SKF NOTE: In 1989 I sat with Neil Peart, played him a few of my favorite drummer records without telling him anything about the song or the drummer. Our exchanges were meant for a music publication Chip Stern was creating. Here is the back story.
Caveat: In this exchange, Neil, talking about playing time, says, In the same terms that we were just discussing…. He is referring to part of our conversation about Joe Morello’s Shortin’ Bread.
Song Title: Dogs Part Two. Drummer: Keith Moon. 45 RPM: Flip side to Pinball Wizard single. (Not released on any LP) The Who. Decca 732465. Released: 1969
Scott K Fish: Do you know who that drummer is?
Neil Peart: Yup. Keith Moon. From the flip side of Call Me Lightning?
SKF: Pinball Wizard.
NP: Oh, was it?
SKF: Well, maybe in Canada it was released differently. I think you’re the only person I’ve run into who has heard Dogs Part Two.
NP: I told you what a big Who fan I was. When that song first started, I didn’t recognize it. It’s been probably 20 years since I’ve heard it. I thought, “Who’s around that can play like that?” I was really knocked out. Then the answer became clear. Of course. It was Keith Moon.
SKF: He wrote the song.
NP: Yeah, well…. (laughs). It’s one of the craziest songs known to man. So that doesn’t surprise me.
SKF: What can you say about that?
NP: It’s just Keith. No other superlatives apply.
SKF: If he was just hitting the scene today, do you think he could get away with playing like that? Would there be a venue for his style of playing?
NP: Yeah. He proved it later on with the Who’s Next album, for instance, where he had to play with sequencers. He was playing to true metronomic time, but he was able to average himself over it. In the same terms that we were just discussing, he could play all around that metronomic time and still be bound by it.
I think he would have adapted easily. Somehow, when he felt like being disciplined, he could be. That’s one of the misconceptions about him. If you listen to his more restrained or more controlled work — like the Tommy album — his drumming is excellent. And it’s very controlled and very sparsely distributed. His fills are all very logically placed. Being a logical sort of guy it’s one of my favorite pieces of his drumming because it all makes sense.
He has his moments of craziness. Certainly. And there are some beautifully crazy fills in some songs. But they are still in the right place. They are the right thing at the right time.
I guess Who’s Next was his zenith point; the height of his still being very vibrant and exciting, but learning to be more discriminate. So I think he would have adapted to today’s music. He would have been exciting enough to liven it all up. If he were allowed to.
Most modern sessions — they would have kicked him right out. You can’t play that fill! You can’t do that! Just shut up and play the beat! — is the unfortunate thing that might happen to a rising Keith Moon today if he got in the wrong band or didn’t have the character sense to stick to it and say, “This is the way I play. I’m going to play that way.”
If he wasn’t that stubborn and convicted of his own values, then he might get swallowed up. As many a good musician has.
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