As a roadie for The Who, Peter ‘Dougal’ Butler struck up an acquaintance with enigmatic drummer Keith Moon.
He later became Keith’s PA, accomplice, and best friend whilst The Who ravaged the world stage.
Here, Dougal divulges some of the most raucous stories of working with Keith Moon, gives some insight on the ten years he spent alongside The Who and talks about his book, Full Moon: The Amazing Rock and Roll Life of Keith Moon.
How did you first get work as a roadie with The Who?
It was in 1968 through a good friend of mine, Bob Pridden, who was a mod. He had a scooter and I didn’t. He’d had a job with a local band called Cliff Bennett and the Rebel Rousers as a roadie. In those days we used to go up town on weekends to the Flamingo, to discotheques, and the A-train. We used to meet in Uxbridge in Burton’s Dance Hall on a Friday or Saturday and Bob was there. He’d just started working with The Who. By this point, they’d had a few hit singles and some pretty successful albums but they weren’t as big as they were later on. Bob said, ‘We’re doing a tour of Scotland for two weeks. You can help us out. It’s £15 a week.’ It was handy because I was doing an apprenticeship and only on £5.
We did a few dates around Scotland and then they asked me to stay. I started as a roadie. I got on very well socially with John Entwistle and Keith Moon. I used to socialise with them in the evenings. Then after the tour, I’d knock around with Keith and we’d end up in the Speakeasy – a nightclub where everyone used to go. The first time I went there I was 18 years of age and at one o’clock in the morning, there we are in the restaurant and sitting on the next table was Paul McCartney and John Lennon. It was great.
Then I started working with John as a PA. Keith went through a couple of PAs who couldn’t handle him or wanted to become Keith Moon themselves. I got on with the management, though, and they said to John, ‘Do you mind if Dougal goes and looks after Keith?’ He said yes.
It was just great sitting in the studio and seeing how Tommy came about, and Who’s Next, Live at Leeds and Quadrophenia, which is one of my favourite albums of all time. Seeing all of Pete’s demos being adapted in the studio and these four musicians, it was just fantastic. They used to fight and argue a lot but that’s what made them – that’s why they survived. It was that in-house fighting charisma that made them what they are.
So you were a Who fan to begin with. Did you get star-struck?
Oh, yeah. I wouldn’t say I was star-struck or overawed but they were the Mod’s band. There were other bands but they were the one. Obviously when I joined them, the Mod faze was on its way out and the love thing from San Francisco – the flowers in your hair and all that bollocks – was on its way in. At the time, Keith had a pink Rolls Royce and people had others with flowers painted on them. I used to think, ‘Fucking hell, what’s this all about?’ but at the same time it was great.
How long were you a Who roadie/Keith’s PA for?
I was a Who roadie for about two and a half years. Then I worked with John for about 18 months and then I went over to Keith. I always say I was with Keith for 10 years; that is basically because I did all my socialising with him. If we weren’t working, I’d sometimes be at John’s house, but mainly I’d be around Keith’s place in an old flat above a dentist in Highgate back when they didn’t have a pot to piss in. Rodger had his small flat in Hampstead or Maida Vale – I think he called it Hampstead to make it sound better. Pete had just bought his first house, as had John. But Keith had spent all of his money before he got it so he was in debt up until his dying day.
Did you and the crew get fed up with the band’s lust for on-stage destruction?
I used to nail Keith’s kit to the stage floor with six inch nails but he still always wrecked it or busted something. In the early days, you were forever mending kit and guitars. I remember once when Keith ran out of drum sticks – he’d smashed them all up on a Saturday night – and luckily I had the home number to a guy who used to run Premier Drums. I had to drive from Leicester to London through the night so this guy could open up the shop and I could get a whole load of sticks. Then I had to drive all the way back up north again.
