete Townshend after Halpin’s passing in 2008, and Townshend responded with a heartfelt message for Halpin’s memorial.
“Scott is often in my mind and always with the greatest gratitude and affection,” Townshend wrote. “He showed such youthful courage and humor standing in for Keith Moon that fateful day. Scott played so well too… He played drums brilliantly, smiled and went home…”
In the pantheon of rock ‘n’ roll anecdotes, Scott Halpin’s night with The Who stands as a testament to the unexpected turns music can take, creating unforgettable moments for both artists and fans alike.