Culture

Can We Stop Calling Clash Drummer Topper Headon 'Underrated'?

Topper Headon

My PJ Media colleague Allston has just launched his call for your “greatest rock drummers.”

(Be sure to add your nominations in his comments.)

Allston will annoy a lot of people by saying that Keith Moon wasn’t a good drummer.

I’ll leave it to actual drummers and other musicians to fight that out.

As a fan of The Who, I don’t necessarily disagree; Pete Townshend has said as much, but added — and this is the key — that The Who wouldn’t have been The Who without him.

Even Moon himself acknowledged his technical limitations by joking that he was “the best Keith Moon type drummer in the world.”

But I wanted to get in on Allston’s round up early, by nominating someone who other drummers say was highly skilled technically.

They also insist on calling him “underrated” — there are 14,000 Google hits and counting — to the point at which that word has almost replaced his real nickname, “Topper.”

Surely being called “underrated” for 20+ adds up to The Clash’s Nicky Headon — “the human drum machine” — qualifying as one of the best?

“Topper” taught himself to play by watching Keith Moon on Top of the Pops.

Unfortunately, he imitated a lot of other things Moon did, too.

Headon ended up homeless, busking in the Underground and driving a taxi cab.

(And thereby making Esquire‘s “Craziest Drummers Ever List.”)

Finally Pete Townshend footed the bill for Headon’s “black box” heroin detox.

The good news is that Nick Headon is about ten years clean and sober, and even back behind the drum kit occasionally after a long absence.

By all accounts, he has emerged as a nice, well-grounded, painfully honest guy.

(Who looks much healthier now than he did in his cadaverous, gasp-enducing appearance in 2002’s Westway to the World.)

Anyhow, don’t forget to go over to Allston’s column and fight it out in the comments.