John En­twistle

De­liv­er­ing a deaf­en­ing but dex­trous bass-in-your-face as­sault, John En­twistle was a key part of The Who’s sound – and also of their com­bustible chem­istry. This is his story.

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“I just wanted to be louder than any­one else.” The not so quiet (in more ways than one) Quiet One was a key part of The Who’s sound – and also of their com­bustible chem­istry.

There were good and sound rea­sons for the two en­dur­ing nick­names The Who bas­sist John En­twistle was given:

The Ox and Thun­derfin­gers. The for­mer was be­stowed on ac­count of his iron con­sti­tu­tion, the other be­cause of the speed, power and vol­ume at which he played the bass gui­tar. In each of th­ese re­spects, and most oth­ers too, it would be en­tirely ac­cu­rate to say that John Alec En­twistle never did things by halves.

Footage of the last UK gig he played with The Who sur­vives on YouTube. It was at Lon­don’s Royal Al­bert Hall on Fe­bru­ary 8, 2002, al­though in re­spect of the key de­tails of his per­for­mance, it could have been any Who show from the pre­ced­ing 30 years. As al­ways, he’s stand­ing stage right, erect as a sol­dier on pa­rade, rooted to the spot in his Cuban heels, as if the bet­ter to an­chor the band’s rest­less, volatile sound. His only ap­pre­cia­ble move­ments are from his hands and fin­gers, which at­tack the strings of his bass like de­mented spi­ders.

The elec­tric bass was still a rel­a­tively new in­stru­ment when En­twistle took it up in the early 60s, the po­ten­tial of it la­tent and un­charted. He went at it with the zeal of a Vic­to­rian ex­plorer, test­ing ev­ery as­pect of its range and then charg­ing on be­yond those bound­aries.

“John was a re­mark­able player,” says Bob Prid­den, The Who’s long-serv­ing sound­man. “It was Bill Wy­man who said he was the Jimi Hen­drix of the bass, which is a good way of ex­plain­ing what he did. The sound he got was unique. If you lis­ten now to the early Who records, the bass is the lead in­stru­ment. And he was bloody loud, too.”

En­twistle him­self was typ­i­cally blunt about the for­mi­da­ble racket he made. “I just wanted to be louder than any­one else,” he once said. “I re­ally got ir­ri­tated when peo­ple could turn up their gui­tar amps and play louder than me.”

Not that there was ever much chance of that hap­pen­ing. Fa­mously, his bass rig grew to be so tow­er­ing and such a sprawl that among Who in­sid­ers it was known as Lit­tle Man­hat­tan. Roger Dal­trey was for­ever bad­ger­ing En­twistle to turn down the vol­ume on stage, the Who’s front­man claim­ing he wasn’t able to prop­erly hear him­self sing. Usu­ally, En­twistle would stare im­pla­ca­bly at Dal­trey – and then turn it up in­stead.

More than his play­ing and the vol­ume that went with it, En­twistle was his own in­flu­en­tial force within The Who. He was the only mem­ber to have had any for­mal mu­si­cal training, and was also pro­fi­cient on mul­ti­ple brass in­stru­ments, as well as be­ing an adept ar­ranger. When he wres­tled the plat­form from Pete Town­shend, he was also a ca­pa­ble song­writer. Start­ing with A Quick One in 1966, al­most ev­ery al­bum that En­twistle made with The Who in­cluded one or more of his songs. They were dis­tinc­tive for be­ing grue­some, steeped in pitch-black hu­mour and pop­u­lated by such char­ac­ters as de­gen­er­ates, de­pres­sives, pros­ti­tutes and, in one mem­o­rable in­stance, an arach­nid named Boris. That lat­ter song, Boris The Spi­der, was the most re­quested that The Who played on stage, which piqued Town­shend no end. Out­side of The Who and on a suc­ces­sion of solo records, En­twistle ex­panded on his pet macabre themes and alighted upon oth­ers just as darkly twisted.

The smartest of the band in a fash­ion sense, he was first among them to sport a Union Jack­em­bla­zoned jacket when The Who were try­ing to pass them­selves off as trail­blaz­ing Mods. More gen­er­ally, he was never less than im­mac­u­lately at­tired, hav­ing very early on es­tab­lished his own dis­tinc­tive look and style.

A tal­ented sketch artist, he drew the cover art for the band’s 1975 al­bum The Who By Num­bers, ex­pertly car­i­ca­tur­ing each of them: Dal­trey all hair, Town­shend all nose, drum­mer Keith Moon de­ranged-look­ing, and him­self loom­ing over the oth­ers in the back­ground of the frame. In later years he would mer­rily point out that his cover had cost The Who just £30, whereas the bill for the one Town­shend com­mis­sioned for 1973’s Quadrophe­nia cost £16,000.

On YouTube there’s more re­veal­ing footage from 2002 of En­twistle with The Who. This was cap­tured on a hand­held cam­era and dates from later that sum­mer when they were re­hears­ing for a forth­com­ing US tour. Five of them are crammed into a small sound stu­dio, Zak Starkey on drums and John ‘Rab­bit’ Bun­drick on key­boards join­ing En­twistle, Dal­trey and Town­shend. For the most part, En­twistle sits in a plas­tic of­fice chair to play.

