Phish’s Jon Fishman on The Who’s Keith Moon: A Beat To Call His Own
The Who appear on the current cover of Relix in a feature that includes an interview with Pete Townshend as well as many musicians’ memories of the group. Earlier in the month we presented Widespread Panic bassist Dave Schools’ thoughts on John Enwistle. Here is what Phish drummer Jon Fishman has to say about Keith Moon and The Who. It is a expanded version of his comments that appear in the magazine.
Photo by Neal Preston
Keith Moon is not somebody I studied anything from specifically. With Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix and with Zappa’s band—and a lot of the art rock bands like Genesis, Yes, King Crimson and all that—I would learn specific things: specific coordinations, specific grooves and I would learn them beat for beat. And when it came to things like The Beatles and The Stones, I would learn them beat for beat. But from Keith Moon, interestingly when I think about it, I never learned anything of his exactly but his influence was just as great.
The image in my mind that I got when I would listen to The Who, and specifically Keith Moon, was of a guy somehow being able to fall down the stairs in time. It was like someone falling down the stairs with a drum set but landing on the beat. Somehow, this guy would be falling forward and it never seemed like he divided time up in an exact way. It seemed like he was always cramming in the last thoughts in the allowable space provided by the meter of the song.
[Another image I had was of] a guy sliding into home base and barely missing getting tagged out. And a big cloud of dust involved in the process. But getting there, beating the ball and being at the top of the stairs with a whole drum set and just falling down the stairs and landing at the bottom sitting behind the kit with everything where it should be—that is how I felt when I listened to him play. I think I internalized that.
It’s definitely a huge part of what I like about music—that he bent and broke the rules of what was OK and not OK in drumming. It made it more flexible. It made me an understand that when I listen to Zappa that the influences I have from Zappa which—I love all of his drummers just as much—but what I got from them is a very precise ability to divide time and meter, and the beauty of the tension and a release that could be created by being able to precisely go from four in the space of four to five, in the space of four to six, to seven, to eight, to nine. And doing these polyrhythmic groupings within that even meter.
When I listened to [Moon], he was able to create that same sort of effect of tension and release, but in a much spongier way of divided time. It’s like he almost accelerated through drum fills in order to finish on time. If he an idea, he was going to go for it and if he was starting to come up short in— whether or not he was going to get home base in time—he seemed to accelerate through to get to it.
In the Kids Are Alright film, there’s a moment where the interviewer says, “And over here we have the guy that plays the sloppy drums.” And they all laugh and Keith Moon farts. People may called it sloppy but the fact of the matter is—the Buddy Richs of the world have called him an animal, ‘The guy doesn’t know the first about playing drums’—I would beg to differ. Yeah, he was a crazy man, but I think there was a real strong inner clock and inner pulse that he was aware of and it was just his method.
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