The Who arrived in San Francisco to open its American tour at the 14,000seat Cow Palace on Nov. 20. The band traveled with 20 tons of custom sound and lights and other staging that required three 45-foot trailers and a 12-man crew. Tickets for the show — as with every city on the itinerary — sold out in hours, and anticipation for the band's first concert in America since 1971's Who's Next was acute. But within minutes of the group striking up "Magic Bus," drummer Keith Moon appeared vacant-eyed, flailing at his cymbals, before passing out face first into the tom-toms. As the band played on, he was hoisted as if from a fishing net and carried offstage, limp and pale as a mackerel. "When Keith collapsed, it was such a shame," Pete Townshend later recalled. "I had just been getting warmed up at that point … I didn't want to stop playing."
Such was Townshend's mind-set when he turned to the audience and half quipped, "Does anybody play the drums?" A cheer went up. "I mean somebody good." In the audience near the stage was Scott Halpin, a 19-year-old Iowa transplant who had paid for a scalped ticket and was attending with a friend. When his pal heard Townshend's request, he got the attention of stage security and, indicating Halpin, shouted "He can play!" The next thing Halpin knew, he was backstage downing a shot of brandy someone handed him and being escorted to the drum set. As he settled in, Townshend reached through the cymbals to shake his hand. "I'm in complete shock," Halpin recalls.
Given the circumstances, Halpin acquitted himself reasonably well before joining arms with Townshend, Roger Daltrey and John Entwistle for the curtain call. Backstage, Daltrey gave Halpin a tour jacket and pledged to pay him $1,000. Whereupon Halpin climbed into his VW Beetle and drove himself back into obscurity. Townshend sent him a thank-you note after the tour moved to Los Angeles, but the thousand dollars Daltrey promised never materialized.