The Bolt From The Blue

It’s gone through every musician’s mind.

You’re at a show – from a club gig to an area show – and you watch the musicians doing their thing, and the thought crosses your mind; “What if (fill in a member of the band) were to keel over in a faint right now, and the band called for someone in the audience who knew the material, and I jumped on stage and totrally rocked it“?

Yeah, I’ve had that.  At a Springsteen or Asbury Jukes or Richard Thompson or Warren Zevon or Gear Daddies or Los Lobos gig, thinking “If Nils or Gary Thompson or Pete Zorn or David Landau or Cesar or whoever the guitar player is gets the flu and faints away, I could jump up there and totally take over!”

It remains a fantasy for almost everyone.  1


It was 45 years ago tonight, every musician’s fantasy came true, for one Scot Halpin, of Muscatine Iowa, who’d been living in the Bay Area for about a year.

He was at a Who show at the Cow Palace in San Francisco.

After playing an hour and a half, Keith Moon – the Who’s manic drummer – passed out behind the drum kit.  Roadies revived him after another song or two, before he passed out again.

The rest of the band – singer Roger Daltrey, bass player John Entwistle and guitar player Pete Townsend, continued for another song (“See Me, Feel Me”) without a drummer.

Then, Townsend asked the crowd if anyone could play the drums.  Halpin’s friend ignored the fact that Halpin hadn’t touched a drum kit in the year since he’s left Iowa, and got the attention of a roadie, who got the attention of promoter Bill Graham.   And one thing led to another.

As Halpin told the story to the San Francisco Examiner  years later:

When Townshend called out, “Can anyone play the drums?” Halpin and Danese were already at theedge of the stage.

“And my friend starts saying to the security guard, `He can play,’ ” Halpin says. In truth, he hadn’tplayed in a year, but that didn’t slow the braggart Danese, who made such a commotion thatpromoter Bill Graham appeared. “He just looked at me and said, `Can you do it?’ ” Halpin doesn’trecall his answer, but Danese assured Graham that he could.

“The story was that I stepped out from in front of the stage, but that’s not what happened,” Halpinsays. “Townshend and Daltrey look around and they’re as surprised as I am,” he says, “becauseGraham put me up there.”

With a shot of brandy for his nerves, Halpin shook hands with Townshend, then sat down at his firstdrum set since he left Iowa, in front of 13,500 critics. “I get onto the stool. Was it still warm? Whoknows. I’m in complete shock,” Halpin says. “Then I got really focused, and Townshend said tome, `I’m going to lead you. I’m going to cue you.’

“I’m laying down the beat. They’re doing all their `Live at Leeds’ kind of stuff, and then I don’tremember what happened. I guess I played a couple more songs. It was such a weird experience.”

The bootleg reveals that Halpin drummed through the traditional “Smokestack Lightning” and”Naked Eye,” from “Odds and Sods,” closing with the anthem “My Generation.” He wasonstage for about 15 minutes. “I played long enough with them that no one booed and no one threwanything at the stage,” he says.

After the show, Halpin got to party with the band backstage; Daltrey gave Halpin kudos in the press later – and bootleg tapes showed that he did a decent job.   And he won a special, one-time-only “Best Pickup Player Of The Year” award in Rolling Stone‘s critics’ poll at the end of the year.

And until his death ten years ago of an inoperable brain tumor, he was probably the luckiest pickup drummer in history.

1 As it largely has for me.  Although last summer, I went to a show at the Seventh Street Entry making the 40th Anniversary of Springsteen’s Darkness on the Edge of Town, with a Springsteen tribute band, “Tramps Like Us”.   They do a good show, by the way.   But they were doing “Something In The Night”, one of the more obscure deep cuts on the record, and the lead singer was flloundering for the words.  And I was singing along at the foot of the stage, so rather incredibly, he handed me the mic and I finished out the last verse for him.  Not exactly pinch-hitting for David Hidalgo on “Will The Wolf Survive”, but it was fun, and I thank that lead singer, whoever he was…

4 thoughts on “The Bolt From The Blue

  1. Or a person could hire a good band to play at, say, a wedding reception, and then ask them for permission to sit in and play a couple of songs. That works lol.

  2. Back in March 2016, I was at Chanhassen Dinner Theater, watching Mick Sterling and the Stud Brothers performing a Tribute if Ray Charles show. They were playing Let the Good Times Roll, when another guitar started playing. Lo and behold his Purpleness was at the show and decided to jam in. Unexpected treat for everyone, as Prince’s manager swore the restaurant management to secrecy that Prince was even there.

  3. Pingback: The Bolt From The Blue Redux | Shot in the Dark

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