Readers Write In #470: The OX- 20 years gone, but not forgotten

Posted on June 26, 2022


By Jayram Satluri

To remember the late John Entwistle, best known as the bass player of the Who on his 20th death anniversary (June 27 th ), I share this brief tribute to him.

In one of his songs, he wrote “Everybody calls the quiet one. You can see, but you can’t hear me.” He was right and wrong too. While his band members trashed their equipment towards the end of every concert, he stood tall and erect with a bored expression on his face and kept playing his bass like a boss. And you could hear him clearly; he just takes you away from the chaos and involves you in his bass playing which blends technicality and melody together.

John Entwistle aka the Ox aka Thunderfingers was probably one of the first ones to change the role of bass playing and make a bass a lead instrument. Ironically, it happened because he couldn’t hear himself over the others, especially Keith Moon’s loud, destructive drumming. He was the first to play a bass solo in My Generation and adapted to the times very well.

People forget that he was not just a bass player, but a formally trained musician who was proficient in piano, horns, cello and Jew’s harp to name a few and wrote and performed these arrangements in the Who albums/songs like the middle and end of “My Wife”. He was also the first member to branch out and do solo albums debuting with “Smash Your Head Against the Wall”.

In addition to that, he was a pretty underrated lyricist who had a wicked sense of humor in songs like “My Wife”, “Boris the Spider”, “Whiskey Man” and “Fiddle About”. And he could also pull off a Pete Townshend by searching for meaning in songs like “Too Late the Hero”.

Unlike many musicians of his era who declined and never again reached the heights of their heydays, he was one of those rare unicorns who actually got better with age. As one of his YT fans wrote, “He never fucks up.” In fact, his fingers were the agile typewriter that did the majority of the “talking”. When you hear him isolated, he just captures your entire attention and soul:

Like this:
The Who- Won’t Get Fooled Again – John Entwistle’s isolated bass (live) HQ SOUND

Or this:
John Entwistle – Baba O’riley Isolated Bass

Or even this:
The Who – The Real Me Bass Only – YouTube

And this:
Eminence Front Isolated – Bass

Some of his bass solos:
The Who-My Generation

John Entwistle amazing bass solo – YouTube

John Entwistle’s Bass Solo 1999 (5 mins) HD – YouTube

John Entwistle Acoustic Bass solo – YouTube

John Entwistle Bass Solo – Live 1987 – YouTube

I watched his documentary 13 years back and he modestly said he wanted to be remembered as a decent bass player who left his mark in rock. He surely surpassed that. Whether with the Who, or with other collaborators like Ringo Starr and finally the John Entwistle Band with his longtime friend Steve Luongo on drums, he maximized his potential and gave the audience what they wanted.

Before I finish this writeup, did you know he collaborated with Keith Emerson, Jeff “Skunk” Baxter, Joe Walsh and Simon Phillips in a short-lived supergroup called The Best?

The Best 1990/9/26 @ Yokohama Arena

This is where I feel the Ox is truly in great form. He makes every song better and brighter. Listen to how he is annihilating the bass towards the end of the “Takin’ it to the Streets”, maintaining a badass groove during “Bodhisattva”, “Rocky Mountain Way” and “Reelin’ in the Years” and going toe to toe with Emerson in “Fanfare for the Common Man” and “America-Blue Rond ala Turk”. Truly a sensational god of bass.

It’s been 20 years since he exited the rock world and entered the rock heaven. He may be gone, but his bass guitar will always ring loudly and his musical contributions will always remain. Hope you’re rocking up there with Keith and the other departed Kings and Queens of Rock, Thunderfingers!