It’s like a Boy’s Own story. You’re at a concert with your best friend, watching your favorite band, when the drummer collapses on stage. The call goes out, “Is there a drummer in the house?” Next thing you know, your buddy has pushed you into the spotlight and there you are playing the drums with your rock star heroes.
This actually happened to one Scot Halpin when he turned up to see his favorite band The Who open their Quadrophenia tour at the 14,000 seater Cow Palace in Daly City, San Francisco, back in November of 1973. Halpin and his buddy arrived twelve hours before the concert was set to begin. They wanted to ensure they had the best seats in the house up near the front of the stage. This was to prove fortuitous for both Halpin and for the band themselves, for an hour into The Who’s gig—during “Won’t Get Fooled Again” in fact—Keith Moon passed out at his drums and was carried off the stage.
The house lights came up. Guitarist Pete Townshend announced:
“We’re just gonna revive our drummer by punching him in the stomach. He’s out cold. I think he’s gone and eaten something he shouldn’t have eaten. It’s your foreign food. The horrible truth is that without him, we aren’t a group.”
There was a thirty-minute intermission while Moon was revived backstage with “a cold shower.” The Who returned to the stage and resumed playing. But not for long. Moon collapsed again and this time he he could not be revived so easily.
Moon the Loon.
It was later discovered what had actually transpired: Moon had ingested a massive quantity of veterinary tranquilizers, which he then washed down with his customary bottle or two of brandy. The rest of the band: Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend and John Entwistle carried on performing—Daltrey filling-in for Keith’s drums with a tambourine. It wasn’t exactly working. Townshend once more stepped toward the mic and asked:
“Can anybody play the drums? I mean someone good!”
This was the moment when Halpin’s buddy started yelling at the stage crew that yes, his friend was a drummer and boy could he play. Which was true up to a point. Halpin could play but was out of practice as he hadn’t picked up his sticks in nearly a year.
What happened next surprised both band and audience and has become the stuff of legend. Concert promoter, Bill Graham approached Halpin and pulled him up onto the stage.
“Graham just looked at me and said, ‘Can you do it?’ And I said ‘Yes,’ straight out. Townshend and Daltrey look around and they’re as surprised as I am, because Graham put me up there.”
A roadie then gave Halpin a shot of Moon’s brandy.
“Then I got really focused, and Townshend said to me, ‘I’m going to lead you. I’m going to cue you.’”
Townshend introduced him simply as “Scot” and launched into a couple of blues standards “Smokestack Lightning” and “Spoonful.” Halpin acquitted himself well. He kept good time and followed Townshend’s lead. Next up was the Who’s “Naked Eye” which proved far more tricky with its contrasting tempos. Halpin kept his cool and managed a steady beat throughout.
Scot Halpin fills for Moon with The Who.
It was the band’s last number. Halpin deservedly took his bow alongside Townshend, Daltrey and Entwistle. Backstage they thanked “...the skinny kid from the audience for stepping to the plate” but who “didn’t hang around long after the show.”
“They were very angry with Keith and sort of fighting among themselves,” Halpin said. “It was the opening date on their ‘Quadrophenia’ tour, and they were saying, ‘Why couldn’t he wait until after the show (if he wanted to get high)?”
Daltrey, who’d begun drinking Jack Daniels from the bottle at that point, told the substitute they’d pay him $1,000 for his efforts, and a roadie gave him a tour jacket on the spot. “Then everyone split,” Halpin said. “My friend and I both had long drives ahead of us, so we loaded up on all the free food that was put out for the band, and we both headed for home.”
In the meantime, someone stole the tour jacket that Halpin had just received as a gift.
Halpin received favorable mention in the next day’s Chronicle review. He received a nice letter from the band but no money - not that it mattered.
The event was commemorated by Rolling Stone magazine who honored Halpin with “Pick-Up Player of the Year 1973.” Interviewed at the time, Halpin praised The Who’s stamina, saying:
“I only played three numbers and I was dead.”
More on the night Moon the Loon was replaced by a member of the audience, after the jump…