Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Improbable Story of Scot Halpin

On November 20, 1973, 19 year old Scot Halpin attended The Who concert at the Cow Palace in San Fransisco. It was the opening night for the band's United States tour in support of their latest release, Quadrophenia. Halpin had recently moved to California from Muscatine, Iowa, and was delighted that he and a friend, Mike Danese were able to purchase tickets to this show from a scalper. The concert was billed as being general admission, and Halpin and his friend arrived thirteen hours early to ensure that they would be close to the stage.

The two were able to accomplish their mission, as they rushed into the Palace and took their place at the edge of the stage. The Who, eager to kick their tour off with a bang, came out firing on all cylinders. They played three early hits before launching into eleven consecutive songs from the Quadrophenia album, before reverting back to playing songs from earlier records. About an hour into the set during the song, "Won't Get Fooled Again", drummer Keith Moon started to fade out. His drug and alcohol intake was legendary, and it was later revealed that he had washed down a handful of animal tranquilizers with shots of brandy before the show. Suddenly mid-song, he was hunched over his drum kit, fast asleep. The band quit playing, the house lights came on, and several roadies carried Moon backstage and attempted to revive him by giving him a shower and a shot of cortisone.

It worked... Momentarily.

About a half hour later, a rejuvenated Keith Moon was back onstage behind the drums and the concert resumed. The band was half way through "Magic Bus," when after about three minutes Moon passed out again. This time the roadies carried him off, and that's where he stayed. In an attempt to maintain composure, The three remaining members of The Who performed "See Me Feel Me" with Roger Daltrey providing percussion with the tap of a tambourine. The band's efforts got a huge ovation from the audience when the song ended, and guitarist Pete Townshend thanked the crowd for their indulgence, and jokingly asked, "Can anybody play the drums?" He then asked the question again, this time more forcibly, and added, "I meant somebody good!" At this point, Danese started frantically pointing at Halpin and yelling at security staff that "He can play!" The fact was that Halpin hadn't played drums in over a year, but the commotion that Danese created got the attention of the show's promoter, the legendary Bill Graham.

Later Halpin was quoted as saying, "Graham just looked at me and said, "Can you do it?" And I said "Yes," straight out. Townshend and Daltrey look around and they're as surprised as I am, because Graham put me up there." The band gave Halpin a shot of brandy to assist in calming his nerves. It was the first time he had been behind a drum kit since he left Iowa.

Daltrey introduced his new drummer to the crowd as "Scot", and then the band immediately went into  "Smokestack Lightning," an old blues standard that was made popular in 1956 by Howlin' Wolf.  The jam was slow and easy, and it was probably a good track for Halpin to ease into considering his lack of  practice. Slowly the band moved into "Spoonful," and it seemed that Halpin was having little trouble keeping the beat. However, the third song didn't go as smoothly. It was "Naked Eye," a song that features spontaneous guitar riffs and a much more complex drum pattern. Halpin struggled, but looked unphased during the song, and managed to keep a steady beat throughout it's duration. The Who decided that it was enough, and made "Naked Eye" the final song of the evening. Halpin, with a towel around his neck took center stage with Daltrey, Townshend, and John Entwistle, and bowed to the audience. Afterwards, he was permitted backstage, along with his friend Mike Danese, and was given a Who concert jacket, which Halpin claimed got stolen later that evening.

In 1973 Scot Halpin was given Rolling Stone magazine's "Pick-Up Player of the Year Award" for his spontaneous performance at the Cow Palace. Later, In an interview with the magazine, he gave a praising account of the band's stamina saying, "I only played three numbers and I was dead."

CD Cover from Rock Rare Collection Fetish
Halpin resumed an otherwise normal lifestyle, getting married and managing a New Wave punk rock nightclub with his wife in California until he moved  moving to Bloomington, Indiana in 1995 to pursue a career in the visual arts. He died on February 9, 2008, of an inoperable non-malignant brain tumor. He was 54 years old.

Almost a year later on January 27, 2009, The Who posted a link on their website announcing a memorial blog in memory of the man who, due to stroke of improbable luck, became a substitute for one of the greatest rock and roll drummers of all time.

In 1996 he told the San Francisco Examiner, "It's like one of the few times you could play royalty."

Through an amazing string of events, a young man from Muscatine, Iowa was made king for a day. And because of that one day, he will be a legend forever.



Len Cleavelin said...

Awesome story. Thanks for posting it!

Anonymous said...

Way to kick ass scot. Rest in peace

Anonymous said...

Unbelievable. I'd probably pass out from stage fright.

JackDiamond said...

Local boy does good. Thanks for the article, Bigfoot!