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The “Ox” Bows Out

John Entwistle, 1944-2002

by S.E. Shepherd
June 28, 2002

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The “Ox” Bows Out_S.E. Shepherd-John Entwistle, 1944-2002 It is becoming less and less of a shock, and fans of Rock are going to have to get used to it; our heroes are getting old, and dying. The joke used to be about how Rock stars always died of drug over-doses; now they’re dying of cancer and heart attacks. Death is not discriminatory; it takes the famous just as easily as the unknown. Yesterday, death took a giant, legendary Who bassist John Entwistle.

Like his recently fallen peer, George Harrison, Entwistle (nicknamed “the Ox) was the “quiet one” of his band, though one could argue that Entwistle fell into this position more by default than anything else. With the destructive antics of fellow band members Keith Moon and Pete Townsend, John was conspicuous only in his normalness. Also like Harrison, John Entwistle’s death is the second in his band, after a more outspoken member (Keith Moon) died a more notorious death.

John Entwistle was probably one of Rock’s most adept bassists. He turned the bass from accompaniment to lead in the Who’s earliest hit, “My Generation,” giving Rock one of its first, if not only, bass solos. “In our band the roles are reversed,” Pete Townsend once said, “John’s the lead guitar, and though I’m not the bass player, he produces a hell of a lot of lead work.”

John’s meaty bass riffs created the perfect foundation for the Who’s thunderous sound. With Moon’s sporadic drumming, Townsend’s wild guitar style, and lead singer Roger Daultrey’s dramatic singing, Entwistle’s bass lines anchored the band into controlled chaos. John also gave the band a unique edge; he was an accomplished French horn player. It was in part of Entwistle’s horn playing that Pete Townsend could create his concept of “Tommy.”

While Entwistle was primarily known as the Who’s bassist and background vocalist, he also wrote and sang quite a few songs for the band, as well as releasing several solo albums. One critic, speaking of Entwistle’s songs said, “He is a good songwriter in a band with a great songwriter,” and while John’s writing may not have been the caliber of band mate Pete Townsend, he nevertheless penned some memorable tunes, such as “Boris the Spider” and “My Wife.” Entwistle was also a cartoonist and contributed his artwork for the Who’s 1975 album, The Who By Numbers.

The death of any great musician is always sad, but Who fans are doubly devastated as John Entwistle’s death came on the eve of their latest North American tour. John Entwistle was only 57.

Here are some personal picks highlighting John Entwistle’s phenomenal career with the Who:

“My Generation,” “The Ox,” “Whiskey Man,” “Baba O’ Reilly,” “Boris the Spider,” “My Wife,” “Had Enough,” “The Real Me,” “Overture”(from “Tommy”), “Sparks,” “Trick of the Light,” and of course “The Quiet One.”

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