John Entwistle, The Who’s original bass player, was born in London on October 9, 1944, and his natural talent as a musician formed the backbone to many of the Who’s most memorable recordings. He was nicknamed ‘The Ox’, as well as ‘Thunderfingers’ – because his digits became a blur across the four-string fretboard – and in a poll at the end of the 20th Century was voted ‘Bassist of the Millennium’ in Musician magazine.
Born into a musical family in Chiswick, West London, John was a formally trained musician who played the French horn in the Middlesex Youth Orchestra. He became a fan of Duane Eddy, the US guitarist whose hit singles featured a guitar played in a low register. As a teenager he abandoned his trumpet for a home-made bass guitar, and played in school groups The Confederates and The Scorpions with his friend Pete Townshend. In 1961, he was approached to join fellow Acton County Grammar school pupil Roger Daltrey’s group, The Detours. Six months later, John persuaded Roger to let Townshend join, and in 1964 they became The Who.
John contributed to The Who’s distinctive sound by cultivating a lead style of bass, underpinning Pete’s more rhythmic style of guitar playing with inventive runs in a higher register than most bass players, while at the same time keeping the group’s timing rigid during Keith’s volatile thrashings.
The Who’s third single, ‘My Generation’, featured a prominent bass solo by Entwistle, the first of its kind on a rock record, but unlike his colleagues John remained virtually motionless on stage, quietly observing – and underpinning – the reckless styles of Pete and Keith and Roger’s up-front approach.
While Pete emerged as The Who’s songwriter-in-chief, John began making distinctive, macabre contributions to The Who’s catalogue, beginning with ‘Whisky Man’ and the imperishable ‘Boris The Spider’ on the A Quick One album in 1966, continuing with ‘Doctor, Doctor’ and ‘Someone’s Coming’ (1967), ‘Silas Stingy’ (from 1967’s The Who Sell Out), ‘Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde’ (1968), ‘Heaven And Hell’ with which The Who opened their formidable live shows between 1968 and 1970. John wrote ‘Cousin Kevin’ and ‘Fiddle About’ for The Who’s 1969 magnum opus Tommy because Pete specifically requested John to write ‘nasty songs’ that he felt uncomfortable with. ‘My Wife’, John’s hilarious rocker about marital strife from 1971’s Who’s Next, also became a popular stage number.
When The Who’s success enabled the other members of the group to move out of London, John remained true to his West London roots. He married his childhood sweetheart Alison Wise in 1967 and bought a large semi-detached home in Acton, filling it with all sorts of extraordinary artifacts, ranging from suits of armour to a tarantula spider. His eccentricity and taste for the bizarre was to remain with him throughout his life, and when he finally moved out of the city to Stowe-on-the-Wold in Gloucestershire in 1975, his 17-bedroom mansion Quarwood resembled a major museum. It also housed one of the largest guitar collections belonging to any rock musician.
John’s impressive musicianship continued apace and his work on ‘The Real Me’ (from Quadrophenia) and ‘Dreaming From The Waist’ (from 1975’s The Who By Numbers) was particularly memorable. In the meantime, John sought an outlet for his backlog of songs, and in 1971 became the first member to release a solo album, Smash Your Head Against The Wall, which earned him a cult following in the US for fans of his brand of black humour. Other solo studio albums followed: Whistle Rymes (1972), Rigor Mortis Sets In (1973), Mad Dog (1975), Too Late The Hero (1981) and The Rock (1996). John also compiled a Who leftovers collection Odds & Sods in 1974 and with The Who resting in 1975, went out on the road with his own band, Ox. He also fronted the John Entwistle Band on US club tours during the 1990s, and appeared with former Beatle Ringo Starr’s All Starr Band, in 1995. A talented artist, John held exhibitions of his paintings, many of them featuring The Who, on a regular basis.
By the end of the millennium, a stripped down version of The Who – consisting of Pete, Roger, John, keyboard player John ‘Rabbit’ Bundrick, and Ringo Starr’s son, Zak Starkey (who had drummed in John’s studio band) – were touring again, amply demonstrating to original fans and a new generation of musicians just how they had established their original credentials. On these later tours John would perform an extraordinary bass solo on ‘5.15’.
John died from a heart attack on June 27, 2002, in Las Vegas on the eve of an American Who tour which carried on with a hastily recruited Pino Palladino playing bass.
LETTER FROM JOHN ENTWISTLE TO A FAN
(John Entwistle: 9th October 1944 – 27th June 2002. ROCK IN PEACE)
Pete Townshend recently received a letter from a fan, Carl Borden, containing a letter to him from the late, great John Entwistle. Pete has asked us to publish his response to Carl.
