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50 Years Ago: The Who Fail Their Label Audition

The Who
Keystone / Hulton Archive / Getty Images

It’s hard to imagine the Who making it big without Keith Moon at the drum kit — unless, that is, you happen to be Doug Sandom, the guy who sat there before him.

As hardcore Who fans know, Sandom joined the band in 1962, when it was still known as the Detours, and held the position for roughly two years. In early 1964, after changing their name to the Who to avoid a conflict with another band called the Detours, the group got the attention of Fontana Records, scheduling an audition for April 9. Sadly for Sandom, what seemed like the Who’s big break turned out to be his ticket out of the lineup.

As he later recalled in an interview with the Express, Sandom — who was substantially older than the other members of the band — had been struggling to deal with pressure from his wife, who resented the long hours that went with the Who’s steady stream of gigs. He admitted to being in a surly mood at the Fontana audition, and when Pete Townshend criticized his playing, it started a fight that ended with the group looking for a new drummer.

“He had a terrible go at me, snarling, ‘What’s wrong with you? If you can’t get it right then you’re out,’” Sandom told the Express. “I just got up from my stool and said, ‘That’s it, I quit.’ It was the biggest mistake of my life.”

Moon was obviously a better fit for the band’s music, but that doesn’t mean Townshend didn’t later suffer guilt over Sandom’s departure. “Seeing our chance at a record deal fading, I cold-bloodedly announced to the band that I felt sure Doug would want to stand down,” he wrote in his memoir, ‘Who I Am.’ “Doug was deeply hurt by this, especially because, unknown to me, he had defended me against my being thrown out of the band a few months earlier when another auditioning agent said I was gangly, noisy and ugly. Doug did stand down, with some dignity, so we got our break.”

Sandom published a book, ‘The Who Before the Who,’ in early 2014, and Townshend offered another olive branch in his foreword, musing, “Had we continued together back in 1964 with Doug on drums we may never have become as successful as we are today. Keith Moon was a born publicist as well as a highly eccentric performer. But I have no doubt that personally I would have been happier as a young man. Partly because I think we would have continued to put music and friendship first in our band because that was Doug’s way. With Doug as my friend, I believe I could have been a better man.”

Although the 84-year-old Sandom says he no longer plays drums, he confessed that he still makes “a bit of noise now and again,” saying, “I keep that drum kit at the foot of my bed and kiss it every night before I go to sleep. After all, it’s been on stage when we were up there as a support act to the Rolling Stones, the Searchers, Wayne Fontana And the Mindbenders, Eric Clapton’s Yardbirds…you name ’em and Pete, Rog, the Ox and me played with ’em.” And he hasn’t completely fallen out of touch with his former bandmates, either: the Express article says Sandom still speaks with Roger Daltrey every week, and as this photo proves, he and Townshend shared an embrace in 2007, after Sandom surprised Townshend following a gig in Ireland.

Next: Rock's Ugliest Breakups

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