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June 22, 2012

John Entwistle

John Entwistle. It’s ten years since his shocking death in Las Vegas. I have to say that this is not a particularly special time for me because I remember John every day. There is always something to trigger a fond memory. What does make the time just after John’s death in 2002 worth remembering and processing were the massive changes that happened because – suddenly – he was gone, and we had a tour to do, or perhaps not to do. Musically I knew everything would be different on stage. Not better, just different.


Let me speak first then about John the musician.


John’s sound was harmonically rich and filled an enormous part of the audio spectrum. There really is no one who can do what he did. Other bass players can copy his sound, and try to emulate his fingering, but at the heart of John’s playing was a contradiction. His laid back character disguised a powerful musical ego, supported by immense musical talent. His playing was complex and fast, but there are few players alive who could combine such speed and eloquence on the bass with such good taste musically speaking. Like Keith Moon, he really is irreplaceable. His sound can be emulated, and I sometimes hear players who can approach John’s musicianship, but John really was unique, a complete one-off, an innovator who never stopped experimenting.


As a person, as an old friend from my school days, I think my side of the street is reasonably clean. I always felt a strong sense of loving friendship from John, and I think I will cling on to that memory even though Queenie, his late mother, once got angry with me for being angry with John about the way he died and told me that John had never loved me at all. In fact a couple of times John had actually told me he loved me. We were usually alone, and he might have been a bit drunk, but sometimes when we’re drunk we tell the truth. I accept that sometimes we stretch it, so I reserve the right to stretch it and believe that John was not stretching it.


When we speak about loving someone, there is always something unsaid. We love people we do not like. We like people we can never love. We might even marry or go into business with someone we neither like nor love and have a wonderful life or career with them. This is especially true for bands. It isn’t always easy to know what is the truth, and of course – if Queenie is to be believed – feelings between two friends can be intense but not necessarily equal. For me, with John, the situation is clear cut. There are no difficulties, no blurred images. I loved John, I liked him, I respected him, and I miss him. I don’t think he ever put a foot wrong in our relationship. He never said or did anything that I can look back on and fan embers of even the smallest resentment towards him.


On stage with the Who I often look across and expect to see John standing there scratching the side of his nose and take a resigned deep breath in that characteristically thoughtful way that often presaged a funny story or a blistering bass passage. There has always been talk about how loud we all were, and in particular how John’s massive sound caused problems for us on stage. John was louder than most bass players, there is no question of that. If there were problems it was because both John and Keith competed with Roger for the role of vocalist. I don’t mean that they wanted to be the singer, but rather that they performed like members of an anarchic choir, a street corner singing group, rather than accompanists.


Over on my side of the stage, when Keith was alive, my musical relationship with John was straightforward. I accompanied him. I accompanied (or rather provided a solid rhythmic backbone) for Keith. I hope I accompanied Roger sometimes. It was only when suddenly, ten years ago, John was gone, that I realised that I had inherited a new job on stage with the Who: to play decorative passages, to fill the gaps, to make long sequences of so-called ‘solos’ musically interesting – because that is what John had done for years, so I had never had to bother. So despite the fact that Pino Palladino is one of my favourite musicians on the planet, and I don’t want John’s sound to return so that I am re-graded again to a mere rhythm guitar player who gets to play an occasional lead line, when I am on stage playing Who music, and Roger is with me, I am always aware of how different our ‘band’ is today. It sounds different, and it feels different. Not better or worse, but very different. We just happen to play the same songs.


Some people are utterly without peer. When they are gone they leave an immense vacuum. So it is with John: When he died he left a void that can only be filled with good memories, affectionate recollections, and some healthy and critical review of his occasionally crazy behaviour and extraordinary sense of humour. We met at school, but although we were only twelve years old, John was almost a man by then, while I would remain a little boy for many years to come; we’ve all known such friendships in our school days. I sometimes say that when we met I was eleven years old because that’s how it felt; John was like a fifteen or sixteen year old to me. What is extraordinary is that John took me under his wing so kindly when we first met, and was always a supporter of mine even when I goofed. He was never patronising. I never felt he had to work at it, his support came naturally, and didn’t seem to be a part of any agenda. By the way, Queenie was always kind to me too when I was a teenager.


I could go on for pages and pages. But I’m not the only one to be in a position to speak for John. He was the one of us who stayed closest to our most obsessively loyal fans, propping up the bar before and after shows, and enjoying their affection and interest. I’m sure there a hundred stories out there. It would be good to hear some of them.

54 Responses to John Entwistle

Steve Susswein says: September 1, 2012 at 12:45 am

Pete, beautiful words regarding John. I remember a Roger concert in December 1985 at the Palace Theater in Albany, NY. My first rock show. For the last encore, Roger brought John out for “Twist and Shout.” The audience went nuts. (I will always remember Roger’s bass player lending John his bass and then watching intently how John played the song). To finish the show, Roger and John did an a Capella version of the first lines of “We wish you a Merry Christmas.” For the last part — “and I happy New Year” — Roger silenced and let John sing it. But to this day, I don’t know exactly what he sang — “And a happy ______.” Maybe he meant to sing “and a Happy Chanukah” but it came out as “a Happy Gonorrhea” — at least that is the way it sounded to me. I miss John.

jim says: August 27, 2012 at 10:58 pm

Ten years gone to his reward, hard to believe.Time just slips bye passing fifty.

Looking forward to your memoir.I will be a monster seller.

cw says: August 21, 2012 at 5:06 pm

John was a WONDERFUL guy. I remember seeing him play twice in a small summer town club in the Hamptons near my hometown. The first show was planned quickly and didn’t have a great turn out. My friend worked the club and called me last minute to come down for an open soundcheck. I walk in, and John rips into “The Real Me”. They nearly blew the roof off of this little club. Incredible. When the song stops, the owner shouted out,”Can you turn it down a bit?” John looked out and said, “We haven’t even brought in all of our gear yet.” Everyone laughed. Including the owner. The show wasn’t sold out!!! At the end of the show I am milling about, and my buddy asks me to come over. He says,”This guy is a bigger fan than me.” and between a few girls is none other than John. He reaches a hand out and introduced himself. Gracious as could be. A few weeks later, John plays the same club. This time it is PACKED. I had a table right up front. Usually, this venue houses the band upstairs, and when they go on they come down thru a door to the rear of the stage. Well, when the band is introduced, they are sitting at the bar!!! Holding court with people as if they were standing in their neighborhood pub!!! They shake put down their drinks, shake hands, and walk thru the crowd to the stage!!! I couldn’t believe it. After the show, I got to hang out upstairs with my buddy and the band. The band and crew were pouring me drinks and yuking it up like it was a family BBQ. No pretense. No drama. Just really good guys who appreciated the fans and the luck they had in their careers. I got to talk to John about gear. Talking to him was difficult. He didn’t speak clearly and I had to repeat myself a few times. He was a gearhead like no other. His setup was ridiculous. His gear probably cost more than he made on the entire tour!!!

I have a picture with him on my mantle at home. My kids ask me if that was my DAD!!!

RIP John.

Donn says: August 21, 2012 at 1:45 pm

I spent an interesting evening in John’s company many years ago at a NAMM show in New Orleans. There were a couple of other “rock stars” in attendance and they were all “on” but John seemed content to have a few drinks and leave the showboating to the walking lifestyles.

He was a pleasure to be around, very funny and he oozed charisma without acting a fool.


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