Humble Pie's 1970s Tour Notes: Puking On Keith Moon

With a new re-release of their breakthrough album, drummer Jerry Shirley recalls some of his favourite stories from the road...
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Every time we played Boston, including on our spring 1971 tour of the States, a band of glam rockers would show up backstage to pay their respects. We knew they were budding musicians, and I believe they already had a bit of a local following. They wore lots of makeup and had scarves hanging everywhere, and the singer had a pair of lips to match Mick Jagger’s. We thought it was a bit weird to wear all that stage gear when you are just hanging out, but they were very nice, well-mannered young lads and very respectful of what we were doing. A few years later, when a hard-rocking Boston bunch hit it big with their third album, Toys in the Attic, I recognised them as the same band: Aerosmith.


When our truck broke down in Rockford, Illinois, we got stuck without any equipment and had to borrow some from a local band who were there to see us. This extremely talented band, who were very nice to lend us their gear, became huge later in the Seventies when they evolved into Cheap Trick.

Shortly before the Shea Stadium show, where we would open for Great Funk, and in doing so be the first British band to play there since The Beatles. The Who were spending time in NYC, recording sessions for what was to become Who’s Next. Pete Townshend had hurt his wrist, so they were trying to record with Leslie West from Mountain playing the lead guitar parts. Leslie is one of the finest lead guitarists the Almighty had the good sense to create, but then, so is Pete Townshend.

We knew The Who were in town and arranged to go out clubbing with them. Humble Pie and The Who (minus Roger Daltrey, who didn’t come along) had a fairly subdued evening at our chosen watering hole, Le Directoire. As usual back then, I was doing a terrible job of keeping up with everybody as far as drinking was concerned. I remember everybody buzzing around the club—literally—going around pretending to be a swarm of bees. Other than that, I remember sitting between Pete Townshend and Steve Marriott, telling them both, in a bombastic fashion, how incredible they were and getting quite drunkenly emotional about it. They were very patient with me, and I vaguely remember Townshend saying to Steve, “Your little mate don’t ’arf talk a lot,” or something to that effect. I think they were both a bit surprised at someone outtalking them. They were still very much like big brothers to me, and I filled the role of pain-in-the-arse little brother admirably.


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Keith Moon, however, treated me as he always did—like the best mate he ever had, which was how he treated everybody. As the night wound down, he invited me back to the hotel where the Who and their crew were staying—the Pierre at Fifth Avenue and 61st Street, just across from Central Park—to keep the party going. By the time we got there, it was just Keith, Chalky (our old roadie, who was now working as Keith’s driver), John Hammel (our current roadie), and I, who was, by this time, very much worse for wear. Keith was desperately trying to scrounge up a tape player from Who soundman Bobby Pridden, who had wisely retired to his room, which happened to be next door. Bob was having none of it, and kept telling Keith to piss off and that under no circumstances was he going to loan Keith his beloved portable cassette player. Apart from anything else, Bobby knew only too well what might happen to it should he lend it to Keith, not to mention the noise it would generate in Keith’s hands. He wanted to get as much undisturbed sleep as was humanly possible, whereas Keith, while he wanted to do the same, was quite happy to wait until the end of their NYC stay to do so.

All of a sudden, I was overwhelmed with a strong desire to throw up. I asked where the loo was and was pointed in the general direction of two doors on the other side of the room. As I opened the door to what I thought was the bathroom, I let fly with a remarkable case of projectile vomiting... only to realise I had opened the wrong door and sprayed vomit all over Keith’s clothes, which were hanging in what turned out to be the closet. Instead of getting angry about it, all Keith said, in his finest Noël Coward imitation, was, “Oh, don’t worry about it, dear boy; I do it all the time.” He then proceeded to go about the business of trying to dig his way through the wall into Bob Pridden’s room—with a room service knife and fork. I didn’t stick around long enough to see if Keith succeeded, but I found out later that apparently he did. Chalky was left with the unenviable task of cleaning up his old chum’s puke. What a pal.

We were now using a Falcon Jet, which was much bigger. It held between eight and 10 people, and had a proper loo and a stewardess. The pilot, Jim, was a Vietnam vet who used to fly B-52 bombers; he was absolutely brilliant. He did all the classic aerobatic manoeuvres: barrel rolls, victory rolls, flying upside down, and the coup de grace—aerobatic weightlessness.

Experiencing zero gravity ranks as one of the truly great experiences of my life. The pilot puts the plane into a steep climb. At the top of the climb, he puts the plane into a sharp decline, and as the plane goes into this accelerated freefall, it dives down at a speed that makes it immune to the pull of gravity; you become weightless and start to float around in the cabin, which can prove to be a touch hazardous. If you choose instead to keep yourself strapped in, you can sit and watch all manner of things float about. A favourite of mine and Steve Marriott’s: hold on to your glass of whiskey while you watch the whiskey leave the glass and float around the cabin, and make bets on who it is likely to splash down onto once the pilot pulls the plane out of the dive and goes back to normal flight. The boom box you forgot to hang onto calmly floats around aimlessly, going nowhere in particular—until it drops from mid-air into someone’s lap. There are certain precautions you have to take in the toilet; whiskey is not the only amber liquid that can float around the cabin to its heart’s content if the toilet seat and lid are left up.

This feature is combined exerpts of Jerry's autobiography, Best Seat In The House, which you can buy here

The re-release of Performance: Rockin' The Fillmore is out now.  You can buy it here