Even tak­ing into ac­count the grain of the cheap film stock, he seems drawn and pal­lid, his skin the colour of burnt ash. He was tak­ing med­i­ca­tion for high blood pres­sure, and years of aural abuse had rav­aged his hear­ing, but at a cer­tain point Town­shend con­ducts them into I Can See For Miles, per­haps The Who’s great­est song, and En­twistle is vis­i­bly roused. Ris­ing from his seat, he det­o­nates an ex­plo­sive but shift­ing rhythm line that blasts through and pulls at the body of the song, so that it sounds all at once fa­mil­iar but dif­fer­ent, stead­fast but un­pre­dictable. Which is to say, just like En­twistle him­self.

Less than two weeks later, on 27 June, he was gone, found dead in a Las Ve­gas ho­tel room af­ter a night spent carous­ing. He was also known among The Who’s in­ner cir­cle as the Quiet

One, but er­ro­neously in this in­stance.

Town­shend and Dal­trey got on stage at the Hol­ly­wood Bowl with­out him on July 1, the open­ing night of the planned tour, with ses­sion ace Pino Pal­ladino fill­ing in for their fallen band­mate. Ad­dress­ing the au­di­ence that night, Town­shend re­flected: “It is dif­fi­cult. Pino came and res­cued us. Even with­out that huge har­monic noise that usu­ally comes from that side of the stage, it sounds pretty good to me.”

It did in­deed sound pretty good, in a slick, well-drilled and pro­fes­sional sense. It wasn’t, though, the wild, barely con­tained and all-the­more-thrilling-be­cause-of-it tu­mult that The Who were able to sum­mon up on any given night with En­twistle and also Moon with them. At such times they were noth­ing so much as a force of na­ture. And even though Town­shend and Dal­trey have kept on keep­ing on, The Who aren’t, and nor could they ever be, any­thing like the same band now.

“I just wanted to be louder than any­one else. I re­ally got ir­ri­tated when peo­ple could play louder than me.” John En­twistle

John En­twistle was born on Oc­to­ber 9, 1944 at Hammersmith Hospi­tal in Lon­don. It be­came part of En­twistle fam­ily leg­end that just as the baby John was de­liv­ered, a pay­load dropped by a Ger­man bomber landed down the road from the hospi­tal, and that soon af­ter­wards John was found to have a birth­mark shaped like a bomb on his calf. He was the only child born to Her­bert and Quee­nie Maud En­twistle. His fa­ther played trum­pet, and his mother piano. They sep­a­rated not long af­ter bring­ing him into the world, and the young En­twistle went to live with his mum, and later step­fa­ther, at his ma­ter­nal grand­par­ents’ house in South Ac­ton. He was a soli­tary, re­served child, but one an­i­mated by mu­sic.

At five and six, his grand­fa­ther would take him to the lo­cal work­ing men’s club, where John would stand on a stool and sing Al Jol­son stan­dards while his grand­fa­ther passed around the hat. At seven his mother got him a piano teacher who, ac­cord­ing to En­twistle, was “re­ally an­cient. She had a room full of cats, and fin­gers like spoons.”

He stuck at piano for four years be­fore switch­ing to his fa­ther’s in­stru­ment, the trum­pet. In 1965 he passed the 11-plus exam and went up to

Ac­ton County Gram­mar School, from where he au­di­tioned into the Mid­dle­sex Sym­phony Youth Orches­tra. The orches­tra picked from the cream of the re­gion’s young tal­ent, but was over-en­dowed with trum­pet play­ers and so once again he changed over, this time to French horn.

In his sec­ond year at Ac­ton County, En­twistle made the ac­quain­tance of Town­shend,

his ju­nior by seven months. In­tense and self­ab­sorbed, Town­shend was marked out by his prom­i­nent nose. He had re­cently taken up the banjo, and the two school­boys started play­ing to­gether in a fledg­ling group they named The Confederates, their reper­toire made up of ea­sylis­ten­ing trad-jazz hits of the day. The Confederates re­hearsed dili­gently, but man­aged just one public en­gage­ment, play­ing two in­stru­men­tal tunes to 10 peo­ple at the Ac­ton Con­gre­ga­tional Church Youth Club on De­cem­ber 6, 1958.

De­cid­ing the bur­geon­ing sound of rock’n’roll of­fered more fruit­ful long-term prospects, En­twistle next took up the gui­tar. In this en­deav­our he was dis­ad­van­taged by the size of his fin­gers, which were too big for him to eas­ily ma­nip­u­late the six strings. A so­lu­tion was sug­gested to him by Duane Eddy, the twang­ing Amer­i­can rock­a­billy gui­tarist then break­ing through to a Bri­tish au­di­ence. Eddy’s chunky rhythm parts on tracks such as Rebel Rouser could eas­ily be repli­cated on the bass, its four strings so much bet­ter adapted to En­twistle’s par­tic­u­lar needs.

