Phish’s Jon Fishman on The Who’s Keith Moon: A Beat To Call His Own
With Quadrophenia, it was obvious that the guy took a lot of amphetamines. How ever long that album is, it’s straight soloing. The whole time it’s just full throttle.
I was never more tired than getting through that Quadrophenia set. I remember smashing the equipment at the end and having a sledge hammer. I could barely lift the hammer. I was so wiped out. The only other thing that I was that out for was when played from sunset to sunrise at Big Cypress. Something like that. I was a much younger man then, too.
From a technical standpoint, there wasn’t anything I couldn’t play on it in terms of the coordination, but to a large degree, I couldn’t keep up with it. At a certain point, you reach muscle failure. You’re like, “Oh my god, I’m not used to this” It’s like running a marathon like a sprint. It was like, “Wow, this guy really put out a lot of sound and energy.” It’s quite amazing. An incredible amount of energy.
I always thought that Led Zeppelin had the heaviest sound and it seemed like a lot of energy. There’s a lot finesse and precision to those grooves. It’s more like, Robert Plant would say about John Bonham, his whole thing is that his influences were Motown and stuff. And you really feel that and see that when you learn those beats. With Keith Moon, you have no idea where that guy was coming from.
Learning Quadrophenia, you could tell that the guy wasn’t going to live forever. It was definitely, chemically-fueled. There was fuel. There’s no way around that. When you learn to play that music—and you actually try to learn it beat for beat—[you think], “If I was really going to be able to do this for real, I would need the same amphetamines he was eating.” You can feel the sense of burn out. You can almost feel how someone could not go on like that endlessly. Certainly not into middle and old age. There’s no way. It was definitely overdrive the whole time. You can feel it.
The Who: Painting from Negative Space
I think the sheer energy output and release that lineup of Moon, Entwistle, Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey—I don’t think I’ve ever heard anything in rock and roll that was matched in a group setting. Certainly, when I hear Little Richard or certain individuals I think, “Wow, holy smokes.” James Brown or whatever. But the amount of sheer energy that four individuals could churn out, if it were to be translated into voltage, I think The Who have achieved the highest voltage output of any group in the history of rock and roll.
Musically, they’re very interesting in that The Beatles, Stones, Led Zeppelin all had pretty strong and steady bottom ends to their music. The drums and the bass would be these strong foundation. Certainly, Led Zeppelin had the biggest ass in rock and roll. Giant ass and screaming high end but not a whole lot in between. That mid-range was like there was nothing there. It was either shrill or giant.
But The Who, it was almost like reverse. You had this real strong vocal. Daltrey’s voice is a deep, very male voice which is unusual in rock and roll. Overall, I felt like a lot of the best singers sort of had an androgyny to them. I could see why someone like Eddie Vedder would really gravitate toward their music because that plays to his strength as a singer. Other than Jim Morrison and a couple of people in rock and roll, really the Mick Jaggers, David Bowies, Robert Plants, [they] all had these real male and female ranges.
They had a strong male voice that was very sparse in its delivery. [He didn’t] cram a lot of words into short amount of spaces. The same with the guitar. Either long held, big ass chords—big, big chord strikes that rang out—or long, sustained timed notes for the solos. Not a shredder. Pete Townshend was not a Carlos Santana, not a Jimmy Page. Short passages, maybe. But there was none of this [mimics soloing]. There was no room for it because the rhythm section was doing all that.
To me, the most unique thing was that—that was the busiest rhythm section. You had a bass player that was going [mimics busy bass playing] the whole time and you had the drums doing the same thing. On top, you had these big, long sustained textural things. The traditional way of approaching small group rock and roll was turned inside out. They rhythm section was super busy and the traditional lead instruments were very sparse and laid the bed.
I guess you could say, in one way, it was inside out—the rhythm section was busy and the high end and lead instruments weren’t—but you could also say that the bed was Entwistle and Moon created was so busy and it created so much sound and so much noise, that it almost came back around to being a blank slate again for Townshend and Daltrey to draw on top of again. Most painters start with a white canvas and add color. The bass and drums created so much noise that it almost like painting a canvas black first and then taking away. The etchings where people scrape away the color and painting is created out of the negative space.
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In honor of Umphrey’s McGee’s return to Summer Camp this weekend, we present the group’s Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger performing this version of “The Pequod” from UM’s Anchor Drops.
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