A collection of posts from my original weblog...or the inscrutable rantings of a madman...could be both...

Friday, June 28, 2002

Well..I was as blind-sided by the news report as anyone...another great musician has passed away. I refer, of course, to John Entwistle..the rock-solid bassist for The Who. He was found dead in his hotel room in Las Vegas yesterday..a night before The Who were to start their latest reunion tour--the initial suspected cause is heart failure, he was 57. Yeah, you can say that it's *all* been a bit of a cash-in ever since Keith Moon, the band's legendary drummer/rock n' roll wild man, died in 1978...but Entwistle always showed a lot of class..must be the English bass player thing...because John Paul Jones had much the same role in Led Zeppelin..the quiet, classy one in the group full of hooligans--O.K., O.K...Ian 'Lemmy' Kilmister from Hawkwind/Motorhead is an exception to that rule.
Entwistle helped found The Who with Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey in 1964..after the trio's original "mod" combo, The High Numbers, split up with just one single under their collective belt, "I'm The Face". They recruited Moon from a local R&B/surf (!) band and took on Kit Lambert's services as band manager. They landed a record deal and Lambert set up his own label, Track Records, to exclusively release The Who's singles and albums. Their debut single, I Can't Explain in 1965, is considered to be one of the finest starting points in English rock...the pressure was so great for the band to have a hit that Townshend was only allowed to play the guitar solo break, which he modeled after The Kinks' "You Really Got Me" solo (Jimmy Page, later of The Yardbirds and Led Zep played the rhythm guitar on the track). What stands out in the song, though..is Entwistle's propulsive bass line, Moon's "machine-gun" drum fill right before the choruses come in and Daltrey's slurred vocal delivery. Entwistle was perfect for the band in that he was probably the *only* bassist who could adapt to Moon's frenetic drumming style--a mixture of surf riffs, R&B back-beat and rock n roll agility. Moon would have been too "all over the place" for Paul McCartney, not bluesy enough for Bill Wyman and not jazzy enough for Jack Bruce. Entwistle was one of the first rock bassists to use bass chords, which was aboslutely unheard of in 1964/65--he would come up with complex structures that would be found more in jazz than in pop, but they sounded *deceptively* simple--try playing one of his bass lines if you don't agree. He also got the *defining* moment on The Who's My Generation single, their most well-known and trademark song--they get to the middle eight for the solo...but instead of Townshend ripping through one of his feedback ridden excursions..Entwistle plucks out some low bass notes..then does a descending fluid pattern of notes after Townshend plays a bluesy break..voila..rock's first bass solo! Onstage, while Townshend would be smashing his guitar, Moon kicking over his drumkit and Daltrey scraping the microphone on one of Moon's dislodged cymbals...Entwistle would stand in front of his bass cabinet..playing various scales right through the chaos around him.
He also provided some of the Who's more humourous moments..like the deep voice on Boris The Spider (besides the excellent bass riff)..played the French horn on Cobwebs And Strange, which gives it that marching band/oompah quality...and, of course, his shining moment in The Who's recorded output, My Wife, from their quintessential 1971 album, Who's Next. There's a rumour that Daltrey fought with Entwistle over who would get to sing on the track..but I'm glad Entwistle won out..his "woe-is-me"/"down-on-me-luck" yobbo voice fits the lyrics (about a man running from his wife after he got too drunk and caused some unpleasantness--I *still* can't figure out what he sings after "All I did was have a bit too much to drink..") in a way that Daltrey may have over-dramatized. His bass lines are up-front all over that album, like the nice little riffs he provides in Gettin' In Tune and Goin' Mobile. On the two major "concept" albums The Who made, Tommy (about a deaf, dumb and blind boy who becomes a modern messiah) and Quadrophenia (about a "mod" named Jimmy who journeys to Brighton to find disillusionment), he was happy to sit back and let Townshend and Daltrey take the glory, while he just plugged in and played. His work on "Tommy" is over-shadowed by the vocals and Townshend's guitars and nearly buried in the mix, except on a couple of the tunes (We're Not Gonna Take It, Pinball Wizard), but his bass is given a more prominent position in the mix of "Quadrophenia", and he came up with some of his best stuff..nearly getting fonky..like on The Real Me and 5:15. He made a couple of solo records during The Who's hiatus from 1975 to 1977 and toured as well. The punk explosion took place in England in 1976/77..but The Who were one of the few 60s bands not to be slagged off by the new pack of bands--"No more Beatles, Stones or Elvis in '77", I believe was the rallying cry of The Clash. This was probably due to the The Who's anti-establishment/working-class stance from the beginning--though Daltrey and Moon were the two working-class lads in the group. When they re-grouped to make Who Are You, Moon's addictions were catching up to him and it's been said that a session drummer played most of the backing tracks on the album. Moon passed away in 1978, ironically from an over-dose of the medication that was supposed to curb his alcohol consumption. The other three decided not to split--but to continue on with old friend, ex-Small Faces drummer, Kenny Jones.
The re-vamped Who made two studio records and a live album..and endured one of rock's biggest tragedies when several fans were killed in a stampede of people trying to get into a Who concert in Cinicinatti in 1979. They split for good in 1982, after the It's Hard record was released. Townshend continued his solo career he had started in 1978...Daltrey took up acting for a bit...and Entwistle chilled out for a while. He did appear on a PBS series in the late-80s, an educational show aimed at kids to teach them the fundamentals of music theory. The three remaining members worked together in the studio in 1988, the first time since 1981, for Townshend's Iron Man record..two tracks called Dig and Fire. This led to a full-on Who reunion and they toured for the first time in nearly ten years in 1989--which coincided with the 20th anniversary of both "Tommy" and the 1969 Woodstock Festival, where The Who performed a large portion of "Tommy" and are featured in the film performing a bit of it. Entwistle stayed active in the 90s..doing both solo tours and a couple more with The Who. They have been relatively quiet the past few years, aside from Pete Townshend's various solo efforts popping up here and there (the re-mastered Scoop, the complete Lifehouse boxed set--which was to be a concept record like "Tommy", but it fell apart and the scraps became "Who's Next"). It was announced earlier this year that The Who would be touring in the summer--but sadly..another original member is gone now, so it looks like The Who are officially dis-banded for good, at least I would hope Townshend and Daltrey wouldn't think they could carry on even without Entwistle--that would be disgusting. Here's to John Entwistle, who most definitely expanded the bass guitar's vocabulary in rock and roll..he didn't have the jazz licks of say, Jaco Pastorius, or the star quality of McCartney...but he could play like a champ and he was very humble for being one of the best bass players around!