Some called him “The Ox.” Some called him “Thunderfingers.” His mother, we assume, called him “John.” No list of the best bassists in rock and roll history would be complete with a mention of John Entwistle, who held down the low end of The Who from their earliest days in England until his death on June 27th, 2002. The Ox was an integral component of The Who’s sound, pioneering a new style of bass that would go on to influence just about everyone to follow. He would have been 73 today.
One of Entwistle’s earliest contributions to rock lore was on the song “My Generation.” It’s impossible to listen to that classic Who song without picking out Entwistle’s iconic bass groove, as his solos define the instrumental sections of the rock anthem. Entwistle’s role only expanded on The Who’s more ambitious works, like Tommy, Who’s Next and Quadrophenia.
On stage, Entwistle provided the ever-important anchor for The Who’s wild performances. While singer Roger Daltrey would twirl his microphone and belt vocals, and guitarist Pete Townshend and drummer Keith Moon rocked to the point of instrumental destruction, it was Entwistle that steadied the group. Bassist Bill Wyman of the Rolling Stones called him “the quietest man in private but the loudest man on stage.” He would rarely talk, though Entwistle is credited with writing a series of great songs including “My Wife,” “Boris The Spider” and more.
Entwistle often dressed in a full-on skeleton suit for live performances, only adding to his undeniable charm on stage. Still, Entwistle’s biggest claim to fame was his unparalleled abilities on the bass guitar. No one played the instrument like him, and his basslines seemingly served as leads rather than rhythm parts, even when it wasn’t intended as such.
[Photo: Source unknown]
Some isolated bass tracks that have surfaced online in recent years showcase his prodigious talent on the bass guitar. Be prepared for some serious bass work on this isolated track from Quadrophenia classic, “The Real Me”:
Unfortunately, Entwistle’s story came to a sorrowful end on June 27, 2002. Just one day before a major Who tour in 2002, Entwistle passed away in his hotel room after a night of partying. Coroners confirmed that it was a cocaine-induced heart attack that killed the bassist, putting an end to an incredible legacy of rock music.
Fifteen years later, his tone and technique still stand out as some of the best bass playing in all of rock and roll. We’ll leave you with a personal favorite, The Ox’s bass solo in the band’s classic song, “5:15.”
Happy Birthday to Thunderfingers himself. The world of rock and roll hasn’t been the same since you left…