It’s a Boy’s Own Adventure Story moment. You’re at a concert with your best pal, 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 heroes.
Well this is kind of how it went for 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, in November 1973. Halpin and his companion arrived 12 hours before the concert began to ensure they would have good seats. They found seats up near the front of the stage, which was fortuitous for both Halpin and the band, as an hour into the gig, drummer Keith Moon passed out and was carted off stage.
The house lights came up, and a thirty minute intermission followed, while Moon was revived backstage with “a cold shower”. The Who returned to the stage, and started performing, but once again Moon collapsed - this time for good. It later transpired that Moon the Loon had ingested massive quantities of animal tranquilizers, which he had washed down with his usual bottle or two of brandy. His three band mates, Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend and John Entwistle carried on, performing their next number “See Me, Feel Me”, with Daltrey filling-in for Keith’s drums on tambourine, before Townshend asked the audience:
“Can anybody play the drums? I mean someone good!”
It was at this moment Halpin’s companion started yelling at the stage crew that his friend could play. What he omitted to say, was that Halpin was slightly out of practice, as it was nearly a year since he had played. What happened next surprised both band and audience, and has become the stuff of legend, when 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 as “Scot”, and went straight into a couple of Blues standards, “Smoke Stack Lightning” and “Spoonful”. Halpin acquitted himself, kept good time and followed Townhend’s lead. Next up was The Who’s “Naked Eye”, which proved far more tricksy with its contrasting tempos. However, Halpin kept his cool and managed a steady beat throughout.
It was the band’s last number and Halpin deservedly then took his bow alongside Townshend, Daltrey and Entwistle. Backstage the band thanked:
...the skinny kid from the audience for stepping to the plate but 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)?”
Daltry, 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.
However, the event was commemorated by Rolling Stone magazine, when they 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.”
Halpin went onto graduate from San Francisco University, and became composer-in-residence at the Headlands Centre for the Arts, in Sausalito, California. He also played with a number of bands including The Sponges, Funhouse, Folklore, Snake Doctor and Plank Road and also managed a punk rock nightclub before moving to Bloomington, Indiana, in 1995 to become a visual artist.
Halpin died in February 2008, less than a week after his birthday, he was 54.
With thanks to Heather Harris for suggesting this story!