What Made John Entwistle One of the Great Rock Bassists? Hear Isolated Tracks from “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” “Baba O’Riley” & “Pinball Wizard”

Drum­mer Kei­th Moon was sure­ly the most kinet­ic mem­ber of The Who—which is real­ly say­ing a lot—but he was not the band’s best musi­cian, even if he is rou­tine­ly named one of the best drum­mers of all time. Moon knew the appeal of his play­ing often lay in the fact that it was like no one else’s: he described him­self as the “great­est Kei­th Moon-type drum­mer in the world.” Noth­ing in rock approached his untamed excess, mod­eled after the far more dis­ci­plined flights of his hero, Gene Kru­pa.

But if the band “can be said to have an instru­men­tal vir­tu­oso,” writes Chris Jisi at Drum! mag­a­zine, “it is John Alec Entwistle,” their true sol­id cen­ter (they called him “The Ox”) and the per­fect rhyth­mic foil to Moon, who “could sound like a drum kit falling down­stairs,” Entwistle says. The bass play­er not only kept time, he tells Jisi, since Moon didn’t, and fol­lowed Moon’s “mess of cym­bals” and “all over the place” snare drum, but he also filled in for a rhythm gui­tarist as Pete Town­shend slashed away.

He kept his bass riffs rel­a­tive­ly sim­ple, he had to, and he “added top end or tre­ble… to cut through the rest of the noise.” It works, for sure. He is right­ful­ly sin­gled out as one of the great­est rock bass play­ers ever for his phe­nom­e­nal skill and poise.

A less­er play­er try­ing to com­pete with Moon’s wall of drums and Townshend’s mas­sive pow­er chords might dis­ap­pear entire­ly. Entwistle always stands out. His com­ments about Moon’s play­ing might sound dis­parag­ing, but they come off in con­text as hon­est and accu­rate, as do his descrip­tions of his own play­ing.

Entwistle sug­gests he wouldn’t be the play­er he became with­out Moon and the rest of the band. “We con­struct­ed our music to fit ‘round each oth­er,” he says. “It was some­thing very pecu­liar that none of us played the same way as oth­er peo­ple.” In their best moments, some parts “slid togeth­er by mag­ic and were gone for­ev­er.” This is the essence, real­ly, of rock and roll, the serendip­i­tous tran­scen­dence that aris­es from wild­ly col­lid­ing waves of sound.

But such con­trolled chaos can require, espe­cial­ly in a band like The Who, one cool, well-trained vir­tu­oso who can­not be ruf­fled, no mat­ter what, whose per­fec­tion looks effort­less and who nev­er breaks a sweat. The eter­nal arche­type of that play­er is John Entwistle. At the top, hear Entwistle’s iso­lat­ed bass in a live take of “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” (He comes in at 1:45, after a much-extend­ed intro). Below it, you’ll eas­i­ly pick out his every note in the stu­dio ver­sion. And fur­ther up, after anoth­er extend­ed syn­the­siz­er intro, hear him solo at 1:25 on “Baba O’Ri­ley,” also live at Shep­per­ton Stu­dios in 1978. (The stu­dio record­ing is above).

And just above, in one of his most ener­getic per­for­mances, hear him play a live ver­sion of “Pin­ball Wiz­ard” (start­ing at 0:36). And then catch one more jaw-drop­ping solo, just for good mea­sure, record­ed live at Roy­al Albert Hall.

Entwistle is some­times com­pared to Jimi Hen­drix, but in some ways, The Ox came first with his fuzzed-out sound. The mild-man­nered play­er “pio­neered the use of feed­back in music and smash­ing his instru­ment,” writes Ulti­mate Clas­sic Rock, “with Jimi Hen­drix fol­low­ing suit after see­ing Entwistle do it.” For all his reserved Eng­lish cool­ness, Entwistle first pushed the bound­aries of loud­ness, “using 200 watts of pow­er when most bands used 50,” just one of the rea­sons, as you’ll hear in these tracks, for his oth­er nick­name: “Thun­derfin­gers.”

via Laugh­ing Squid

Relat­ed Con­tent:

What Makes Flea Such an Amaz­ing Bass Play­er? A Video Essay Breaks Down His Style

The Genius of Paul McCartney’s Bass Play­ing in 7 Iso­lat­ed Tracks

The Jimi Hen­drix of the Bass: Watch a Busker Shred the Bass on the Streets of New­cas­tle

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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