“Dear Carl Borden, Thank you so much for sending me the hard copy of the letter from John to you. It is certainly the only one like it I’ve ever seen, and it is full of passion from his best years. Could I have it reproduced on the Who web site? Fans would really get a new insight into John’s generous spirit. Pete”
Carl generously consented.
THE ART OF JOHN ENTWISTLE
“John Entwistle was born a long time ago. He spent his early childhood dodging dinosaurs and searching for a cave with just the right amount of echo.”
And so begins the autobiography written just three days before John Entwistle passed away. Nicknamed the “Quiet One” John had a quick wit and a good heart. He was a talented musician, voted “Bass Player of the Millennium” and a talented visual artist. It is well known that as a young boy John played piano and French horn, but what many do not know is that he was always drawing. His Uncle worked for a paper factory and would bring John rolls of paper to drawn on. And that is were his imagination took off. Cartoons of crazy characters emerged on the vast rolls of paper as John would daydream and draw. And then the music took over.
“After meeting Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey at school, they formed the ibryo of The Who, which at the time they named “The Detours”. After a few “detours”, they found a new drummer in Keith Moon and a new manager who promised thi that they would soon appear at Carnegie Hall. They never did – but often ordered sandwiches from the Carnegie Delicatessen next door. After a string of Top Ten singles in England, they decided to conquer America. This meant either defecting to Russia or touring the US. They chose the latter. After seven long profitless American tours, they were $500,000 in debt with a truckload of trashed equipment.”
Fast forward to 1995. John and The Who had made their mark as one of the most exciting and creative rock and roll bands to emerge from the UK. They had successful solo careers and were enjoying life. That is about the time John decided, with a bit of encouragement from long time friend and manager Cy Langston, to dip his big toe into the world of art.
John had created the cover art for The Who’s 1975 album “The Who by Numbers”. Inspired by his young son Christopher’s connect-the-dots coloring book John drew caricatures of Pete, Roger, Keith and himself. Strategically placing numbers and dots to form their bodies, John made sure that there was a bit of humor hidden in the art. (Can you find the number 1?) John and Cy chose this artwork for the first limited edition serigraph. Walnut Street Gallery, a U.S. gallery, was hired to publish and distribute John’s art and a new chapter began.
“John’s “other career” as an Artist was also taking off. Starting with the release of a Limited Edition serigraph of his, “Who by Numbers” cover, closely followed by updated color editions of The Who – namely “Spirit of ‘76” and “Generations”. Originals of his other cartoons of famous “Rock Stars” went on sale to the Art loving public and he still had plenty of “victims” to draw yet!”
In 1996 The Who began to tour once again. They embarked on a European tour featuring the Rock Opera Quadrophenia. And then they took the U.S. by storm with the same show. During that tour John’s art was featured in a one man art show in New York City. The success of the opening night was unbelievable. In fact John was stunned people came out and actually liked his work. And they bought!
Excited by the success of the show, John began to draw and draw some more. A series of limited edition prints were created featuring The Who in various stages, always a bit of John’s humor inserted into the art. And the infamous spider “Boris” began to appear in all of John’s drawings. “In 2002, The Who, still as a five piece performed a series of English concerts leading up to another “Children’s Cancer Trust” benefit at The Royal Albert Hall.”
Between 1996 and 2002 John attended dozens of art openings in his honor. Always gracious, he took the time to chat with each collector, personalizing their art with a quote and a sketch of “Boris”. In the spring of 2002 John finished what would be his last drawing. “Eyes Wide Shut” represented a new style for John. Featuring Jimi Hendrix, Pete Townshend, Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton, John’s style had evolved from simple line drawings and caricatures to a more lifelike representation of his subjects. He was more confident and relaxed with his art and ready to share that with his collectors.
“Now…! I’m still the Bass Guitarist. If you’re reading this Bio at a show – don’t forget to wave – I’m the one on the left. If you’re reading this at an Art Show – Help support a starving Artist BUY SOMETHING! “
Arriving in Las Vegas June 26, 2002, John was excited about the upcoming concert and art tour. On June 27th there was a reception planned for John at an art gallery, the next evening the band was kicking off their summer concert tour in the U.S. Sadly John passed away in his sleep early on the 27th. He left behind a wonderful legacy that included his magnificent talent as a musician, visual artist and friend. John’s remaining original works of art and prints can be found at Walnut Street Gallery.
The quotes in this article were from John’s autobiography that he revised & finished 24th June 2002
John Alec Entwistle
9th October 1944 – 27th June 2002 Walnut Street Gallery
253 Linden Street, Fort Collins, Colorado 80524
Hyperlink to John’s page: