This happened during the summer of 1978, in London. I was over there with Lee Oskar (Harmonica player extraordinaire of the group WAR) and Greg Errico (Sly Stone’s original drummer) to do the orchestral and choral overdubs on Lee’s solo “Before The Rain” album. After a little bit of research, we had discovered that it was cheaper to travel to London, use Air London Studios, overlooking Piccadilly Circus, and hire the wonderful arranger, Paul Buckmaster (who had worked with the Stones and Elton John) to do the orchestral charts for section ‘B’ of the London Philharmonic orchestra and the London Chorale, than use union session strings and voices in Hollywood, California. So, here we were on a rainy summer evening, out on the town the evening before our first studio session.
We were in having dinner in a chic - make that, elegant by virtue of being fashionable - Chinese restaurant, in Soho. The restaurant was located in the spacious, but darkly intimate, basement of an old Brownstone. Sitting, facing us, a couple of tables away, was an extremely pretty young lady. She was very easy on the eyes except, she had this long pony-tail which appeared, at least in the low-light of the room, to be coming out of the side of her head. Now remember, this was the late seventies and this particular hairstyle had yet to make its way across the pond, to the States. At some point her male companion, who was seated with his back to us, got up and went off, most probably to tap a kidney, or whatever. While he was away, I proceeded to make some comments on the weird hair-do in a vociferous manner, knowing full well that she could hear me. I know… not to cool, but hell, that’s me!
When her companion returned to the table, they got into a huddled conversation which ended when he pushed back his chair back and started lumbering towards us. Oooops, I thought, here we go! Although, in the subdued light, I couldn’t make out his features, he appeared to have longish, dark hair and a full, straggly beard and he was dressed in an over-sized woolen sweater in traditional Marks & Sparks (Marks & Spencer’s) colors which made him look extremely big and heavy. Upon reaching the table he glared down at us and after a long confusing pause, recognizing me, he blurted out, “Chris Huston? Er, Chris, it’s me, ‘Moonie’ – Keith Moon!” No one could have been more surprised than me. I mean, I was expecting a rather unpleasant confrontation, if not an invitation to step outside. Instead, here was my old friend ‘Moonie’ even though it didn’t look like any Keith Moon that I knew.
Immediately, the reason for his coming over forgotten, he invited the three of us to join him and his friend at their table. After introducing him to Lee and Greg, I said that it looked they were through with their dinner whereas we were just being served and, perhaps, he and his lady-friend should come and join us. So they came over and sat with us. Keith immediately summoned the waiter and ordered a bottle of Dom Perignon champagne and a large jug of fresh orange juice. We spent the rest of the meal catching up and exchanging stories. It appears he was a big WAR fan and he and Lee got into an animated conversation. As we finished he asked what we were going to do now? Well, nothing really, we said. We have to be in the studio for a 9:00am downbeat we explained and maybe we’d just walk around the West End for a while. No, he said! Why don’t we come back to his hotel with him and watch this great video he’d just got, Woody Allen’s “Bananas”? Okay we said and off we went.
Now this is where it gets really funny and I’ll do my best to recreate everything, just as it happened. I rode in the big, black Rolls Royce limousine with Keith and his lady while Lee and Greg followed us in our rental car. The chauffeur who held the door for us was a wonderful character, totally befitting, in a Felliniesc way, of both the elegance of the Rolls Royce and absurdness of Keith Moon: an incredibly old man, impeccably dressed in a gray uniform with dark green collar and epaulettes, matching hat, jodhpurs tucked into knee-high, shiny black riding boots. As soon as we were underway, Keith pulled out a big bag of Peruvian “marching powder”. It appeared that we had a stop to make on the way back to his hotel and he passed on the directions to the chauffeur as the girl gave them to him. The scenario seemed to be that the girl was moving out from her (former) boyfriend and moving in with ‘Moonie’, and we had to go by his (the former boyfriend’s) place and pick up her things. This in itself seemed rather a bizarre concept as I sat in the luxury of backseat of the Rolls, with a full stomach and a nice buzz coming on.
I’ll never forget this funny little aside to our journey. After driving a little way through a rainy London, we stopped at a very rich-looking Maida Vale apartment building. Moonie’s new girl obviously had rich tastes. Both she and Keith got out of the car with the chauffeur opening the door for them and then remaining at attention besides the door, standing in the light drizzle, awaiting their return.
The next thing I remember was a lot of shouting and cursing. I looked out of the window from my vantage point in the back of the limousine and saw the girls luggage - suitcases and boxes what-have-you - being thrown down the steps of the building and onto the rain-soaked sidewalk by an extremely irate Iranian guy at whom ‘Moonie’ and the girl were screaming and cursing. The guy was, of course, doing his share of shouting and cursing and the noise seemed totally out of place in that quiet, sedate neighborhood. The funniest thing was that the chauffeur was completely unmoved by all this unseemly behavior - it was completely beneath him and he appeared not to notice a thing out of the ordinary. Fortunately, it didn’t come to blows and he didn’t bat an eyelid as he gracefully opened the door when, a few minutes later, the two of them clambered back into the car, laughing hysterically.
Upon reaching the hotel we went up to Keith’s suite, took of our wet coats and got comfortable while Keith rang down for two bottles of Dom Perignon champagne and a gallon of fresh orange juice. Obviously, even at 1:30am in the morning, in this fine hotel, this was no problem as a waiter soon wheeled in a cart with an ice bucket, glasses, champagne and a gallon of fresh-squeezed orange juice. After he left, drinks were poured and ‘marching powder’ was passed and the video was started. It was a bizarrely funny movie and we repeatedly rolled back the tape to see hilarious scenes again. As 5:30am approached, I was getting concerned about getting back to our hotel and getting at least an hour or two of sleep and a shower before getting to the studio an hour before our 9:00am downbeat with the orchestra. After a protracted goodbye, due to all the other conversations that were going on, I left and made my way out into the rain to look for a cab. I stood in the rain for what seemed like 30 – 45 minutes with not a cab in sight. I was wet and tired. Just then, Lee and Greg came out of the hotel and I ran back up the long driveway to the hotel and jumped into the rental car with them. Of course, they made fun of me for standing in the rain like a dummy for so long. We got our couple of hours of sleep and got to the studio early. The session went great with really great charts from Paul Buckmaster, and the evening before was just another great story to tell when we got back to Los Angeles. Little did I know that that would be the last time that I would see Keith Moon. Little did I know that within a couple of months, Keith Moon would be dead.
I have no problem speaking of my indiscretions with drugs in the past as I put all that behind me, more than 20 years ago. I was lucky that, although I did join indulge in certain controlled substances, I never over-indulged, in part because I always had too much responsibility and, more importantly, too much self-respect.
I suppose that there are many lessons to be learned for all of us from the missteps, misdeeds and untimely and unfortunate deaths of those we admire and those count upon as our friends. Fame and celebrity seem to impart a feeling of invulnerability to many of the people that they touch. As if, if they do get into trouble, all they have to do is pick up the phone and a trusty roadie will come running to their rescue, whatever the problem. The problem is that in situations like that, when it comes down to it, they just don’t have the strength or the presence of mind to reach for the phone, and they slip away forever, in a drug/alcohol induced stupor.
We all laughed along with (and at) Keith Moon when he did all those crazy things. I even assisted him on one occasion with a TV. Now, looking back, it seems like such a stupid waste to me. How can someone with so much to live for destroy themselves so publicly, and how can so many people, including so-called friends, stand by laughing as it happens?
For all its beauty, music really has its dark side, doesn’t it?
© 2004 Christopher Huston