John Entwistle


musical style: 

photograph of John Entwistle

John Alec Entwistle (9 October 1944 – 27 June 2002) was born in Chiswick, a London suburb, in 1944. In the early 1960s, he played in several traditional jazz and dixieland outfits with schoolmate Pete Townshend, and later joined Roger Daltrey's band the Detours. This band later became The Who.

He was nicknamed "The Ox" because of his amazing consitution (e.g. drinking). Bill Wyman described him as "the quietest man in private but the loudest man on stage." He was also known as "Thunderfingers" by his bandmates and fans.

John Entwistle was a talented songwriter and artist. He wrote several well-known Who songs including:

"Cousin Kevin"
"My Wife"
"Boris The Spider"
"Heaven and Hell"
"Success Story"
"Whiskey Man"
These songs, along with his solo material, reveal a dark sense of humor which was often incompatible with Pete Townshend's more introspective work. Though he continued to contribute material to all of The Who's albums, his frustration with having his material recorded by the band (largely with having to relenquish singing duties to Roger Daltrey) led him to release Smash Your Head Against The Wall in 1971. He was the first member of The Who to release a solo record.

Entwistle also contributed many backing vocals and horn performances to the group, most notably on Quadrophenia, where he layered several horns to create the impressive brass as heard on songs such as 5:15, among others.

Rarely captured well in the studio, his style and sound was fully developed by the time of The Who's performance of "A Quick One While He's Away" for the Rolling Stones' 1968 Rock and Roll Circus, as well as the seminal 1970 Live at Leeds concert recording. In concert, Entwistle and guitarist Pete Townshend frequently exchanged roles, with Entwistle providing rapid melodic lines and Townshend anchoring the song with rhythmic chord work. Indeed, Pete Townshend was often quoted that it was Entwistle who was the lead guitarist in the band, while he, being the rhythmic timekeeping element, was in effect the drummer. Moon, on the other hand, with all his flourishes round the kit, was considered by Townshend to be the equivalent of a keyboard player. Entwistle himself stated in many interviews (including one with Guitar Player's Chris Jisi in 1989) that, according to modern standards, "The Who haven't a proper bass player."

Entwistle helped uncover the potential of the bass guitar as a lead instrument, using aggressive pentatonic lead lines, and a trebly sound virtually unheard of in the early 1960s. He pioneered the use of roundwound steel bass strings, developed for him by the Rotosound company. Indeed, his search for a sound to cut through The Who's sonic onslaught led him to experiment with more and different basses, leading him to amass a collection of over 200 instruments by the time of his death. His search for the perfect sound led him to experiment most notably with Alembic's basses in the 1970s, Warwick in the 1980s, and Status all-graphite basses in the 1990s.

In the mid '60s, Entwistle was one of the first to make use of Marshall stacks. Pete Townshend later remarked that John started using Marshalls in order to hear himself over Moon's drums, and Townshend himself also had to use them just to be heard over John. They both continued expanding and experimenting with their rigs, until (at a time when most bands used 50-100w amps with single cabinets) they were both using twin Stacks with new experimental prototype 200w amps. This, in turn, also had a strong influence on the band's contemporaries at the time, with Cream and the Jimi Hendrix Experience both following suit. Ironically, although they pioneered and directly contributed to the development of the "classic" Marshall sound (at this point their equipment was being built/tweaked to their personal specifications), they would only use Marshalls for a couple of years. Entwistle eventually switched to using a Sound City rig in search of his perfect sound, with Townshend also switching later on.

Entwistle also experimented throughout his career with "bi-amping," where the high and low ends of the bass sound are sent through separate signal paths, allowing for more control over the output. At one point his rig became so loaded with speaker cabinets and processing gear that it was dubbed "Little Manhattan."

His "full treble, full volume" approach to bass sound was originally supposed to be captured in the bass solo to "My Generation". According to Entwistle, his original intention was to feature the distinctive Danelectro bass, which had a very twangy sound, in the solo. After repeatedly breaking strings on the instrument. And even purchasing two more Danelectros in an attempt to capture the sound (Danelectro strings apparently being unavailable separately at the time). He ended up recording a simpler solo using a stock Fender Jazz Bass and a pick. This solo bass break is important as it is one of the first (if not the first) bass solo captured on a rock record. A live recording of The Who from this period (c1965) exists with Entwistle playing a Danelectro on "My Generation," giving an idea of what that solo would have sounded like.

