36 Years Ago: Kenney Jones Replaces Keith Moon in the Who
Kenney Jones was already highly regarded in the British rock scene by the end of 1978, when he got the unexpected opportunity of a lifetime: being tapped to replace the late Keith Moon as drummer in the Who. The group announced its new drummer in January 1979, but Jones’ tenure with the band would prove to be difficult and relatively brief, punctuated by internal strife and changing musical trends.
The drummer was a veteran of the Small Faces with Steve Marriott, as well as the Faces with Rod Stewart and Ron Wood, when he got the call from the Who. Ironically, Jones had been at the same party with Moon the night before the madcap drummer died in September 1978. Jones was also drinking buddies with Pete Townshend, and he was able to step into the Who gig relatively easily — or so he thought.
Moon’s death brought on a period of turbulence for the Who that included an infamous gig in Cincinnati on Dec. 3, 1979, where 11 fans were trampled and killed. Townshend was also going through a period of escalating drug use that culminated in a full-blown heroin addiction, followed by detox, and to top it off, singer Roger Daltrey wasn’t terribly supportive of Jones’ participation in the Who.
“I just felt that Keith was such an extraordinary drummer, to try and replace him was just ridiculous,” Daltrey recalled in 1994. “We just filled the gap and pushed it back into the same slot with a drummer who was quite obviously the completely wrong drummer. I’m not saying he’s a bad drummer. I’m not saying he’s a bad guy. I didn’t dislike the guy, but I just felt he wasn’t the right drummer for the Who. It’s like having a wheel off a Cadillac stuck onto a Rolls Royce. It’s a great wheel but it’s the wrong one.”
The group soldiered on with two studio albums, 1981’s ‘Face Dances’ and ‘It’s Hard‘ in 1982. But their glossier, more commercial new sound, as evidenced by tracks like ‘You Better You Bet,’ alienated some fans, and the Who were struggling to find their place in the changing music scene of the ’80s. In December 1983, a frustrated Townshend announced his decision to leave the Who, effectively ending the group.
Jones subsequently performed with a reunited Who at Live Aid in 1985, and again at the Royal Albert Hall in 1988, when the group received a lifetime achievement award during the British Phonographic Industry awards. That would prove his final gig with the Who; when the group announced their reunion in 1989, they tapped drummer Simon Phillips to replace him.
Jones went on to record with Paul Rodgers in a group called the Law, as well as a variety of other recording projects. In 2012, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the Faces.