Dazed and Confused: 10 Classic Drugged-Out Shows
“I haven’t done heroin,” Bill Maher once said. “I wouldn’t recommend heroin. But it hasn’t exactly hurt my record collection.” Maher might be going a little far there (heroin is an evil drug), but his point stands that if no artist had ever done an illegal drug, music might be pretty boring. Bob Dylan wrote many of his greatest songs on speed, and when he introduced the Beatles to marijuana, it forever changed their approach to music.
That’s not to say that musicians should be stoned 24/7, though. Concerts are rarely great when the performers are fucked up beyond belief. Here’s a look at 10 famous performances when we know beyond any reasonable doubt that the person onstage was stoned or impossibly drunk.
1. Santana at Woodstock, 1969 – Mescaline
Many artists claim that the drinks backstage at Woodstock were spiked with LSD. Roger Daltrey said he was tripping balls when the Who played their famous super-late-night set. But Carlos Santana was one of the many performers who wanted to be stoned at the show, and he made sure to arrive with some mescaline on hand. "When we first got there, around eleven in the morning, they told us we weren't going on until eight," he told Rolling Stone in 1989. "So I said, 'Hey, I think I'll take some psychedelics, and by the time I'm coming down, it'll be time to go onstage and I'll feel fine.' But when I was peaking around two o'clock, somebody said, 'If you don't go right now, you're not gonna go on.'"
He bravely took the stage and played an amazing set, though if you watch the video, it's a little obvious he's on something.
2. Neil Young at ‘The Last Waltz,’ 1976 – Cocaine
It's hard to blame Neil Young for wanting a little pick-me-up on the day of The Last Waltz. Two days before the Band's farewell concert, he played two long Boston shows with Crazy Horse in a single night. He then flew cross-country and gave up his Thanksgiving in order to give his friends a proper farewell. There was a huge party backstage, and when it came time for Young to take the stage and play "Helpless," he had done more than a little cocaine. "He performed with a good-size rock of cocaine stuck in his nostril," the Band drummer Levon Helm wrote in his memoir, This Wheel's on Fire. "Neil's manager saw this and said no way is Neil gonna be in a film like this. They had to go to special-effects people, who developed what they called a 'traveling booger matte' that sanitized Neil's nostril and put 'Helpless' into the movie."
They couldn't edit out that coked-up look on his face, but he was in good enough mind to start the song over after a few seconds when the rest of the group didn't quite join in on time. He chuckles and says, "They got it now, Robbie." Neil was no stranger to playing on coke, and he delivered a spellbinding rendition of the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young classic.
3. Blind Melon at Woodstock, 1994 – LSD
Blind Melon took the stage pretty early on the second day of Woodstock '94, but by that point, frontman Shannon Hoon had already put on his girlfriend's white dress and (reportedly) ingested some LSD. He looks pretty gone during this performance of "No Rain," but the backstage interview leaves little doubt. It was the band's first major performance in quite some time, and a little over a year later, Hoon died of a heart attack brought on by a cocaine overdose.
4. Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash at Cardiff, 1966 – God Knows What
Bob Dylan fans have spend the last 40 years debating which drugs he took on his infamous 1966 European tour with the Hawks. Some are convinced it was heroin, while others say it was merely a hearty dose of amphetamines mixed with booze and very little sleep. Dylan is reluctant to admit he was on anything, though in 1969, he did discuss the matter with Rolling Stone. "I was on the road for almost five years," he said. "It wore me down. I was on drugs, a lot of things. A lot of things just to keep going, you know? And I don't want to live that way anymore." Filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker shot Dylan on the 1966 tour, and in many of the scenes, it's quite clear he's on something.
When the tour hit Cardiff, Wales on May 11th, 1966, he met up with Johnny Cash backstage. The country legend was at the height of his well-documented pill addiction. He was swallowing Dexedrine and Equanil like candy, and it nearly killed him. Pennebaker shot Dylan and Cash playing some Hank Williams classics, and it seems like both of them are on the verge of collapse.
5. Keith Moon at the Cow Palace, 1973 – Horse Tranquilizers and Brandy
Not long before the Who took the stage at San Francisco's Cow Palace on their 1973 Quadrophenia tour, Keith Moon took a handful of horse tranquilizers and followed that with some brandy. (Accounts vary wildly over how much he took, and some say they were mere human tranquilizers.) Whatever he actually took, the drummer slowed down during "Won't Get Fooled Again" and eventually passed out at the kit. "We're just gonna revive our drummer by punching him in the stomach," Pete Townshend told the crowd. "He's out cold. I think he's gone and eaten something he shouldn't have eaten. It's your foreign food. The horrible truth is that without him, we aren't a group."