Entwistle developed what he called a "typewriter" approach to playing the bass. It involved positioning the right hand over the strings so all four fingers could be used to tap percussively on the strings, causing them to strike the fretboard with a distinctive twangy sound. This gives the player the aility to play three or four strings at once. Or to use several fingers on a single string. It allowed him to create passages that were very percussive and melodic. He used this approach to mimic the fills used by his drummers in band situations, sometimes sending the fills back at the drummers faster than the drummers themselves could play them. This method is unique and should not be confused with the hammer-on tapping techniques of Eddie Van Halen and Stu Hamm or the slapping technique of Larry Graham, and in fact pre-dates these other techniques. A demonstration of this approach to bass playing can be seen on a video called John Entwistle - Master Class, part of Arlen Roth's Hot Licks instructional series.

Entwistle identified his influences as a combination of his school training on French horn, trumpet, and piano (giving his fingers impressive strength and dexterity). Along with rock & roll guitarists Duane Eddy and Gene Vincent, and American soul and R&B bassists such as James Jamerson. Like Jamerson, he is credited as a pioneer on the bass guitar.

In turn, Entwistle has been a massive influence on the playing styles and sounds used by generations of bass players that have followed him and continues to top 'best ever bass player' polls in musicians magazines. In 2000, Guitar magazine named him "Bassist of the Millennium" in a readers' poll.

Late career
Toward the end of his career, he formed "The John Entwistle Band" with longtime friend, drummer Steve Luongo. Godfrey Townsend ("no 'h', no relation" to Pete) played guitar and sang lead vocals. In 1996, the band went on the "Left for Dead" tour with Alan St. Jon on keyboards. After Entwistle toured with The Who for Quadrophenia in 1996-97, the Entwistle band set off on the "Left for Dead - the Sequel" tour in late 1998 now with Gordon Cotten on keyboards. After this second venture, the band released an album of highlights from the tour, called Left for Live.

In 1999 and 2000 John played as part of The Who.

In 2001 he played in Alan Parson's Beatles tribute show "A Walk Down Abbey Road". Along with John and Mr. Parsons the show featured Ann Wilson of Heart, Todd Rundgren, David Pack of Ambrosia, Godfrey Townsend on guitar, Steve Luongo on drums, and John Beck on keyboards.

In January-February 2002 John played his last concerts in The Who in a handful of dates in England, the last being February 8 in London's Royal Albert Hall.

In late 2002, an expanded 2-CD Left for Live Deluxe was released, further highlighting The John Entwistle Band performances.

John Entwistle died in Las Vegas on June 27, 2002 one day before the scheduled first show of The Who's 2002 US tour.

The Las Vegas medical examiner determined that death was due to a heart attack induced by an undetermined amount of cocaine. Though the amount in his bloodstream was not great, the drug caused his coronary arteries — already damaged by a pre-existing heart condition — to contract, which led to the fatal heart attack. Entwistle, like Townshend, battled cocaine addiction through much of his adult life.

John's funeral was held at Saint Edward's Church in Stow-On-The-Wold, Gloucester, England, on July 10. He was cremated and his ashes buried privately. A memorial service was held the following October 24 at St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Trafalgar Square, London.

Entwistle's massive collection of guitars and basses was auctioned at Sotheby's in London by his son Christopher Entwistle to meet anticipated duties on his father's estate. Of the auction, Christopher was quoted as saying his father would have hated it. Joy Division/New Order bassist Peter Hook is amongst those who acquired some of Entwistle's basses at the auction.

Entwistle's enormous mansion in Stow-On-The-Wold in the Cotswolds and a large number of his very personal effects were also later sold off to meet the demands of the Inland Revenue. Ironically, Entwistle was a former employee of that department, only quitting his job there when The Who became successful.

Welsh-born bassist Pino Palladino, who played on several of Pete Townshend's solo records, replaced Entwistle on stage when The Who resumed their postponed U.S. tour following John's funeral. Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey spoke at length about their reaction to John's death. Their comments can be found on the "The Who Live in Boston" DVD. They explained that John's death, while very sad, gives the music a new lease on life. A new bass player means a whole new approach to some of those parts. Townshend and Daltrey also said that they accept the fact that they are now members of a cover band who play songs of The Who - the only real difference is that they don't have to pay royalties.

Solo discography
Smash Your Head Against the Wall (1971)
Whistle Rymes (1972)
Rigor Mortis Sets In (1973)
Mad Dog(1975)
Too Late The Hero{1981)
The Rock{1996)
King Biscuit Flower Hour Presents In Concert (1996)
Left For Live (1999)
So Who's the Bass Player? The Ox Anthology (2005) Read more about John Entwistle on User-contributed text is available under the Creative Commons By-SA License; additional terms may apply.

Gear used by John Entwistle

John Entwistle links