Wednesday, June 15, 2011

John Entwistle, the Ox - A Tribute to the Greatest Bass Player in Rock

I took up playing bass largely due to the influence of the Who's John Entwistle. Many say that he is the greatest bass player in the history of rock and roll. He is certainly one of my very favorite players, along with Paul McCartney, Stanley Clarke, and the new star, Esperanza Spalding. John Entwistle has been chosen by many fan and critics polls as one of the greatest bass players ever, often number one or two among rock bassists.

My brother also plays bass, and him and I grew up listening to the Who's music. I had all the Who albums growing up, and their music meant so much to me. John Entwistle's bass playing was the anchor of the manic band, which featured Roger Daltery, Keith Moon, and Pete Townshend. On stage Townshend struck his guitar chords in a circular wind mill fashion and made big jumps with his guitar in the air; Roger Daltery twirled his microphone around and around in the air by the chord (in the days before chordless!); Keith Moon wailed and flayed upon the drums; but John Entwistle stood still on the left side of the stage, holding the band down both visually and musically like an anchor, shooting out his rubber-bullet, speedy, fluid, virtuoso bass lines. Albums like Live at Leeds, Who's Next, Quadrophenia, and Who Are You saw thousands of revolutions on my Sears Roebuck turn table. His playing is very distinctive on all of the albums, and John Entwistle made it cool to be the bass player in the band.

Whereas I did not play for almost 30 years, only recently returning to the bass, my brother has played all his adult life, and has learned nearly all of John's famous solos and parts. My bass teacher recently noted I had a "John Entwistle thing going on," the way I was playing at my last lesson. John has certainly influenced both of us.

One of my most treasured experiences ever with my brother was the day we got to meet John Entwistle in Minneapolis where I live. He came here with his band in 1995 and played at the famous First Avenue night club. My brother Layne and I met the Ox twice that day; first he signed records for us at the Electric Fetus Record Shop here in Minneapolis. We were literally the first in line. And then later that night, my brother and I  and another friend of mine from work stood on the floor at First Avenue, standing right in front of John Entwistle all night, watching his brilliant playing. In that concert, besides playing his Who and solo hits, his band performed nearly the entire Live at Leeds album, the original six song set. My brother and I literally were storing our beers on top between his two monitors on stage as we watched the band perform. I will always treasure that experience.

I have been listening to John a lot lately, I had a mix of his music on my blackberry as I worked out at the gym tonight. Tonight I thought I would offer a salute to the late John Entwistle, the Ox, the greatest bass player in rock and roll. Below are five videos that show case his talent.


Here is a solo performed by John with the Who, on the song, 5.15. This brief clip gives an idea of his unique style of bass playing.

When I saw John Entwistle perform in Minneapolis in 1996, his band played the Real Me from the Who's Quadrophenia. He introduced the song, saying that Pete (Townshend) wrote, and "I re-wrote it," no doubt referring to the very memorable bass line featured in the song. IT is so identified with him that it was a staple in his solo set list. This video showcases

The title track from John's 1981 solo album. One of my favorite Entwistle songs.

The raucous opening track from John's first solo album, My Size, which is pure hard rock. The song has the phrase, Smash Your Head Against a Wall, the title of the album. IT is a sequel to his Boris the Spider song, told from the spider's perspective.

The opening song in Who concerts from 1969-1971, Heaven and Hell, John's musings on the afterlife, featuring his virtuoso bass work. John Entwistle would famously say, "The Beatles made better records than us, but we could blow them off the stage." This performance lends credence to that notion, and makes a case for the Who being the greatest live rock and roll act of all time.

Web links:

The Ox - the John Entwistle Page

The John Entwistle Wikipedia article 

The official Who Page

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