If you’re a fan of iconic rock bands like The Who, then you’re undoubtedly familiar with the legendary bass playing of John Entwistle. Known as “The Ox,” Entwistle had a style of bass playing that was truly unique and ahead of its time. He wasn’t just a steady rhythm guitarist, but a true instrumentalist who added depth and complexity to each song. In this article, we will delve into the intricacies of Entwistle’s bass playing style and uncover the elements that made him stand out from the crowd. So grab your air guitar and let’s explore the fascinating world of John Entwistle’s bass playing.
Jazz and Big Band Music
As a young musician, John Entwistle was heavily influenced by jazz and big band music. He was captivated by the intricate melodies and complex rhythms of these genres, and it greatly shaped his approach to playing the bass. Entwistle studied the greats like Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Charlie Mingus, learning from their innovative bass playing techniques and incorporating them into his own style.
Becoming a Bassist
At the age of 11, John Entwistle made a life-changing decision to pick up the bass guitar. Originally a trumpet player, he was drawn to the power and versatility of the instrument. He quickly developed a deep understanding and passion for the bass, dedicating countless hours to practicing and honing his skills. This early commitment laid the foundation for his future success as a bassist.
The Who Years
During his time with The Who, John Entwistle became known for his innovative bass playing techniques. He pushed the boundaries of what was traditionally expected from a bassist, incorporating intricate and melodic lines that added depth and complexity to the band’s sound. His use of chords and harmonics on the bass guitar challenged the notion that the instrument was simply a supporting role in a band.
Use of Effects
Entwistle was an early adopter of effects pedals, using them to further expand the sonic possibilities of the bass. He experimented with distortion, wah-wah, and octave pedals to create unique and groundbreaking sounds that became integral to The Who’s signature sound. This creative use of effects allowed him to stand out as a bassist and helped shape the future of rock music.
John Entwistle’s prowess as a live performer was legendary. His energetic and dynamic stage presence captivated audiences around the world. Entwistle’s skillful use of stagecraft, including his famous windmill-style picking, added a theatrical element to The Who’s performances. His melodic basslines and powerful playing style translated effortlessly from the studio to the stage, solidifying his status as one of rock’s greatest bassists.
Choice of Basses
John Entwistle carefully selected his bass guitars to suit his unique playing style. His go-to instrument was the iconic Fender Precision Bass, renowned for its deep and resonant tones. He also used Alembic basses, which offered a distinct and cutting-edge sound. Entwistle was known to experiment with different basses, constantly searching for the perfect instrument to achieve his desired tone and playability.
Amplification and Speakers
Entwistle’s pursuit of the perfect bass sound extended to his choice of amplification and speakers. He used Ampeg SVT amplifiers, known for their powerful and punchy tone. Paired with custom-made speaker cabinets, his setup allowed him to deliver a thunderous low end that cut through the mix. Entwistle’s attention to detail in selecting his gear contributed to his distinctive and impactful sound.
In addition to his groundbreaking use of effects pedals, John Entwistle sought out unconventional ways to shape his bass tone. He experimented with compression, equalization, and envelope filters to further enhance his sound. Entwistle’s meticulous approach to tone and his willingness to push the boundaries of traditional bass playing made him a true pioneer in the use of effects on the instrument.
Technique and Approach
John Entwistle was renowned for his masterful fingerstyle technique. With incredible speed, precision, and dexterity, he effortlessly executed intricate basslines that were as impressive as they were melodic. Entwistle’s nimble fingers danced across the strings, extracting a range of tones and textures that brought his bass playing to life. His fingerstyle technique became a cornerstone of his distinct playing style.
Entwistle’s playing style was characterized by its aggressive nature. He attacked the strings with relentless force, often using a heavy pick to achieve his signature sound. This aggressive approach gave his basslines an unparalleled energy and power, providing a solid foundation for The Who’s powerful rock sound. Entwistle’s dynamic and forceful playing style set him apart from other bassists of his time.
One of John Entwistle’s greatest contributions to bass playing was his ability to create melodic basslines that functioned as an integral part of The Who’s songs. Rather than simply playing root notes, he wove intricate melodies into his bass lines, making them an essential component of the band’s arrangements. Entwistle’s melodic approach added richness and depth to the music, elevating the bass guitar from a supporting role to a melodic instrument in its own right.
Composition and Songwriting
Bass as a Melodic Instrument
In his role as the bassist for The Who, John Entwistle redefined the possibilities of the instrument as a melodic voice within a band. He contributed memorable basslines that served as hooks and motifs in many of the band’s most iconic songs. Entwistle’s compositional skills and his ability to write melodic bass parts set him apart from his peers and played a significant role in shaping The Who’s sound.
Collaboration within The Who
As a member of The Who, John Entwistle fully embraced the collaborative nature of the band. He worked closely with Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey to craft their music, contributing not only his distinctive bass parts but also his songwriting skills. Entwistle’s ability to collaborate and bring his unique musical style to the table helped create the band’s distinctive sound.
Outside of his contributions to The Who, John Entwistle also pursued a successful solo career. He released several albums that showcased his abilities as a songwriter, vocalist, and multi-instrumentalist. Entwistle’s solo work allowed him to further explore his artistic vision and showcase his diverse musical talents. His solo albums reflected his unique approach to bass playing and solidified his place as a respected musician beyond his role in The Who.