En­twistle didn’t have the money to buy a bass, so he set about mak­ing one. He ac­quired a piece of ma­hogany, had a car­pen­ter carve it into the shape of a Fender Pre­ci­sion body, and fret­ted the neck and wired the in­stru­ment him­self.

He was shoul­der­ing this new bass down the street one day when he came across an­other fel­low Ac­ton County pupil, Dal­trey. ‘Big, bad Roger’ by rep­u­ta­tion, Dal­trey was the school’s res­i­dent hard nut and trou­ble­maker. He would soon enough be ex­pelled, and at 15 go on to work as a labourer on a build­ing site. He was also the leader and lead gui­tarist of the best of the school’s clutch of bands, The De­tours. Dal­trey tempted En­twistle into

The De­tours with the en­tice­ment that they were al­ready pulling in good money. In turn, En­twistle con­vinced Dal­trey to jet­ti­son the band’s res­i­dent rhythm gui­tarist and bring Town­shend in in­stead.

As En­twistle was set­tling into The De­tours, he met a third per­son at Ac­ton County who would be sig­nif­i­cant in his life. He had the school hav­ing re­cently gone co-ed to thank for it, be­cause dark­haired, 13-year-old Ali­son Wise was among the ini­tial in­take of girls to Ac­ton County. The two of them first got talk­ing at the lo­cal church.

“He was very mis­chievous at school, al­ways leav­ing notes be­hind in the desks, and a very good artist too.”

Wife Ali­son En­twistle

“He used to play the bu­gle in the Boys’ Bri­gade and march be­hind with the band,” the fu­ture Ali­son En­twistle re­calls now. “My first im­pres­sion of him was: ‘You’re rather lovely.’ He was very mis­chievous at school, al­ways leav­ing notes be­hind in the desks, and a very good artist too. He did a quite wicked car­i­ca­ture of my twin sis­ter that was put in the school mag­a­zine and she never for­gave him.

“Our first date was at a Boys’ Bri­gade con­cert at the Al­bert Hall on Jan­uary 28, 1959. I re­mem­ber his gran and grand­dad be­ing gorgeous and that John pro­tected his mum, be­cause his step­fa­ther wasn’t a very nice char­ac­ter at all. His ac­tual fa­ther was lovely, but he was liv­ing in South Wales.”

By the time En­twistle and Town­shend left school in the spring of 1961, The De­tours had got them­selves a book­ing agent and were play­ing around Lon­don for five or six nights a week. Like Town­shend did, En­twistle could have gone on to art col­lege or mu­sic school, but the fam­ily home needed a sec­ond in­come, and so he took a job at the tax of­fice where his mother was also em­ployed. The work was dull, me­nial, and in any case, En­twistle had his mind on the band’s busi­ness, and of­ten as not turned up at work shat­tered from gig­ging the night be­fore.

The Bri­tish mu­sic scene was on the cusp of a rad­i­cal shift, one that might of­fer a will­ing young lad like En­twistle un­told op­por­tu­ni­ties and re­wards. In Oc­to­ber 1962, The Bea­tles re­leased their de­but sin­gle, Love Me Do, and at a stroke ush­ered in a new, more ex­cit­ing and youth­ful era. Across Bri­tain, it was as if the world had turned from black-and-white to colour. Out of the traps in Lon­don came such strut­ting, fresh-faced groups as the Rolling Stones and The Kinks. The mem­bers of The De­tours couldn’t help but rea­son that play­ing mu­sic could now be an at­tain­able ca­reer op­tion. But, at Town­shend’s ca­jol­ing, first they had to mea­sure up to the emerg­ing com­pe­ti­tion. This, among other things, meant beef­ing up their sound.

To help them do that, Town­shend sought out Jim Mar­shall, pro­pri­etor of the Mar­shall Mu­sic Shop in nearby West Eal­ing. Mar­shall was known for his en­thu­si­asm for en­cour­ag­ing as­pir­ing young bands by kit­ting them out with gear at a rea­son­able price. He was also in the process of devel­op­ing the am­pli­fier that would carry his name and make his for­tune. One of Mar­shall Am­pli­fiers’ first cus­tomers was John En­twistle.

“John was very happy with his new cab­i­net of four twelve-inch speak­ers in­tended for bass gui­tar,” Town­shend wrote in 2012. “I was less thrilled. John, al­ready very loud, was now too loud. I bought a sec­ond speaker cab­i­net and pow­ered it with a Fender Bass­man head. John bought an­other speaker cab­i­net to stay ahead of me. I quickly caught up with two Fender am­pli­fiers. John and I were en­gaged in a mu­si­cal arms race.”

Af­ter see­ing an Ir­ish band also called The De­tours per­form on the TV tal­ent show Thank Your Lucky Stars, in Fe­bru­ary 1964 En­twistle’s De­tours be­came The Who. The name was sug­gested by Town­shend’s flat­mate, Richard Barnes, and since none of them could come up

with any­thing bet­ter, it stuck. Or at least it did un­til they fell un­der the in­flu­ence of Peter Meaden. A fast-talk­ing, pill-popping mu­sic-biz op­er­a­tor who for a spell had been the pub­li­cist for the Stones, Meaden be­came The Who’s first man­ager. It was he who coaxed them into go­ing Mod, hitch­ing to the youth move­ment that was then tak­ing root in the clubs and cof­fee bars of their West Lon­don stomp­ing grounds. Meaden packed them off to the barber’s to get crew cuts, and dressed them in striped jack­ets and tight drain­pipe pants, de rigueur for any self-re­spect­ing Mod ‘face’.