The crew either threw Moon into a cold shower or injected him with cortisone (accounts vary) and they brought him back out 30 minutes later to play "Magic Bus." It didn't last long, and soon enough, Moon was being dragged off again by the roadies. The band did "See Me, Feel Me" without a drummer, but then Townshend decided to offer a fan the chance of a lifetime. "Can anybody play the drums?" Townshend asked the crowd. "We need somebody good." Nineteen-year-old Who fan Scott Halpin took them up on the offer, and joined the band for "Smokestack Lightning," "Spoonful" and the finale of "Naked Eye." Sadly, Halpin died in 2008; Keith Moon, of course, died 30 years before that.
6. Van Halen, 1983 US Festival – Booze and Coke
Van Halen had been off the road for three months when the 1983 US Festival rolled around, but when Apple Computers co-founder Steve Wozniak gave them $1.5 million to headline Heavy Metal Day, they couldn't exactly turn him down. That's not to say they arrived in great shape. "David Lee Roth was nice and cordial when I met him," Wozniak wrote in his memoir iWoz: Computer Geek to Cult Icon. "[But] he was practically falling down onstage. He was so drunk, slurring and forgetting lyrics and everything." A video of the complete performance on YouTube confirms Wozniak's account. Roth is a complete mess. "I interviewed David Lee Roth at the US Festival in 1983," original MTV VJ Mark Goodman says in the new oral history I Want My MTV. "He was drunk and coked up, laughing at every joke he made."
7. George Harrison, 1974 Tour – Cocaine
In late 1974, George Harrison launched a two-month American tour in support of his underwhelming LP Dark Horse. It was the first time any Beatle had toured America since the group's final outing in 1966 and tickets went fast, though the shows were quite lackluster. He did play Beatles songs like "Something," "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" and (surprisingly) the John Lennon-penned "In My Life," but he also gave Ravi Shankar a ton of stage time. The crowd didn't love the long sitar sets, but they also couldn't believe how awful Harrison sounded. He had a nasty case of laryngitis, and snorting mountains of cocaine didn't exactly make his voice any sweeter. By the end of the tour, his voice was absolutely shredded, and with the exception of a brief 1991 tour of Japan, he never went on the road again.
8. Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young at Wembley Stadium, 1974 – Cocaine
Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young's 1974 tour is one of the most notoriously coked-fueled tours in rock history. All four of them were doing insane amounts of the stuff, and the shows suffered as a result. The tour was largely confined to America, but it wrapped up at London's Wembley Stadium on September 14th, 1974. Stephen Stills was so far gone at this point that he reportedly believed that he fought in Vietnam, signing autographs "Stephen Stills, U.S. Marine Corps." The Wembley show was filmed for posterity and it recently popped up on YouTube.
"Everybody was so heavy into the cocaine trip, and that stuff [that was copped had] to be cut with borax," tour guest Joni Mitchell said. "People were shovelin' it in and you couldn't get high off it. Before we went on, everybody had nosebleeds."
9. Poison at MTV Video Music Awards, 1991 – Cocaine
Poison weren't exactly the coolest band in the world in 1991, and their disastrous performance at the MTV Video Music Awards that year did little to earn them new fans. The were supposed to play "Unskinny Bop," but guitarist C.C. DeVille – then in the midst of a horrible cocaine addiction – went into "Talk Dirty to Me" instead. At one point, his guitar became completely unplugged. It was a huge moment for the band, and they absolutely blew it. Bret Michaels and C.C. had a huge fight backstage, and the guitarist was fired. He returned five years later.
10. Green Day in Las Vegas, 2012 – Booze and Prescription Pills
Green Day were playing the annual I Heart Radio show in Las Vegas last September when a sign came up telling Billie Joe Armstrong they had one minute left. He was black-out drunk at this point and high on prescription pills, and he absolutely lost his shit. "One minute fucking left!" he screamed. "You're going to give me one fucking minute. . . You gotta be fucking kidding me. What the fuck? I'm not fucking Justin Bieber you motherfuckers. You gotta be fucking joking." He smashed his guitar in a blind rage and stormed off the stage with his band. He was shipped off the rehab after that, leaving behind a lot of postponed concerts and unsold copies of the new Green Day albums.
Armstrong declined to say which exact pills he was taking, but this past March, he told Rolling Stone that his backpack "sounded like a giant baby rattle " because there were so many vials of pills inside. He can't remember much of the Las Vegas set. "The next morning, I woke up," he said. "I asked [my wife] Adrienne, 'How bad was it?' She said, 'It's bad.' I called my manager. He said, 'You're getting on a plane, going back to Oakland and going into rehab immediately.' I said, 'All right.'"
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