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The Who's Who of Bass Players

Pop Music* John Entwistle steps out with his own band, but he and his old mates may yet record again.

November 21, 2001|THOMAS MELLANA | STAMFORD ADVOCATE

Thunderfingers. The Ox. The Quiet One.

John Entwistle has been called many things in his career, but the one thing he's been called more than any other is this: the greatest bass player in the history of rock.

Longtime bedrock of the Who, Entwistle earned the title by changing radically the role of the bass in the music and attacking the instrument with a skill still unmatched in the 35 years since he tossed off the first rock bass solo in "My Generation."

Entwistle put together the John Entwistle Band--whose lineup includes drummer Steve Luongo and guitarist Godfrey Townsend--in the mid-1990s. The group, with keyboardist Gordon Cotton, released "Left for Live" in 1999.

Fronting his own band gives Entwistle more room to shine than he had in the Who. Always a good songwriter, he had the "misfortune" of being in a band that had, in Pete Townshend, one of rock's very best. A typical Who album or performance would feature one, maybe two Entwistle songs.

"It gives me an opportunity to play my material," Entwistle said in a telephone interview from England. "It's nice, it gives me the chance to play more solos and sing a lot more."

The mention of more Entwistle solos is sure to get many Who fans running. There was a time, of course, when the very idea of a bass solo in a rock song was unheard of. The instrument was firmly planted in the background, providing little more than a foundation, usually noticed only if missing. Entwistle moved the instrument to the forefront, often propelling the Who's volatile sound forward.

Entwistle's unique approach to the bass is most likely the result of having played piano and trumpet as a child. He picked up the bass after he grew up and his taste in music began to change.

"There weren't a lot of trumpet players in rock 'n' roll bands, and I didn't want to play jazz," he said.

Although he gravitated naturally to the instrument, Entwistle was never content with the diminutive role expected of bass players.

"The great thing about the Who is that there are only the two guitars, so I got to fill in a lot more holes when Pete was playing the rhythm parts," he explained.

Townshend wasn't the only reason the Who allowed Entwistle to develop as he did. In every rock band, the bass player and drummer work closely. Pair a guy like Entwistle with a traditional 1-2-3-4 drummer and chances are it would all fall apart. Fortunately, he was paired with the prototype for unconventional drumming: Keith Moon.

Entwistle said he's had similar luck in the John Entwistle Band.

"I was kind of lucky to find Steve," Entwistle said. "His style has kind of modulated from my own. I'm able to play a lot freer because Steve goes with me. We push each other."

"The first time we played together, it was like 'Oh, thank you,'" Luongo said. "John really is a lead bass player, and I consider myself a lead drummer. It's kind of like playing with another drummer who has notes."

"Bass players have to think like drummers anyway," Entwistle said. "But we have to think faster."

Entwistle said there's a good chance that fans clamoring for new material from the Who may get their wish, even though the last time the Who released an album of new songs was 1982's "It's Hard."

"It's what we're hoping to do," Entwistle said. "What we're doing now is writing separately, then we're probably going to take a few days in my studio and see what we have."

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