When The Who’s Keith Moon Nearly Blew Up Pete Townshend on TV

When The Who came on the scene in 1966-67, the group was about the heaviest rock act around. At the Monterey Pop Festival (June ’67), American audiences got a feel for the band’s explosive stage show — from “My Generation” to the destruction of their own equipment afterwards.

In fact, The Who put on such a spectacle at Monterey that Jimi Hendrix lit his guitar on fire to top their act. But The Who weren’t going to be upstaged for long. That August, drummer Keith Moon allegedly drove a Lincoln Continental into a swimming pool on his 21st birthday.

And when The Who went on the Smothers Brothers’ Comedy Hour in September, the band wanted to make an impression on the national TV audience. As Pete Townshend planned his usual guitar-smashing, Moon went for a much bigger bang.

But Moon was no explosives expert. Apparently, he underestimated the power of the blast, which led to an arm injury for him and the breakdown of the TV broadcast that night. And it nearly blew up in Townshend’s face.

Moon had 3-10 times the usual level of explosives in his drums

Smoke spreads from drummer Keith Moon’s kit following The Who’s performance on ‘The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour,’ September 15, 1967. | CBS Photo Archive/Courtesy of Getty Images

There are many who claim Keith Moon never did some of the things he later became famous for. A great example is the story of him driving the car into a pool on his birthday. Townshend and others present that night have said it never happened.

Who singer Roger Daltrey, on the other hand, recalled seeing it with his own eyes. “It’s vague now, but I just remember the car in the pool,” Daltrey said. We’ll leave that debate for another day, but the Smothers Brothers blow-up definitely happened. There’s footage.

As for why the drum-kit explosion was greater than that of a “normal” night for Moon, some say he added another dose of gunpowder (or cherry bombs) to give it an extra kick. The problem was, a stagehand (possibly at Moon’s direction) had already added enough for that “extra kick.”

In some reports, they’d packed in three times the normal explosives; in others, it was 10 times the blast he normally featured to close Who shows. Either way, it took even The Who by surprise. Townshend nearly took the blast straight to his head.

Townshend claimed the blast caused hearing loss

The Who pose together on the set of the Rolling Stones’ ‘Rock and Roll Circus’ on 11 December 1968. | Mark and Colleen Hayward/Redferns

Pete Townshend has been candid about his hearing loss over the years, and incidents like this one couldn’t have helped. In recent years, he’s pointed to his use of headphones and the countless ear-stressing Who shows as the cause of his tinnitus.

But Townshend is directly in the line of fire of Moon’s explosion on that September ’67 night. After he emerges from the cloud of smoke, you can see Townshend patting down his hair to make sure it hadn’t caught fire.

As for Moon, the drummer reportedly received injuries to his arm from an exploded cymbal. (You can see Moon checking his arm after he gets up off the floor.) And Bette Davis, the screen legend who was waiting to go on after The Who, fainted when she was saw the blast.

Meanwhile, the TV broadcast also went dead for a few moments due to Moon’s antics. All in all, this story is enough to make you think John Bonham wasn’t that wild.

Also see: Why Did the Rolling Stones Keep ‘Rock and Roll Circus’ Hidden for 28 Years?