He also had them change their name yet again, to the High Num­bers. As the High Num­bers they recorded their first sin­gle, Zoot Suit, for the Fon­tana la­bel. When it failed to dent the UK Top 40, Meaden’s hold on them was loos­ened and they went back to be­ing The Who.

Along the way they had also built up a loyal fol­low­ing do­ing re­peat gigs at lo­cal venues such as the White Hart Ho­tel in Ac­ton and the Gold­hawk So­cial Club round the corner in rougher Shep­herd’s Bush. One Thurs­day night at an­other of their reg­u­lar haunts, the Old­field Tav­ern, a drunken kid ap­proached the stage and yelled up to the band that his mate could play much bet­ter than the job­bing drum­mer they were us­ing.

“So he brought up this lit­tle ginger­bread man,” En­twistle re­mem­bered. “[He had] dyed gin­ger hair, a brown shirt, brown tie, brown shoes.”

They in­vited this odd-look­ing in­ter­loper up on stage and on to the drum stool, and set him the chal­lenge of keep­ing up with their break­neck ver­sion of a Bo Did­dley tune, Road Run­ner. “He played it per­fectly,” En­twistle said about this kid, called Keith Moon. “He broke the ses­sion drum­mer’s bass drum pedal that he’d had for twenty years and mucked up the hi-hat as well.”

What­ever the in­de­fin­able for­mula re­quired for mak­ing a great band, key to it in The Who was the savage fu­sion that re­sulted from pair­ing Keith Moon with En­twistle in the rhythm sec­tion. Moon’s drum­ming was propul­sive but manic, his time­keep­ing at best er­ratic and some­times non-ex­is­tent. Yet En­twistle was solid enough to keep him in check, and so good that he was also able to play around and about him, mean­ing that even the sim­plest Who songs were elas­tic and hard to pin down.

It was also true that En­twistle man­aged and con­spired with the com­bustible Moon bet­ter than the other two. To be­gin with at least, Dal­trey was more li­able to punch the er­rant Moon, while Town­shend’s at­ti­tude to­wards him for­ever veered from benev­o­lent tol­er­ance to seething re­sent­ment.

“Keith must be the hard­est drum­mer in the world to play with, mainly be­cause he tries to hit ev­ery drum at once,” En­twistle once ob­served. “And if you try and fit in with one of his beats, you have to play like him… all over the place.”

“Keith was to­tally men­tal, but to start with ac­tu­ally a love­able chap,” says Ali­son En­twistle. “He was very sweet, but fame and ev­ery­thing that went with it turned him a bit. John and Keith grew to be very close, and I also be­came good friends with Keith’s wife, Kim. Not that they had fame overnight. It was such a grad­ual process. When they first went on the road, they had an old van and had to carry their own equip­ment around. It was hard work and very tir­ing for them.”

Through the grind of one-night stands around Lon­don and fur­ther afield to satel­lite towns such as Wat­ford, The Who evolved a stage act quite un­like any of their con­tem­po­raries. Dal­trey be­gan to bran­dish his mi­cro­phone lead like a whip, Town­shend as­sailed his gui­tars with a wind­mill arm, or smash them to smithereens on the small stages. Be­hind those two, Moon was a whirling dervish, En­twistle his coun­ter­bal­ance, un­mov­ing as a statue.

Al­to­gether, there was about The Who some­thing feral and vi­o­lently dangerous, and this only made them all the more awe­some to be­hold.

Even­tu­ally they got picked up by an­other cou­ple of young-buck man­agers on the make, roughedged Chris Stamp, whose el­der brother was ac­tor Ter­ence Stamp, and ur­bane Kit Lam­bert, son of com­poser and con­duc­tor Con­stant Lam­bert. Stamp and Lam­bert put them into the stu­dio with The Kinks’ pro­ducer, Shel Talmy, an ex­pat Amer­i­can, and in Jan­uary 1965 they de­buted on record as The Who with a Town­shend orig­i­nal,

I Can’t Ex­plain. A spring-heeled, Kinks-es­que burst of en­ergy, it fea­tured an un­cred­ited Jimmy Page on rhythm gui­tar, al­though his con­tri­bu­tion was shunted to the sid­ings by the freight-train rum­ble of En­twistle’s bass. The sin­gle rose as high as No.8 on the UK chart.

The fol­low-up, Any­way, Any­how, Any­where, also made the Top 10. But it was the third, an­other song of Town­shend’s, that truly lifted them off.

