John Entwistle PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 27 November 2008 09:55

Image:Jentwistle1976.jpgJohn Alec Entwistle

Born: 9 October 1944, Chiswick, London, England

Died: 27 June 2002, Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S.

Age: 57

Cause of death: Heart attack following cocaine input.

Notable because: Rock and Roll bass player to the very end. Died in the Vegas Hard Rock Hotel coked up with a friendly woman.


THE lover of John Entwistle was found dead at her American home. Lisa Pritchett-Johnson, 43, died on March 6, one month after she inherited millions of pounds from Entwistle’s estate. She was understood to have either died from a cocaine overdose or an asthma attack.

Friends say that Ms Pritchett-Johnson, who had lived with Entwistle at his mansion in the Cotswolds for 13 years, had not come to terms with his death. She claimed a share of the pop star’s legacy with his mother, Queenie, 80, and Mr Entwistle’s son, Chris.

The bass guitarist died in Las Vegas in 2002 after taking cocaine in his hotel room with a stripper.

Inspector Steven Johnson said: “We have not been able to determine a cause nor a manner of death but we are waiting on toxicological results. “There was some cocaine near her, 1.6 grammes of cocaine was found in her personal belongings. We don’t know if it was an accident or an overdose or a suicide or something else.”

After The Who star died, Ms Pritchett-Johnson appeared in the news over allegations that she had an affair with Colin Wilson, the vicar who had conducted Entwistle’s funeral service at Stow-on-the-Wold in the Cotswolds. The pair insisted that they were just friends.


John Entwistle was an English bass guitarist, songwriter, singer, and horn player, who was best known as the bass guitarist for the rock band The Who. His aggressive lead sound influenced rock bass players such as Steve Harris, Geddy Lee, Phil Lesh, Billy Sheehan, Lemmy Kilmister and Chris Squire.

Entwistle's lead instrument approach used pentatonic lead lines, and a then-unusual trebly sound created by roundwound RotoSound steel bass strings. He had a collection of over 200 instruments by the time of his death, reflecting the different brands he used over his career: Fender and Rickenbacker basses in the 1960s, Alembic's basses in the 1970s, Warwick in the 1980s, and Status all-graphite basses in the 1990s.

John Alec Entwistle was born in Chiswick, a London suburb in 1944 and attended Acton County Grammar School. He joined the Middlesex Youth Orchestra and his initial music training was on trumpet, french horn, and piano, all three of which would figure into his later rock playing. In the early 1960s, he played in several traditional jazz and dixieland outfits. He formed a duo called the Confederates with schoolmate Pete Townshend, and later joined Roger Daltrey's band the Detours. This band later became The Who.

He was nicknamed "The Ox" because of his strong constitution—his seeming ability to "eat, drink or do more than the rest of them." Bill Wyman, bassist for the Rolling Stones, described him as "the quietest man in private but the loudest man on stage." For this reason, and his onstage demeanor in which he would stand calmly while plucking very fast, he was often known by the nickname "Thunderfingers" by his bandmates and Who fans.

Entwistle's Who songs, along with his solo material, reveal a dark sense of humor which was often incompatible with Pete Townshend's more introspective work. Though he continued to contribute material to all of The Who's albums with the exception of Quadrophenia, his frustration with having his material recorded by the band (largely with having to relinquish singing duties to Roger Daltrey) led him to release Smash Your Head Against the Wall in 1971, thus becoming the first member of The Who to release a solo record. Entwistle also contributed backing vocals and horn performances to the group's songs, most notably on Quadrophenia, where he layered several horns to create the brass as heard on songs such as "5:15", among others.

In the mid 1960s, Entwistle was one of the first to make use of Marshall stacks. Pete Townshend later remarked that John started using Marshalls in order to hear himself over drummer Keith Moon's drums, and Townshend himself also had to use them just to be heard over John. They both continued expanding and experimenting with their rigs, until (at a time when most bands used 50-100w amps with single cabinets) they were both using twin Stacks with new experimental prototype 200w amps.

