For many, he did for the bass what Hendrix did for the guitar
The Who’s bass player John Entwistle “The Ox”, was born 79 years ago today
“The Ox”,John Alec Entwistle, was born on October 9th, 1944 in Chiswick, London, his interest in art and music showed up in a very early age, by 7 he already was a practicing musician. He met Pete Townshend in the second year of school, later the two formed a trad jazz band, the Confederates, but the group only played one gig together, before they decided that rock ‘n’ roll was a more attractive prospect. In 1963, with The Who final line up almost finished, John begun to gain a reputation for his unique bass playing style. Entwistle’s playing technique incorporated fingerstyle, plectrum, tapping, and the use of harmonics, his fingering technique involved plucking strings very forcefully to produce a trebly, twangy sound, which can be distinctively heard on The Who’s songs. By 1964 the band’s final line up and name was chosen, The Who were labeled, like many of their peers, as part of the “British Invasion”. Their sound unlike a lot of their contemporaries was not Blues oriented, it was straight forward Rock music, a sort of Proto-Punk, and in fact they were one of the few bands from the 1960’s embraced by the Punk Rock movement in the 70’s. With songs such as “My Generation”, “Substitute”, The Kids Are Alright” or “Boris, The Spider”, The Who became worldwide famous very quickly. Bill Wyman, bass guitarist for the Rolling Stones, described John as “the quietest man in private but the loudest man on stage”. Entwistle was one of the first to make use of Marshall stacks in an attempt to hear himself over the noise of his band members, who famously leapt and moved about on the stage, with Pete Townshend and Keith Moon smashing their instruments on numerous occasions. Townshend later remarked that Entwistle started using Marshall amplification to hear himself over drummer Keith Moon’s rapid-fire drumming style, and Townshend himself also had to use them just to be heard over Entwistle. All of this quickly gained the Who a reputation for being “the loudest band on the planet”, a point well proven when they famously reached 126 decibels at a 1976 concert in London, listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the loudest rock concert in history.
Watch The Who performing “Boris The Spider” live with John Entwistle on lead vocals
The band had a strong influence at the time on their contemporaries’ choice of equipment, with Cream and the Jimi Hendrix Experience both following suit. The Who pioneered and directly contributed to the development of the “classic” Marshall sound, though they only used it for two years. John got one of Rock’s most famous nicknames, “The Ox”, this was because of his strong constitution and seeming ability to “Eat, drink or do more than the rest of them.” and later nicknamed “Thunderfingers” due to his Bass playing technique. Entwistle’s wry and sometimes dark sense of humor clashed at times with Pete Townshend’s more introspective, intellectual work. Although he wrote songs on every Who album except for “Quadrophenia”, he was frustrated at Townshend not allowing him to sing them himself, though on some occasions he would sang the lead vocals. Entwistle began making distinctive contributions to the band’s catalogue, beginning with “Whiskey Man” and “Boris the Spider” on the “A Quick One” album in 1966, continuing with “Doctor, Doctor” and “Someone’s Coming” (1967); “Silas Stingy”, “Heinz Baked Beans” and “Medac” from “The Who Sell Out” (1967); “Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde” (1968); and “Heaven And Hell”, with which the Who opened their live shows between 1968 and 1970. Entwistle also wrote “Cousin Kevin” and “Fiddle About” for the Who’s 1969 album “Tommy” among many other songs in later albums of the band. Being the only member of the band to have had formal musical training, John was also a multi-instrumentalist, some of the instruments played by him that can be heard on The Who’s albums are the French horn, on “Pictures Of Lily”, and trumpet, bugle, and Jew’s harp. With his musical training background was in a way logical that he became the first member to release a solo album, in 1971 ” Smash Your Head Against the Wall “, despite that, Pete and Roger Daltrey always remained the most famous and notorious members of the band. Other solo studio albums included: “Whistle Rymes” (1972), “Rigor Mortis Sets In” (1973), “Mad Dog” (1975), “Too Late the Hero” (1981), and “The Rock” (1996). John collaborated with several other musicians over the course of his 40 year career, among them, Ringo Starr. Aside of music, John also was a talented cartoonist and painter, he held regular exhibitions of his paintings, with many of them featuring the Who, he designed the cover art for the band’s 1975 album “The Who by Numbers” and in a 1996 interview remarked that it had cost £30 to create while the “Quadrophenia” cover, designed by Pete Townshend, had cost £16,000. Pete and the surviving members of The Who, Roger and Pete reformed in the early 2000’s, a successful comeback that made John celebrating more than usual. On 27 June 2002, one day before the scheduled first show of the Who’s 2002 United States tour, John Entwistle died in Room 658 at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada. He had gone to bed that night with a stripper/groupie, Alycen Rowse, who woke up to find Entwistle cold and unresponsive. It was determined that his death was due to a heart attack induced by a cocaine overdose. It was an unfair end for The Ox, but he left us a great legacy, over 40 years of good music and also songwriting, In 2011, he was voted as the greatest bass guitarist of all time in a Rolling Stone magazine reader’s poll, for some, he is considered to be the best rock bass guitarist that ever lived, and is to have done for the bass what Jimi Hendrix did for the guitar. John Entwistle was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the Who in 1990.
Look back at John Entwistle’s life in photos
Watch “The Ox” playing the bass track for “Won’t Get Fooled Again”
Listen to some of The Who’s best songs with John Entwistle compiled by Pop Expresso on Spotify
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