Scot Halpin took over for Keith Moon at a Who concert

Scot Halpin took over for Keith Moon at a Who concert

That of pickup player she is a figure that Western society likes very much, and which adheres well to the figure of modern Cinderella adored by American screenwriters of cheap films: the plot is always the same, and involves a loser who goes to a concert, match or dance and for a series of completely fortuitous cases, the last of the spectators becomes the center of the scene. And everyone lived happily ever after.

Nowadays there are those who have turned the pick-up player into a system: Bruce Springsteen, for example, who has now attracted so many people onto his stage that he has even had duplicates. Also because, in the age of social media, the normal person in extraordinary circumstances (Steven Spielberg would say) is very viral, and being very viral means getting a lot of publicity, among other things for free, which doesn’t hurt. But once upon a time it could happen by chance, just like in the movies.

Once upon a time, in fact, there was more drug circulation (behind the scenes), musicians were not athletes – at least, not all of them – and concerts were not yet the perfect machines they are today: unforeseen events, consequently, were more or less common of the day. And the unexpected is the pick-up player’s best friend, the real one.

In November 1973 the Who opened the American branch of the tour in support of “Quadrophenia” at the Cow Palace in Daly City, a suburb of San Francisco: the show’s setlist is quite long, and includes – in addition to eleven of the seventeen songs in the setlist on the album – also the inevitable review of hits and warhorses. But whoever had studied that lineup had done the math without the host, that is, Keith Moon. The drummer has never worried about gaining a reputation as a health fanatic, but that evening in Dale City he had worked harder than usual, reserving for dinner a strong dose of sedative for veterinary use accompanied by a bottle of brandy.

After an hour of the concert Moon begins to show signs of imbalance, and on “Won’t Get Fooled Again” he practically faints with drumsticks in hand: the roadies take him backstage, throw him in the shower and try to make him come to. with a cortisone injection. The “cure”, in the first instance, works, so after a half hour interval the lights in the hall go out and the concert starts again. But Keith Moon is anything but recovered, and on “Magic Bus”, after an imprecisely played intro, he collapses again. Townshend, Daltrey and Entwistle look at each other and try to patch things up, playing “See Me, Feel Me” as a trio with only the frontman to beat the rhythm on the tambourine. The audience appreciates it but it’s clear that it can’t continue like this, so Townshend gets the idea and asks into the microphone: “Are there any of you who can play the drums? I mean, a good one…”.

“He can do it”: shouting and waving, on the left side of the stage, was a boy of not even twenty years old, Mike Danese, who had come to the concert together with a friend of his, Scot Halpin.

Scot had recently arrived in Los Angeles from Iowa to study music and art, and he hadn’t played the drums in at least a year. Furthermore, going to the Who concert had been an almost casual decision, which took shape after meeting a tout on the sidewalk outside the hall. Mike makes such a mess that he attracts the attention of the staff: “Can he really do that?”, asked Bill Graham, the promoter of the evening, and Halpin, within half a second, decided to get on that train that would never come again: “Yes “.

So a 19-year-old boy from Muscatine, Iowa, became the new drummer for The Who. The welcome pack it consisted of a glass of brandy – probably what little Moon had left – to ease the tension. “I immediately concentrated,” Scot recalls, “Then Townshend said to me: ‘I’ll guide you: watch my signs.’

In a cheap children’s film the story would end here, and the credits would begin to roll on the gazes of an incredulous and admiring audience.

In reality, the second half had just begun: the Who’s show with Halpin on drums was absolutely negligible, with a mediocre blues jam on “Smokestack Lightning” and a disastrous “Naked Eye”. The Who, of course, did not expect to find a perfect replacement for Moon in the hall, and in fact they were very kind: both Scot and his friend Mike were invited backstage after the concert to spend some time with the group. Scot was also given an official tour jacket, but it was stolen the same evening. It’s over? No.

Scot Halpin continues his studies, and graduates from San Francisco State University: he plays in several groups – among others, Sponges, Funhouse, Folklore, SnakeDoctor and Plank Road – and gets married, then opens a club dedicated to new wave and punk rock, the Roosevelt. In 1995 he decided to dedicate himself completely to his lifelong passion, the figurative arts, and moved to Bloomington, Indiana, with his wife Robin and son James. He leads a quiet, normal life, and even though he was basically the Who’s drummer for one evening on the verse of “My Generation” “I hope I’ll die before I get old” ) doesn’t really think about it. But fate takes care of it, in his place, causing him to die on February 9, 2008 from a brain tumor.

35 years have passed since that evening, Keith Moon has already been dead for a while, John Entwistle only for six years. Townshend and Daltrey, however, remembered that evening in 1973 at the Cow Palace in Daly City, and upon learning of Halpin’s passing, they dedicated a post to him on the group’s official website. Because, even if it only lasted one evening, the story between Scot and the Who never ended after all…