This, in turn, also had a strong influence on the band's contemporaries at the time, with Cream and the Jimi Hendrix Experience both following suit. Ironically, although they pioneered and directly contributed to the development of the "classic" Marshall sound (at this point their equipment was being built/tweaked to their personal specifications), they would only use Marshalls for a couple of years. Entwistle eventually switched to using a Sound City rig in search of his perfect sound, with Townshend also switching later on.

Entwistle also experimented throughout his career with "bi-amping," where the high and low ends of the bass sound are sent through separate signal paths, allowing for more control over the output. At one point his rig became so loaded with speaker cabinets and processing gear that it was dubbed "Little Manhattan," in reference to the towering, skyscraper-like stacks, racks and blinking lights.

His "full treble, full volume" approach to bass sound was originally supposed to be captured in the bass solo to "My Generation". According to Entwistle, his original intention was to feature the distinctive Danelectro Longhorn bass, which had a very twangy sound, in the solo, but the strings kept breaking. Eventually, he recorded a simpler solo using a pick with a Fender Jazz Bass strung with LaBella tapewound strings. This solo bass break is important as it is one of the earliest bass solos (if not the first) captured on a rock record. A live recording of The Who exists from this period (c. 1965), with Entwistle playing a Danelectro on "My Generation", giving an idea of what that solo would have sounded like.

Toward the end of his career, he formed "The John Entwistle Band" with longtime friend, drummer Steve Luongo. Godfrey Townsend (no 'h', no relation to Pete Townshend) played guitar and sang lead vocals. In 1996, the band went on the "Left for Dead" tour with Alan St. Jon on keyboards. After Entwistle toured with The Who for Quadrophenia in 1996-97, the Entwistle band set off on the "Left for Dead - the Sequel" tour in late 1998, now with Gordon Cotten on keyboards. After this second venture, the band released an album of highlights from the tour, called Left for Live. In 1995 Entwistle also toured and recorded with Ringo Starr in one of the incarnations of Ringo's "All-Starr Band". This one also featured Billy Preston and Mark Farner. In this ensemble, he played and sang "Boris the Spider" as his Who showpiece, along with "My Wife". Towards the end of his career he used a Status Graphite Buzzard Bass, which he designed. In 1999, 2000, and early 2002, John played as part of The Who.

In 2001 he played in Alan Parsons' Beatles tribute show "A Walk Down Abbey Road". The show also featured Ann Wilson of Heart, Todd Rundgren, David Pack of Ambrosia, Godfrey Townsend on guitar, Steve Luongo on drums, and John Beck on keyboards. Between that tour and his prior tour with Ringo, Entwistle joked that he had played "Yellow Submarine" more often than Paul McCartney. That year he also played with The Who at The Concert for New York City. He also joined forces again with "The John Entwistle Band" for an 8 gig tour. This time Chris Clark was on Keyboards. In January-February 2002 John played his last concerts with The Who in a handful of dates in England, the last being 8 February in London's Royal Albert Hall. In late 2002, an expanded 2-CD Left for Live Deluxe was released, highlighting The John Entwistle Band performances.

Entwistle died in a hotel room at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas on 27 June 2002 one day before the scheduled first show of The Who's 2002 US tour. The Las Vegas medical examiner determined that death was due to a heart attack induced by an undetermined amount of cocaine. Though the amount in Entwistle's bloodstream was not great, the drug caused his coronary arteries, already damaged due to a pre-existing heart condition, to contract. Entwistle used cocaine throughout much of his adult life.

His funeral was held at Saint Edward's Church in Stow-on-the-Wold, Gloucestershire, England, on 10 July 2002. He was cremated and his ashes buried privately. A memorial service was held on 24 October 2002 at St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Trafalgar Square, London. Entwistle's collection of guitars and basses was auctioned at Sotheby's in London by his son, Christopher Entwistle, to meet anticipated duties on his father's estate. Joy Division/New Order bassist Peter Hook is among those who acquired some of Entwistle's basses at the auction.

