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Entwistle interview from Greenwich Time
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Bass lines The Whos John Entwistle steps to the forefront at Toads
By Thomas Mellana
Arts and Weekend Editor
Thunderfingers. The Ox. The Quiet One.
John Entwistle has been called many things in his career, but the one thing
he's been called more than any other is this: The greatest bass player in
the history of rock.
Longtime bedrock of The Who, Entwistle earned the title by changing
radically the role of the bass in the music, and attacking the instrument
with a skill still unmatched in the 35 years since he tossed off the first
rock bass solo in "My Generation."
See for yourself Tuesday when Entwistle brings his own The John Entwistle
Band to Toad's Place in New Haven, days after a reunion with his more famous
mates at Paul McCartney's "The Concert for New York City." The quick switch
from an arena like Madison Square Garden, where the McCartney concert is to
take place tomorrow night, to a relatively small, albeit storied, rock club
like Toad's is no problem for Entwistle, whose career has always been more
about music than rock star posturing.
"In the smaller venues, you can actually get in with the audience," he says,
"you can converse with them."
Entwistle put together his band - whose current lineup includes drummer
Steve Luongo and guitarist Godfrey Townsend - in the mid-1990s. The group,
with keyboardist Gordon Cotton, released "Left for Live" in 1999.
Fans of the bassist who make the trip to Toad's Tuesday can expect a serving
of Entwistle's Who songs ("My Wife," "905," "Success Story" ...) solo
numbers and r&b classics like "Young Man's Blues" and "Summertime Blues,"
which were staples of Who live sets.
Fronting his own band gives Entwistle more room to shine than he ever had in
The Who. Always a good songwriter, he had the "misfortune" of being in a
band that had, in Pete Townshend, one of rock's very best. A typical Who
album or performance would feature one, maybe two, Entwistle songs at most.
"It gives me an opportunity to play my material," Entwistle says in a
telephone interview from England. "It's nice, it gives me the chance to play
more solos and sing a lot more."
The mention of more Entwistle solos is sure to get many Who fans running.
There was a time, or course, when the very idea of a bass solo in a rock
song was unheard of. The instrument was firmly planted in the background,
providing little more than a foundation, often noticed only if missing.
Entwistle moved the instrument to the forefront, often propelling The Who's
volatile sound forward.
Entwistle's unique approach to the bass is most likely the result of having
played piano and trumpet as a child. He only picked up the bass after he
grew up and his taste in music began to change.
"There weren't a lot of trumpet players in rock 'n' roll bands, and I didn't
want to play jazz," Entwistle says.
Although he gravitated naturally to the instrument, Entwistle was never
content with the diminutive role bass players were expected to take.
(Musically at least. In Who concerts, Entwistle was noted for his stoic
stage presence amid the melee his three bandmates cooked up each night.)
"I was always messing around, trying to get a different sound," Entwistle
says. "(One night) I saw a guy using two fingers and I thought, 'That's a
good idea.' I met the guy about five years later and he said 'Yeah, I
remember that night. I had a blister and had to keep changing fingers.' "
That notwithstanding, all innovations are the result, at least partly, of
necessity. Entwistle's case was no different.
"The great thing about The Who is that there are only the two guitars, so I
got to fill in a lot more holes when Pete was playing the rhythm parts," he
Townshend wasn't the only reason The Who allowed Entwistle to develop as he
did. In every rock band the bass player and drummer work in close concert.
Pair a guy like Entwistle with a traditional 1-2-3-4 drummer and chances are
good it would all fall apart. Fortunately, The Who paired him with the
prototype for unconventional drumming in Keith Moon.
Entwistle says he's had similar luck in The John Entwistle Band.
"I was kind of lucky to find Steve," Entwistle says. "His style has kind of
modulated from my own. I'm able to play a lot freer because Steve goes with
me. We push each other."
"The first time we played together, it was like 'Oh, thank you,'" says
Luongo. "John really is a lead bass player, and I consider myself a lead
"It's kind of like playing with another drummer who has notes," he says.
"Bass players have to think like drummers anyway," Entwistle interjects.
"But we have to think faster."
It was largely the presence of a "conventional" drummer that produced two
Who albums that many felt failed to live up to the band's reputation after
Moon died in 1978. Moon was replaced by rock vet Kenny Jones, as solid as
they come, but the general consensus held his style was too confining for
Throughout several reunion tours, The Who tried various approaches to
recapture what it had with Moon, finally coming upon Zach Starkey (Ringo's
kid) who played drums on two Who tours in the '90s. Thrilled with what they
heard, fans began clamoring for new material.
Entwistle says there's a good chance they may get their wish, even though
the last time The Who released an album of new songs was 1982's "It's Hard."
"It's what we're hoping to do," Entwistle says. "What we're doing now is
writing separately, then we're probably going to take a few days in my
studio and see what we have."
"(Recording a new Who album) would be nice," the bassist says. "Part of the
reason I'm writing now is writing for The Who."
The John Entwistle Band's performance at Toad's Place begins at 8:30 p.m.
Tuesday. Doors open at 7:30. Tickets cost $17.50 in advance, $20 at the
door. Toad's Place is at 300 York St., New Haven. Call 562-5589.
-Brian in Atlanta
The Who This Month!
(and no pop-ups!)