My Gen­er­a­tion started life as a slow blues, but was trans­formed in the stu­dio into a short, sharp kick in the teeth. The cat­a­lyst for this was the de­ci­sion to un­der­pin the track with a bass solo. En­twistle’s fluid, som­er­sault­ing part ar­rives 55 sec­onds in and sends the track hurtling on to a head­long crash of gui­tar, drums and more bass, with Dal­trey’s stut­ter­ing lead vo­cal meant to repli­cate the am­phetaminerush speech pat­terns of the Mods. My Gen­er­a­tion was al­most im­pos­si­bly ex­cit­ing.

“To get the right ef­fect I had to buy a Dan­elec­tro bass, be­cause it had lit­tle thin strings that pro­duce a very twangy sound,” En­twistle ex­plained of his piv­otal con­tri­bu­tion.

Such was the force he ap­plied to them, he broke three sets of th­ese strings. In the end he nailed the solo on the fifth pass.

My Gen­er­a­tion rock­eted to No.2 in the UK in the win­ter of 1965. More sig­nif­i­cantly, here for the first time were the very dif­fer­ent, con­flict­ing per­son­al­i­ties of The Who com­ing to­gether on vinyl as a sin­gle, erup­tive com­pound.

“John was an easy-go­ing chap and re­ally quite down to earth,” says Bob Prid­den, who went to work for The Who soon af­ter. “The at­mos­phere around the band, though, was al­ways the same. It was like go­ing to war ev­ery day. They were all to­tal op­po­sites, and when they came to­gether, it blew up. But that en­ergy was what made them so for­mi­da­ble. My God, they were un­be­liev­able and also ter­ri­fy­ing.”

“It was like go­ing to war ev­ery day. They [The Who] were all to­tal op­po­sites, and when they came to­gether, it blew up.”

Bob Prid­den

To other mu­si­cians of the time, the hub of The Who’s power was ob­vi­ous and rested within the col­li­sions be­tween En­twistle and Moon. When Jimmy Page and an­other of The Yard­birds, Jeff Beck, each sep­a­rately imag­ined form­ing a new, more heavy­weight band in the spring of 1966, both of them con­sid­ered poach­ing both men from The Who. That idea for the nascent Led Zep­pelin floun­dered, and in­stead Moon, and much more par­tic­u­larly En­twistle, set about ex­pand­ing their spheres of in­flu­ence within The Who.

Since Town­shend and Moon’s de­struc­tive ten­den­cies to­wards their in­stru­ments – and in the case of Moon, inan­i­mate ob­jects in gen­eral – was prov­ing so ru­inously ex­pen­sive, Kit Lam­bert was made to try to find a way to ease The Who’s fi­nan­cial bur­dens. One up­shot of this was a pub­lish­ing deal that he signed the four mem­bers to and that re­quired each to write two songs for the band’s sec­ond al­bum, A Quick One.

Nei­ther Dal­trey nor Moon made too much of an ef­fort, but En­twistle took this new chal­lenge se­ri­ously. He wrote and recorded his first song, Whiskey Man, in the makeshift stu­dio he had in­stalled into the box bed­room of the house he’d bought in Eal­ing. A cau­tion­ary tale about the de­mon drink, it was a de­cent stab at the kind of gen­tly psy­che­delic pop that was then in the ether. The other song En­twistle con­trib­uted to the al­bum was some­thing else en­tirely.

“I still had one more num­ber to write, so I went out and got drunk down the Scotch Club with Bill Wy­man,” he said of its ge­n­e­sis. “We started talk­ing about spi­ders and the way they frighten peo­ple, and that gave me the idea.”

Boris The Spi­der emerged from the re­cesses of En­twistle’s mind as a freak show ver­sion of a ba­sic four-four rocker. Against his own boom­ing bass, he con­tem­plated the tit­u­lar spi­der climb­ing his bed­room wall, singing the cho­ruses in a bronchial grunt that mim­icked Spike Mil­li­gan’s Goon Show char­ac­ter Throat, and ended the song with poor Boris squashed with a hard­back book. It proved to be the al­bum’s most di­vert­ing mo­ment, as sin­is­ter as it was hi­lar­i­ous.

With A Quick One com­pleted, Stamp and Lam­bert turned their at­ten­tion to Amer­ica, where there was real money to be made. The Who made their first trip across the At­lantic in the spring of 1967. They were to play a 10-day run of shows, five 30-minute slots daily at the RKO Theatre in New York City, on a bill that also in­cluded Mitch Ry­der and an­other Bri­tish band on their first US visit, Cream. Check­ing in to the Drake Ho­tel, room­mates En­twistle and Moon gid­dily adapted to their new sur­round­ings, or­der­ing up bot­tles of vin­tage cham­pagne and brandy, and plat­ters of lob­ster and caviar, run­ning up a mas­sive room­ser­vice bill. But that barely reg­is­tered as The Who be­gan to cut a swathe across the US.

The New York res­i­dency won them rave re­views from the Amer­i­can rock press, and over on the op­po­site coast that June they vied with Jimi Hen­drix and Ja­nis Jo­plin as the break­out stars at the first of the era’s defin­ing open-air fes­ti­vals, Mon­terey Pop. Out West they also made their US TV de­but, on The Smoth­ers Broth­ers Com­edy Hour, a good-na­tured va­ri­ety show hosted by a pair of ge­nial folk satirists. At the fi­nale of My Gen­er­a­tion, Moon dy­na­mited his drum kit, the explosion send­ing cym­bal shrap­nel slic­ing through his arm and caus­ing bed­lam in the TV stu­dio. The se­nior Smoth­ers, Tommy, at­tempt­ing to re­store calm and or­der, walked onto the stage set with his acous­tic gui­tar, only to have Town­shend snatch it from him, hurl it to the floor and put a foot through it for good mea­sure.

