Ode to The Ox | John Entwistle
February 05, 2019
Dark, eccentric and yet an introvert, there is one rock superstar who saved all his bravado for the stage. That man was rock legend John Entwistle, ‘The Ox’, a one-time tax clerk and life-long Freemason who could add song writing, singing and drawing to his considerable list of talents. Best-known for his collaborations with Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend in the Who, he was set on a course that would shape his life from the moment he was born.
Once named the greatest bass guitarist of all time by Rolling Stone Magazine, music was in Entwistle’s blood. His mother had been a keen pianist and his father a skilled trumpet player. The Who legend only decided to pick up a guitar when he realised his trumpet playing was unlikely to stand out from the crowd. His interest in the bass came out of necessity - his fingers were allegedly too large to be nimble enough to master lead guitar. The fact that he went on to be called Thunderfingers is a testament to his determination to truly master the instrument.
School orchestra to the Confederates
Entwistle is credited with being at both the original Woodstock music festival in 1969, forever hailed the dawn of a new era in popular rock, and again in 1999. He couldn’t have known when he was playing the French horn in a school orchestra that his talents would later catapult him onto the world stage. His first public performance in a band was a far more humble affair. He appeared with school friend Townshend in jazz band the Confederates but, after just one gig, the pair decided rock and roll was the way to go. Enter the bass guitar.
Although Duane Eddy is often cited as his major musical influence, Entwistle was also inspired by the likes of Motown great James Jamerson and rock and roll style pioneer Gene Vincent. The fact that Entwistle himself went on to develop a unique playing style and pioneer ground-breaking equipment rigs is often overlooked. Extremely versatile, he could change his method from one song to another, always ensuring he produced a sound, a very loud sound, which perfectly emphasised the right sentiment.
Roger Daltrey enters the equation
Like Roger Daltrey, the Who’s frontman, Entwistle attended Acton County Grammar School. It was where he first developed a reputation for his wry sense of humour and honed his musical skills. Entwistle was younger but caught Daltrey’s eye, not least after he hand-crafted his first bass guitar. It was while Daltrey was employed as a sheet metal worker that he invited Entwistle to become bass player in the newly-formed Detours. It wasn’t long before Entwistle found a place for his friend Pete Townshend in the band. While the Detours went through a number of line-up changes, the constants went on to form the Who in 1963. While many people remember Entwistle for his dark hair, it was naturally light brown. He dyed it black to ensure Daltrey stood out on stage.
A bass player, songwriter, singer and artist
Apart from Mod classic Quadrophenia, celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, Entwistle penned songs for every Who album. What few fans realised was that he actually wanted to sing them himself. Backing vocals didn’t quite cut it. The frustrated singer in him led to solo album Smash Your Head Against A Brick Wall. Released in May 1971, the album’s cover featured Entwistle’s face covered by a death mask - further testament to his dark sense of humour. The lyrics too reflected his often bizarre psyche. Entwistle’s song writing credits for the Who include Cousin Kevin, My Wife and Success Story, among others. A keen and accomplished artist, he also created illustrations for many of the Who’s album covers. In his later years, his drawings were widely acclaimed, winning him well-deserved recognition in the art world.
The John Entwistle Band onwards
The John Entwistle Band was formed following the launch of the John Entwistle Project and after a brief spell with supergroup the Best. His band toured in between his commitments with the Who. The last time Entwistle played with Daltrey and fellow Who members was during rehearsals for a 2002 summer tour of America. He died the day before the first show. John Alec Entwistle was found dead in bed by a stripper at the infamous Hard Rock Hotel in aptly named Paradise, near Las Vegas. He was 57. It was later determined he died from heart failure as a result of taking drugs. For all his on-stage loudness, he will forever be remembered as ‘the quiet one’ of the Who. Yet his propensity to eat, drink and live life to the fullest earned him the nickname that speaks loud and proud - just like his music - The Ox.