His mansion in Stow-on-the-Wold in the Cotswolds and a number of his personal effects were later sold off to meet the demands of the Inland Revenue. While The Who, including Entwistle and Moon, recorded with a multitude of instruments, they always performed as a four-piece band. Following his death, Moon was replaced not only by Small Faces/Faces drummer Kenney Jones and Zak Starkey (son of Ringo Starr), but The Who also added keyboardist John "Rabbit" Bundrick to the live band. Similarly, when Entwistle died, his place in the live band was filled by Pino Palladino, with second guitarist Simon Townshend (Pete Townshend's brother) having been added at rehearsals just weeks before Entwistle's death.

Welsh-born bassist Pino Palladino, who played on several of Pete Townshend's solo records, took over for Entwistle on stage when The Who resumed their postponed U.S. tour following his funeral. Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey spoke at length about their reaction to Entwistle's death. Some of their comments can be found on the The Who Live in Boston DVD. Geddy Lee, of the band Rush, dedicated their performance of the song Between Sun and Moon to Entwistle on the opening night of their Vapor Trails tour which began the following night on 28 June 2002 in Hartford, Conn.

Entwistle is credited by Lemmy Kilmister on the 2004 Motörhead album "Inferno" with the words: "In memory of John Entwistle; my friend, my hero, may his generous soul live forever."

Entwistle's technique ranged from using fingers, plectra and tapping to utilizing harmonics in his passages. He would change the style of play between songs and even during songs to change the sound he produced. His fingering technique would involve pressing down on the string hard and releasing in an attempt to reproduce a trebly, twangy sound. Note however, that he would change his thumb position from pickup, to the E string and occasionally even allowing his thumb to float near the pickup. His plectrum technique would involve holding the plectrum between his thumb and forefinger, with the rest of his fingers outstretched for balance.

Entwistle's playing style was rarely captured well in the studio. He was better heard in concert, where he and guitarist Pete Townshend frequently exchanged roles, with Entwistle providing rapid melodic lines and Townshend anchoring the song with rhythmic chord work. Indeed, Townshend noted that Entwistle did the rhythmic timekeeping in the band, doing the role of the drummer. Moon, on the other hand, with all his flourishes around the kit, was like a keyboard player. In 1989, Entwistle pointed out that, according to modern standards, "The Who haven't a proper bass player." Entwistle turned the treble all the way up on his bass amps, and rarely turned the bass up, if not even using it at all. Starting from around 1989, right up to his death, Entwistle started adding his amps' onboard overdrive to his bass playing.

Entwistle also developed what he called a "typewriter" approach to playing the bass. It involved positioning the right hand over the strings so all four fingers could be used to tap percussively on the strings, causing them to strike the fretboard with a distinctive twangy sound. This gives the player the ability to play three or four strings at once, or to use several fingers on a single string. It allowed him to create passages that were very percussive and melodic. He used this approach to mimic the fills used by his drummers in band situations, sometimes sending the fills back at the drummers faster than the drummers themselves could play them.

This method is unique and should not be confused with the hammer-on tapping techniques of Eddie Van Halen and Stu Hamm or the slapping technique of Larry Graham, and in fact pre-dates these other techniques. A demonstration of this approach to bass playing can be seen on a video called John Entwistle - Master Class, part of Arlen Roth's Hot Licks instructional series, as well as Mike Gordon's film, Rising Low. Demonstrated in Mike Gordon's film, Rising Low is John's tendency to use his fore, middle and ring fingers on his right hand when playing. This would allow him to create "clusters of notes" in his bass lines, as well as play triplets with relative simplicity. Notable in his left-handed technique is his use of slides, positioning the left hand for octaves and his use of the pentatonic scale.

Entwistle identified his influences as a combination of his school training on French horn, trumpet, and piano (giving his fingers strength and dexterity). Musicians who influenced him included rock & roll guitarists Duane Eddy and Gene Vincent, and American soul and R&B bassists such as James Jamerson. Like Jamerson, Entwistle is credited as a pioneer on the bass guitar. In turn, Entwistle has been a massive influence on the playing styles and sounds used by generations of bass players that have followed him and continues to top 'best ever bass player' polls in musicians magazines. In 2000, Guitar magazine named him "Bassist of the Millennium" in a readers' poll.


Last Updated on Monday, 09 March 2009 11:04

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