In the midst of the car­nage, En­twistle alone seemed ut­terly non­plussed, stand­ing apart from the oth­ers with a stoic, maybe even bored ex­pres­sion on his face. In the con­text of this most un­hinged and dys­func­tional of bands, the very fact that he ap­peared to be rel­a­tively nor­mal made him unique.

Back home in Eng­land, En­twistle mar­ried Ali­son that sum­mer. He had pro­posed on his twenty-first birthday. En­twistle’s dad was his best man, and af­ter­wards the new­ly­weds went to live in the Eal­ing semi-de­tached – a marked con­trast to the 400-year-old Berk­shire coun­try cot­tage and Ge­or­gian pile in leafy Twick­en­ham that Dal­trey and Town­shend re­spec­tively had re­cently ac­quired for them­selves. In this re­gard, En­twistle’s ex­cesses came later.

“In the down­stairs cloak­room we had a twoway mir­ror and John liked black ceil­ings,” Ali­son En­twistle ex­plains. “Apart from that we had a very tra­di­tional home, re­ally. It would be hor­ri­ble when he would have to go off on tour. We used to write let­ters to each other. He was a very ro­man­tic man.”

Un­til the end of the 60s, The Who toured re­lent­lessly, and when they weren’t on the road they were in the stu­dio. Their next al­bum, 1967’s The Who Sell Out, was made on the run and was a build­ing block to­wards Town­shend pulling off a full-blown con­cept al­bum. The in­di­vid­ual tracks were bro­ken up by spoof ra­dio jin­gles for prod­ucts such as Medac acne cream and glee­fully recorded by both En­twistle and Moon.

En­twistle’s song for the record, Silas Stingy was as creepy as a Broth­ers Grimm fairy tale, and on the cover he ap­peared as his own comic book cre­ation, Tarzan-like in leop­ard-print furs, a Teddy Bear clutched in one hand, a blonde ‘Jane’ on the other.

When next time around Town­shend did de­liver his grand rock opera, Tommy, En­twistle was able to im­merse him­self in that too, even though he con­fessed to hav­ing had “ab­so­lutely no idea” what the story of the deaf, dumb and blind kid was all about. When Town­shend needed two songs to go with two of his most un­pleas­ant char­ac­ters, Tommy’s abu­sive ‘Un­cle’ Ernie and bullying cousin Kevin, he turned to En­twistle for help. He got from him two tunes as jaunty-sound­ing as old-time mu­sic-hall stan­dards, but stuffed full of lyri­cal hor­rors. “Pete felt he couldn’t write nearly as nasty as me,” En­twistle said of them. “So I wrote Fid­dle About that evening, and Cousin Kevin I based on an old school chum of mine.”

To great ac­claim, The Who took Tommy out on tour, their soar­ing sta­tus sym­bol­ised by them grad­u­at­ing to play­ing sports are­nas in Amer­ica and later on opera houses in Europe and the Metropoli­tan Opera in New York. The two prin­ci­pal gigs of the tour took place in a farmer’s field in up­state New York, and then in the poky re­fec­tory at Leeds Uni­ver­sity.

The Wood­stock Mu­sic & Art Fair went ahead on Max Yas­gur’s 600-acre dairy farm on the week­end of Au­gust 15-17, 1969. Hav­ing 400,000 peo­ple in­vade the site and with the pro­vi­sion of prim­i­tive fa­cil­i­ties to sus­tain them, Yas­gur’s land was turned into some­thing as hellish as a com­bat zone.

The Who took to the Wood­stock stage in the pre-dawn hours of the third day, and fol­lowed a ragged set from Ja­nis Jo­plin, and one of febrile, nar­cotic funk from Sly And The Fam­ily Stone that lifted the spir­its of the by now ex­hausted mass of peo­ple. The Who pro­ceeded to play like men pos­sessed, which in a sense they were, since some­one had spiked the back­stage drink­ing wa­ter with acid. Dal­trey later said it the worst show they ever played.

Town­shend had got Bob Prid­den to record ev­ery date of the Amer­i­can tour for a planned live al­bum, but then couldn’t be both­ered to wade through the tapes. In­stead, when they re­turned to Eng­land

two smaller-scale shows were hastily ar­ranged for the pur­pose, at the uni­ver­si­ties of Hull and Leeds. When tech­ni­cal prob­lems marred the for­mer, it all fell to the lat­ter to de­liver.

Rush re­leased in May 1970, Live At Leeds cap­tured The Who in full flight. En­twistle drove them from the front seat, his bass so im­pos­ing it made The Who sound heavy metal even be­fore the term had be­gun to be widely used.