Legacy and Influence
Impact on Bass Playing
John Entwistle’s impact on bass playing cannot be overstated. His innovative techniques, melodic approach, and aggressive playing style influenced generations of bassists to come. His ability to elevate the bass guitar from a supportive role to a vital melodic instrument changed the way the instrument was perceived and played. Entwistle’s legacy lies not only in his impressive body of work with The Who, but also in his profound influence on the art of bass playing.
Recognition and Awards
John Entwistle’s contributions to music were widely recognized during his lifetime. He received numerous awards and accolades for his bass playing, including being voted “Greatest Bassist of All Time” by readers of Verdict magazine. His innovative approach, technical proficiency, and musical contributions made him a highly respected figure within the music industry and continue to be celebrated by fans and fellow musicians alike.
Even after his untimely passing, John Entwistle’s influence continues to be felt in the world of bass playing. His innovative techniques and distinctive playing style have become a touchstone for aspiring bassists, who strive to emulate his skill and unique approach to the instrument. Entwistle’s contribution to the evolution of bass playing is a lasting testament to his musical legacy.
Criticism and Controversies
John Entwistle’s penchant for playing at high volumes on stage became a point of criticism and controversy throughout his career. Some argued that his overpowering bass sound overwhelmed the other members of the band and disrupted the overall balance of The Who’s live performances. However, many supporters argue that Entwistle’s powerful sound was an integral part of the band’s dynamic and contributed to their iconic and electrifying stage presence.
While John Entwistle was a highly skilled and influential bassist, some critics felt that his stage presence was lacking compared to his bandmates. The explosive energy and charisma of Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey often overshadowed Entwistle’s relatively reserved demeanor on stage. However, his solid and unflinching basslines served as the backbone for the band’s performances, allowing his bandmates to shine in their respective roles.
Throughout his life, John Entwistle faced personal challenges that impacted his relationships and career. He struggled with substance abuse, which affected his health and, at times, his ability to perform. These personal issues led to tensions within The Who and strained his relationships with his bandmates. Despite these difficulties, Entwistle’s immense talent and contributions to music continue to shape his legacy.
Collaborations and Side Projects
Ox and Friends
John Entwistle embraced collaborations throughout his career, both within and outside of The Who. He formed the supergroup Ox with guitarist Joe Walsh and drummer Simon Phillips, releasing albums that showcased his immense talent as a musician and songwriter. Entwistle’s collaborations with other musicians allowed him to explore different musical styles and further expand his artistic horizons.
In addition to his work with The Who and Ox, John Entwistle was in high demand as a session musician. He lent his bass skills to numerous recording projects for other artists, contributing his unique playing style to a wide range of musical genres. Entwistle’s versatility as a bassist and his ability to adapt to different musical contexts further solidified his reputation as one of the most respected and sought-after musicians of his time.
John Entwistle’s contributions to collaborative projects extended beyond his exceptional bass playing. His skills as a songwriter and arranger were integral to the success of these ventures. His ability to add depth and complexity to the music through his creative musical arrangements and compositions ensured that his collaborations stood out and showcased his immense talent as a musician.
Development of Custom Equipment
John Entwistle’s pursuit of sonic perfection led him to develop custom equipment that catered to his unique playing style. He worked closely with manufacturers to create bass guitars and amplifiers that met his exact specifications. Entwistle’s collaboration with industry professionals resulted in equipment that allowed him to achieve his desired tone and pushed the boundaries of what was possible for bassists.
Exploration of Sound
Entwistle’s willingness to embrace new technologies and experiment with sound was instrumental in his technological innovations. He was one of the first bassists to utilize distortion and other effects pedals, expanding the range of sounds that could be produced on the bass guitar. Entwistle’s willingness to explore the sonic possibilities of his instrument opened up new creative avenues for future generations of bassists.
Behind the Scenes
John Entwistle’s contributions to The Who’s recordings went beyond his exceptional bass playing. He was actively involved in the recording process, experimenting with different recording techniques to capture his desired sound. Entwistle’s meticulous attention to detail in the studio contributed to the sonic richness and depth of The Who’s albums. His contributions as a recording artist solidified his role as an indispensable member of the band.
Musical Interactions with Bandmates
John Entwistle’s musical interactions with his bandmates were a key component of The Who’s sound and success. His tight and intuitive rhythmic interplay with drummer Keith Moon formed the backbone of the band’s dynamic sound. Entwistle’s melodic sensibilities allowed him to seamlessly weave in and out of Townshend’s guitar lines and Daltrey’s vocals, creating a musical synergy that was truly remarkable.
Influence outside The Who
While John Entwistle is often celebrated for his contributions to The Who, his influence extended far beyond the confines of the band. His innovative bass playing style and technical prowess inspired countless bassists across different genres. Many musicians credit Entwistle as a major influence on their approach to bass playing, highlighting his enduring impact on the broader musical landscape.
In conclusion, John Entwistle’s unique bass playing style revolutionized the role of the bass guitar in rock music. His innovative techniques, melodic approach, and aggressive playing set him apart as one of the greatest bassists of all time. Entwistle’s musical contributions with The Who, as well as his successful solo career and collaborations, solidified his status as a highly respected and influential musician. His legacy continues to shape the art of bass playing, inspiring future generations of musicians to push the boundaries of what is possible on the instrument. Despite the criticisms and personal challenges he faced, John Entwistle’s immense talent and unmatched contributions to music ensure that his impact will be cherished and celebrated for years to come.