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40 Years Ago: A Fan Plays Drums With The Who

The Who
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

In rock history, there are far more myths (see: The Zeppelin Shark-Groupie Incident) than cinderella stories, especially when you’re talking about a band as legendary — and decadent — as The Who. But a rare exception took place on Nov. 20, 1973, when Who fan Scott Halpin cemented his status as one of rock’s most unlikely heroes, taking the stage to fill in for drug-addled drummer Keith Moon.

This story, unsurprisingly, has taken on a number of variations throughout the years, but Halpin has set the record straight himself through various interviews. The evening began innocently enough. The 19-year-old, then living in Monterey, Calif., met up with his friend, Mike Danese, and bought a pair of scalped tickets for the band’s show at San Francisco’s Cow Palace — the first slot on their ‘Quadrophenia’ tour. After arriving to the venue 13 hours early, Halpin and Danese battled the swarming mobs of general-admission fans for a spot near the stage, as Lynyrd Skynyrd opened with their arena-sized southern-rock.

The crowd rampaged relentlessly as The Who took the stage, so Halpin and Danese snuck to the side of the stage, where they watched the show un-pummeled. Moon, notorious for his excessive drug use and wild stage antics, suddenly collapsed midway through the band’s high-octane set — after being revived, he was brought back to the drum throne, where he continued to play … briefly.

As Moon passed out for a second time, Danese pulled Halpin over to a security guard, pleading that Halpin was a proficient drummer and Who fan, and could easily finish out the band’s set. “The security guard was probably thinking he’s a complete nut,” Halpin told Bloomington paper Hoosier Times in 2006.  ”But all of a sudden, [promoter] Bill Graham pops up, and he sees it as a security thing. He’s sort of nose-to-nose with Mike, and Mike says, ‘He can do this. He’s a drummer. He knows the material.’ And Bill Graham looks at me and says, ‘Can you do it?’ And I said, ‘Yeah.’”

Thrust onstage, Halpin settled into the drum chair with a shot of brandy, with guitarist Pete Townshend guiding the 19-year-old with cues. Though Halpin claimed, over the years, that he couldn’t remember exactly what tracks he played on, we do have video evidence for a loose but spirited take on bluesy Howlin’ Wolf jam ‘Smokestack Lightning’ (which reportedly segued into Wilie Dixon’s ‘Spoonful’) and sloppy version of ‘Naked Eye,’ in which Halpin fumbled through the track’s dynamic shifts.

After taking a bow with the rest of the band, Halpin was led backstage, where he was thanked and given a Who tour jacket (which was stolen). Halpin claims that a whiskey-slugging Roger Daltrey promised to send him a check for $1,000, though the money (unsurprisingly) never showed up. Reflecting back on that fateful night, Halpin reflected to the Hoosier Times, “To be honest, it all gets kind of foggy because it all happened so fast. I didn’t have time to take it all in. All I was thinking about was not screwing up.”

Though Halpin passed away at age 54 on Feb. 9, 2008, his brief moment in the spotlight lives on as rock’s supreme Cinderella tale.

Next: Top 10 The Who Songs of the '70s

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