While Town­shend laboured over a fol­low-up to Tommy, En­twistle went off and made his first solo al­bum, with Keith Moon tag­ging along to play drums. Smash Your Head Against The Wall – com­plete with a gar­ish cover photo of En­twistle wear­ing a death mask trans­posed over an X-ray photo that showed the lungs of a ter­mi­nally ill pa­tient that he had some­how ob­tained from his doc­tor – was solid, straight-ahead rock with a side or­der of the bizarre. In­cluded were songs ti­tled Pick Me Up

(Big Chicken) and Ted End.

Back with The Who, he added the bawdy

My Wife to what even­tu­ally be­came their most com­plete al­bum, 1971’s Who’s Next, singing in a care­free man­ner: ‘I ain’t been home since Fri­day night, and now my wife’s com­ing af­ter me/Give me po­lice pro­tec­tion…’

Who’s Next and the tour for it were both huge suc­cesses, and at last riches poured into the band’s cof­fers. En­twistle in­dulged him­self now, mov­ing with Ali­son into a big­ger house in Eal­ing and start­ing to col­lect cars – even though he didn’t have a driver’s li­cence – and other para­pher­na­lia. They had a son, Christo­pher, whom he doted on, though he be­moaned the state of do­mes­tic­ity on songs such as Apron Strings and The Win­dow Shop­per on his so-so sec­ond solo al­bum, 1972’s Whis­tle Rhymes.

“We didn’t have any money and then all of a sud­den we had a lot, and it went to John’s head a lit­tle bit,” says Ali­son En­twistle. “He was ab­so­lutely reck­less with money, would spend it like wa­ter. He wouldn’t go out and buy one pair of boots, but half a dozen at a time. When we first had Christo­pher, we had a nanny and there were times that I didn’t know where her wages were com­ing from. It was quite wor­ry­ing.

“They al­ways called him the Quiet One, but he wasn’t. He could do far worse things than Keith, he re­ally could, and de­pend­ing upon how much he’d had to drink.”

His mu­sic kept En­twistle fo­cused and gave him a rea­son for be­ing, but the re­as­sur­ing rou­tine and mo­men­tum of The Who’s early years be­gan to wane, the gaps be­tween al­bums and tours get­ting longer. He made two more solo al­bums in quick suc­ces­sion: Rigor Mor­tis Sets In in 1973 and Mad Dog, re­leased in 1975, both knock­about pas­tiches of 50s rock’n’roll, nei­ther of which was a hit.

At the same time, the state of the band be­came more frac­tious, with dis­tance and sus­pi­cion di­vid­ing them. Dal­trey had their ac­counts au­dited and sub­se­quently en­gi­neered the fir­ing of man­agers Chris Stamp and Kit Lam­bert, both of whose ap­proach to such things had long been hap­haz­ard. The more busi­nesslike

Bill Cur­bish­ley took over the reins, and gave Town­shend scope to mount a sec­ond rock-opera, Quadrophe­nia, for which En­twistle spent weeks ar­rang­ing horn parts.

Tour­ing that al­bum in 1974, Town­shend cut a way­ward, an­tag­o­nis­tic fig­ure. The Who were try­ing out on-stage back­ing tapes, but the technology was new and li­able to mal­func­tion, which in­fu­ri­ated Town­shend. Rag­ing at one stop on the UK leg, he swung a hope­less punch at Dal­trey, who re­sponded with a sin­gle blow that knocked him out cold. Even En­twistle’s nerves got frayed. Frus­trated one night by Dal­trey’s com­pul­sion to ex­plain to au­di­ences be­tween songs the in­tri­ca­cies of the al­bum’s plot, he snapped at the singer: “Fuck it, let’s play.”

Fol­low­ing an­other show in Paris, he and Ali­son were en­joy­ing a can­dlelit meal in their ho­tel suite when Moon burst in. The over-re­freshed drum­mer helped him­self to En­twistle’s steak and a bot­tle of vin­tage claret, reeled around the room, re­lieved him­self on the car­pet and then left. “John was so an­gry that he fol­lowed Keith back to his room and smashed it up,” Ali­son En­twistle re­mem­bers.

Moon had passed out by then. When he came round the next morn­ing and as­sumed he must have been re­spon­si­ble for the ram­page, he meekly paid the bill for dam­ages.

En­twistle worked right along­side Town­shend on The Who’s next project, the sound­track for Ken Rus­sell’s overblown film adap­ta­tion of Tommy, but nei­ther he nor Moon were re­quired much on set.

“Dad al­ways wanted to be on stage,” re­flects Chris En­twistle. “That’s when he felt truly alive, and he lived for those times. He didn’t like the pe­ri­ods of in­ac­tiv­ity. He loved to play and to show off.”

In 1978, flush from the tour that fol­lowed the re­lease of The Who By Num­bers, En­twistle made his most ex­trav­a­gant pur­chase when he bought Quar­wood, a 55-room hunt­ing lodge set in 40 acres of Cotswolds coun­try­side. In­tended as a week­end re­treat, he set about fur­nish­ing it to his own par­tic­u­lar taste. Suits of ar­mour lined the cor­ri­dors and many of the rooms, and in one a skele­ton re­clined on a Re­gency chair. In the cav­ernous kitchen were three bird cages filled with squawk­ing par­rots, and an ef­figy of Quasi­modo hung from a bell rope in the hall.

