Popular Culture 20120727: John Alec Entwistle

(9 am. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

I apologize for being absent last week.  I had a nasty cold and started on this very piece but just did not have the energy to finish it.

I am still doing background on the series about Jethro Tull, but and not ready to start writing the piece yet.  They were much more complicated insofar as the band lineup goes than most of the bands about which I have written, so it is taking some time.

Tonight we are going to look at who I consider to be the greatest rock and roll bass player who ever drew breath, Thunderfingers, aka The Ox.  But he was much more than a great bass player.  He was outstanding on brass instruments, and much of the early work by The Who has a lot of French horn in it.

He was also an accomplished songwriter and singer, and many of his songs were performed by The Who.  Songwriting is much more lucrative than merely performing, so he was always to get more of his songs on records.

He was born in a really bad period in UK history, 19441009, during the dark days of World War II.  The tide had turned, but in September of that year the Germans began bombarding London with V-2 rockets, firing an estimated 3000 of the weapons towards London.  He was actually born in Chiswick, a suburb of London.

He attended the grade school there in Acton County and met a cat by the name of Peter Townshend and they began playing music together.  At the time Townshend played banjo mainly and Entwistle played horns and piano.  Not long after that he turned to his forte, bass guitar and joined a band called The Detours whose leader was a cat named Roger Daltrey.  He begged Daltrey to allow Townshend to join, and so the nucleus of The Who was formed.  Not long after kid by the name of Keith Moon was admitted, and the rest is history.

The Who went on to be one of the most popular rock and roll bands of all time, and in my opinion the best.  Those of you who read these pieces will hardly be surprised by that!  The Who were one of those magickal collections of personnel who complimented each other because of their huge talent and also because their styles were so different.  There was the microphone swinging Daltrey, the windmill guitar stylist Townshend, the absolute madman on the drums Moon, and then there was Entwistle who just stood like a statue and played bass (or horn, sometimes) like no one before or since.

I first saw them in March of 1976 in Fort Worth, Texas.  I was as sick as a dog with the flu, but with some fortification and lots of aspirin I had a great time.  I saw them years later, after Moon had died, in Dallas at the Cotton Bowl.  Entwistle was great, but Kenny Jones just was not a very good fit with the band.  The last time I saw them was at a very small venue, again in Dallas.  I do not remember exactly when that was, but I could tell that there was something very wrong with him.  He looked tired and actually leaned against a support for most of the concert.  The real kicker for me was when Daltrey sang “My Wife”, one of Entwistle’s standards.

Not long after that on 20020627, just a little over a decade ago, Enwistle was pronounced dead in his hotel room in Las Vegas, the day before the first date for the 2002 North American tour.  Actually, the rest of the band were not keen to tour at that time but Entwistle needed money.  All of his life he really lived the role of the rock star, and that lifestyle is expensive.  The other members agreed on the tour to help him out.  True to his image, he died with a hooker in the bed (maybe a groupie) and cocaine in his system, not quite 58 years of age.  Moon may have been the most flamboyant member of the band, but Enwistle partied just as hard as Moon.  He just had the good fortune of getting away with it 26 years longer.

I have selected some videos for tonight that showcase his talents.  Some of them are remixed to deemphasize the rest of the band.  Normally I do not approve of such treatment, but the purpose here is to see and hear what he could really do.  These are in no particular order.

Here is “Summertime Blues”, one of the crowd favorites during live performances.  Just amazing stuff.

Here is sort of a poignant video, one of the very last videos taken of Entwistle during rehearsal for the 2002 North American tour.  In just over two weeks he would no longer be with us.  Zak Starkey is drumming, and he was by far the best drummer after Moon for the band.  He got it.  The other guitar player is Simon Townshend, Pete’s brother.

Here is the bass from “Goin’ Mobile” from Who’s Next.  It is deceptively simple.

Listening is great, but watching him at the same time is even better.  Here is the bass track from “Won’t Get Fooled Again”, also from Who’s Next.

Here is “Trick of the Light”, an Entwistle song from Who are You.  If you listen carefully, you will hear Townshend mainly just playing rifts.  What sounds like the main guitar part is actually Enwistle playing his eight string Alembic bass.

Here is the isolated bass from “My Generation” medley from Live at Leeds.  Amazing stuff.

“Baba O’Riley” is another favorite.  He really makes this look easy.

Here is why we call him Thunderfingers.  That is Zak on drums.

I would be amiss not to include footage of him playing French horn.  This is obviously mimed, but he was really a good player.

This was just a little tribute to the best bass player who every lived.  However, he was much more than a bass player.  He was an accomplished songwriter, an excellent singer, and a good horn player.  As a matter of fact, he played all of the brass for all of the studio albums until he died.  Please join me in remembering him ten years and one month after his passing.

I have to go next door for a little while and help The Girl’s mum make some potscrubbers.  I shall not be very long and will take comments the rest of the evening.

Warmest regards,

Doc, aka Dr. David W. Smith

Crossposted at

The Stars Hollow Gazette,

Daily Kos, and



  1. memories of the greatest bass player ever?

    Warmest regards,


  2. I very much appreciate it.

    Warmest regards,


Comments have been disabled.