I remember if Pete didn’t have any money in the early days, he used to run into Jim Marshall’s in Hanwell and take a guitar off the wall, run out and say ‘I’ll pay you next week,’ then jump in the car and fuck off. They’d send him an invoice and when he had some money, he’d pay for it. He did that two or three times. Times have definitely changed now, though.
Tell me some of the most bizarre, outlandish, and interesting stories of working with The Who and Keith…
Oh, there’s so many. I remember one of the first times I went to America and we were in New York at the Navarro Hotel and Keith had bought a load of cherry bombs. The band was having a break from the recording studio. We were up quite early for us, like 11 in the morning, and we were just mucking about. Keith got hold of this cherry bomb as the door to an elevator opened and he just threw this little thing in. We were on the 3rd floor or something and this old lady gets in the lift with her poodles down to the ground floor and this thing’s gone off. This poor 70 year-old woman with her pink hair and pink poodles is in there and suddenly there’s this BANG! One of the dogs shat in the lift with fright. (Laughs)
Another incident happened on the same stay. Cassettes had just come out and Bobby Pridden had this lovely cassette player. Anyway, it was late at night and Keith wanted a couple of Bob’s tapes but we couldn’t wake him up. So he went into the hallway and found a hammer – God knows how he found it – and he just hammered away at the wall and started taking the bricks out one by one. He took out about ten bricks and put them all nicely in a pile and then went through the hole, got the tapes, came back to his own room and said, ‘Oh fuck, I’ve got the wrong ones.’
Did the hotels just send the band a huge bill at the end of a stay?
Yeah, hotels were used to us by the mid ‘70s. We are banned from the Holiday Inn…for life. We had to make up pseudonyms in the end; Keith used to go under ‘Lou Paper’ because in America they didn’t understand what loo paper was. Then they used to check his passport and say, ‘Oh, you’re not Mr. Paper, you’re Keith Moon’ and realise that, ‘Oh no, we’ve got The Who in here!’ So our production manager would have to come in and sort it out – usually they’d let us in because there were thirty of us in the entourage and they didn’t want to lose the money. But if a hotel chain knew it was The Who, then they would put Moon, and sometimes the entire band, in rooms that needed doing-up or redecorating anyway.
Are all your memories good of working with The Who and Keith?
They were all good memories, really. In the end with Keith, though, we had moved to L.A. in a beautiful beach house that he bought in Trancas – there was only six properties on the beach and one of the next door neighbours was Steve McQueen. In the L.A. scene, everyone wanted to be a film star and Keith used to get so many hangers-on. I found that a pain in the arse; it was totally different from London. It was all, ‘Can you get me in the movies?’ or ‘I know so and so’ and Keith used to fall for it. Keith would invite them round the house and they’d bring big bags of coke. I used to tip it down the khazi – we’re talking $500 worth of coke straight down the toilet. But that’s when he got into the coke and it became heavy drug abuse, on top of the alcohol. That’s why we had a big bust up and I left him.
In actual fact, I called The Who’s manager and I said, ‘Bill [Curbishley], you gotta get him home. I’ve had it. I’m doing coke just to keep up with Keith, which is a silly thing to do, and I don’t wanna go down that road.’ It was the first time in our lives that Keith and I had one massive punch up in the kitchen. Fists were flying just because I told him the truth. You should never run a business or work with people that are friends. Unfortunately, me and Keith had become good buddies. We were best mates. Something like that can only work for a certain amount of time because you learn how each other works. I knew how Keith ticked, and he knew how I ticked. At the end it was me that had to tell him, ‘Hey mate, fucking pack it up.’ He was putting on weight, getting out of trim, and it was abuse. Me and his girlfriend at the time, Annette, put him in to the drug and rehabilitation centre at Sinai Hospital and that was heartbreaking.
He was in there for two weeks; he had no drugs, no alcohol. We only saw him a few times – they’d shut him off from the world. One time I went to see him, he’d made a great big papier-mâché tray and he was so proud of it. What he’d done is cut out these pictures from sex magazines – women with big tits and all that – and he’d stuck them to the top of the tray. The amazing thing was that this guy was so talented, and in one of the biggest rock bands in the world, and this was his pride and joy. You were so pleased for him but when you walked out of that situation you thought, ‘Fuck me, he’s so proud of what he’s done…this is hurtful. He’s got a $500,000 beach house – which is worth like $10,000,000 now – and here he is inside this hospital and doing this tray is his proudest moment.’
Then three of four days later, they had to take his aftershave off him, because he’d started to drink it.
He was ok then for a couple of weeks. But with the people he was meeting and inviting over, it went back to being craziness. Steve McQueen once said to me, ‘This is paradise’, but it wasn’t paradise…this was hell. It was a beautiful spot, a place we would all dream of living if we won the lottery, but the reality was the complete reverse.
We went to a 21st birthday party once on Malibu beach. The family is a household name here and in the US; they ran a pharmaceutical company and the party was for one of their sons. They’d bought him a Rolls Royce Corniche and they had a hot air balloon. But there was fucking coke flying around on all the tables and his parents were there the whole time. Keith and I ended up in this hot air balloon; we were somewhere above the Pacific thinking, ‘What the fuck are we doing up here?’ Luckily, they had a pilot and we landed and we went home.
About two weeks later, we were walking up the beach with Larry Hagman to meet Peter Yarrow – the guy from Peter, Paul and Mary – and we noticed that there was this guy trying to commit suicide. It was this 21 year old who was trying to drown himself. He was OK in the end but it was obviously to do with the drugs.
What was the worst gig you ever saw The Who play?
There were two. The first was on the day I first started: a gig in Inverness. It was in some sort of church hall. The band came on at 9 o’clock and the place was only half-full. What we didn’t realise was that they had buses going round to all the towns and villages picking people up and they didn’t get there until 10. So all of a sudden, halfway through the set the place is full. According to the people that turned up late, the band had only done half a set. So fuck me, there was a riot. There were beer bottles flying across the room onto the stage. I thought, ‘Bollocks to this if this is what being a roadie is like for £15 a week.’
There was one time we played in Newcastle. A lot of the crowd was from the university and we had a proper problem with the sound. Pete went fucking berserk: he threw his guitar at poor old Bob Pridden and it just missed his head. The problem couldn’t be sorted out so the band just had to play on the best they could.
What were Keith’s last gigs like?
The last shows he did were in ’76. Keith to me was at his peak up until about ’74 and slowly, as the booze and the drugs kicked in, he lost it a bit. In the last year of his life, he put on a lot of weight because the band wasn’t working – they did do two tours of America in ’76. Then on the last tour he did, they were all great gigs and he was marvellous but you could see he wasn’t fit.
A year before that, they were doing a tour of the States and they were supposed to do a show in Boston at a 25, 000-seater stadium. Nobody could find him – they had to cancel the gig. They found out that he’d been to the Playboy Club and pulled a Playboy bunny the night before. He’d stayed at her flat and forgot he was playing the show. So they had to cancel that gig and tag that on to the end of the American tour. They would have taken a lot of money out of his earnings, so that was some expensive fun. (Laughs)
Was there never any hope that Keith would overcome his self-destructive tendencies?
He tried, everyone tried. Pete and I used to send him to AA meetings. After the death, which I know Pete and all the band took really bad, you always say to yourself, ‘Could I have done more?’ It’s possible, but maybe not. If someone is like that – whether it’s a rock star or just Fred down the road – then that’s just always going to be their personality. It’s about having the will.
Being honest, we all knew that Keith wasn’t going to live to a ripe old age because he put into a week what we would put into a year. We would drive up town and see Neil or Ringo up at Apple offices at two o’clock in the afternoon. I wouldn’t know if we were going to be home for the next two days and neither did his wife. He’d say to Kim, ‘I’ll be home some time.’ Kim didn’t give a shit – she could do what she wanted and he would do likewise. Now, a married guy wouldn’t get away with it.
When he got divorced, we got a flat in Curzon Place just off Park Lane. We used to go to Tramps regularly. I always remember there was this rich Arab guy and he used to have a chauffeur-driven Phantom VI limousine parked outside. While this guy was in the restaurant, we used to give the bouncer a tenner, who would then give this guy’s chauffeur the tenner, to pretend it was me and Keith’s car. So we used to pull some Swedish girls and take them out to the car. This thing had a TV, cocktail cabinet, electric curtains. We used to say, ‘Oh yes, drive on James’ to the driver and luckily we only lived around the corner so by the time he’d dropped us off his governor wouldn’t know what happened. All these girls thought we were loaded but we were living in Harry Nilsson’s flat rent free…it was just unbelievable. (Laughs)
How did the idea of the book come about?
I came up with the idea in about 1980. I’d never written a book before and didn’t know where to start. I knew, though, that I didn’t want to go down the normal route of contacting a journalist or PR person. I wanted a different take on it: my take.
As luck would have it, a family friend knew two guys who had already written some books. I met them and we all got on well. I told them it didn’t necessarily need to be in chronological order but just in a way that reflected how things were. And, it had to be a laugh because I wanted it to represent Keith the way he was. I’m not a Cockney, but I’m a Londoner, and I needed to represent how we actually used to speak. I know Keith used to put on his posh voice but we were just normal guys. We did a short synopsis and I knew it was the right way. I used to meet them, they’d ask me questions and they’d take my answers on a tape player.
The book was published in ’81. It sold out here, sold out in the States. I never reprinted it, never pushed it. But a reprint came about when Chris [Trengove], one of the authors, got back in contact with me and told me about this new company called Talking Music – they turn rock books into audio. I gave it the go-ahead, of course. I did say that I’d like to put my mate Karl Howman up for it. He’s an actor friend of mine who was in Brush Strokes and he worked with Keith on That’ll Be the Day and Stardust. They agreed to all that.
Then [Chris] asked me about republishing the book. I told him that I didn’t want to fuck about – ‘Go to the top and work your way down.’ It didn’t matter if we got rejected: there was nothing to lose. He said to me, ‘The oldest [publishing] company in London is Faber and Faber.’ Within 48 hours of trying there, we had a deal with them under Faber Finds. It’s called Full Moon around the world. I hated the previous title, Moon the Loon, and unfortunately the audio is still called that.
Now we’re trying to get some British production companies interested in doing a film.
After Keith’s death, were you ever asked to continue working with The Who? Were you interested in being a roadie with another band?
No. After I left Keith, I was asked to work on The Kids Are Alright film, which I did, but then I wanted to get out of the game. It was great working with The Who. I could have probably gone working with other bands and musicians if I pushed it because I was quite well known, but I didn’t want to do it. When you work with Keith – who was a buddy – working with someone else isn’t the same. I just wanted to get back to normality. Like the old Who title, it was an amazing journey.
Do you ever get fed up with being known as ‘the guy who knew Keith Moon’?
No, not really, because it was a pleasure working for him. A lot of people couldn’t handle it. I used to get fired every week because I used to tell him that he couldn’t do this or that. Most of the time, I’d let him get on with his little escapades and I’d just hold his jacket. You had to think with him. It was no good being one step ahead – you had to be four steps ahead. Nine times out of ten it was a laugh. Yeah, he was a pain in the arse sometimes, but who ain’t? Just spending all that time with the band was great and now they ask me to be involved in all their official documentaries, which is a pleasure.
Sometimes I get introduced to people in the pub and I start telling stories and I think, ‘Does this guy really believe what I’m saying?’ You can see the disbelief in their faces; you feel like these guys think I’m a fucking liar. (Laughs)
For more information about Full Moon: The Amazing Rock and Roll Life of Keith Moon, by Peter Butler with Chris Trengove and Peter Lawrence, visit: http://www.fullmoonthebook.com/index.html.
Full Moon is also available on audio under the title, Moon the Loon.