“We went round the Cotswolds look­ing for houses to­gether,” Ali­son En­twistle says. “John had wanted a coun­try cot­tage, so you can see what I meant about him be­ing reck­less. Quar­wood was a lovely house, but un­man­age­able at times. It

was filled with his suits of ar­mour. One was called Henry, and John used a fur hat of mine to pad out its hel­met. I never did get it back.”

“I wouldn’t see dad in the morn­ings,” says Chris En­twistle. “He wouldn’t get up till midday be­cause he’d have been in the stu­dio or wher­ever, play­ing or re­hears­ing all night. On Sun­days we used to sit to­gether and watch old movies. He in­doc­tri­nated me with all the knights-in-ar­mour films that he loved, clas­sics like Ivan­hoe and Black Shield Of Fal­worth. Those were the only times that I re­ally spent with him when I was very young.”

To­wards the end of 1977, The Who gath­ered again to work on what would be their eighth al­bum, Who Are You. En­twistle con­trib­uted a trio of sturdy rock­ers, and the ti­tle track was a vin­tage Town­shend an­them, but over­all it was an un­even, un­sat­is­fy­ing record, due in no small part to the way­ward­ness of Moon’s play­ing. Al­co­holism had got the bet­ter of the band’s court jester, and he didn’t sur­vive the next year.

On the evening of Septem­ber 6, 1978, Moon and his new girl­friend, Swedish model An­nette Wal­ter-Lax, at­tended a party thrown by Paul McCart­ney. Af­ter ar­riv­ing back at their rented flat in Lon­don’s May­fair, Moon downed 32 pills of a med­i­ca­tion pre­scribed to help him com­bat al­co­hol with­drawal, went to bed and never woke up. En­twistle was en­ter­tain­ing a group of jour­nal­ists at Quar­wood when Town­shend called to tell him the shat­ter­ing news.

“I had to go into the room and tell them: ‘Be gen­tle with him,’” says Ali­son En­twistle. “That was a very, very bad time for John.”

“Keith’s loss cer­tainly hit John hard,” adds Bob Prid­den. “John and Keith just clicked. They had a kind of telepa­thy be­tween them, some­thing that you couldn’t man­u­fac­ture.”

Not long af­ter Moon died, En­twistle’s mar­riage ended. The pre­vi­ous year he had spent six weeks out in Los An­ge­les work­ing on the sound­track to The Who doc­u­men­tary film The Kids Are

Al­right. Dur­ing that time he had met and be­gun a re­la­tion­ship with Max­ine Har­low, a 22-year-old wait­ress at the in­fa­mous Sun­set Strip rock’n’roll hang­out the Rain­bow Bar & Grill.

“He came back home and I knew there was some­thing wrong,” Ali­son En­twistle says. “So I asked him what was up. Pete had ap­par­ently told him: ‘Don’t ever tell Ali­son the truth,’ but he did. He said: ‘I’ve found some­one else and I’m in love with both of you.’ I put up with it for eigh­teen months, un­til he made up his mind. It was the hard­est thing I ever did.”

“Dad and I got to know each other bet­ter af­ter he left, be­cause he had to make time to see me,” says Chris En­twistle.

“For the first year it was ev­ery Thurs­day night. We saw ev­ery movie that came out at the cinema that year. I also used to go and visit him at Quar­wood at week­ends.

“We had lots of chats. He told me once: ‘If some­one tries to start a fight with you, put them down as fast and nas­tily as you pos­si­bly can and they won’t try again.’ That ac­tu­ally hap­pened to me once, and they didn’t. When I was of an age, I would ob­vi­ously talk to him about girls, and he would tell me about some of his ex­pe­ri­ences, which was an eye-opener, of course. He lived, I will say that.”

The Who sol­diered on for four more years, with the de­pend­able Ken­ney Jones, for­merly of the Small Faces and the Faces, as Moon’s re­place­ment, but they were a shadow of the band they had once been. En­twistle remixed 10 tracks from the orig­i­nal Quadrophe­nia al­bum for the sound­track to the pass­able film ver­sion of 1979, giv­ing them new heft and sparkle.

Nei­ther of those qual­i­ties, how­ever, ap­plied to the last two stu­dio al­bums he made with the band: 1981’s Face Dances and the fol­low­ing year’s

It’s Hard. Af­ter the re­lease of the lat­ter, Town­shend an­nounced that he was re­tir­ing from tour­ing with The Who, and the band was put to pas­ture for the next 14 years, save for a fleet­ing, glo­ri­ous re­turn at the Wem­b­ley Live Aid con­cert in 1985.

En­twistle oc­cu­pied him­self in other ways. His next solo record was the aptly ti­tled The Rock, a stab at hard rock that re­mained un­re­leased for 10 years. He had a fleet­ing spell in short-lived su­per­group The Best along­side Joe Walsh, Keith Emer­son and Si­mon Phillips, a not-much-longer ten­ure in Ringo Starr’s All-Star Band, and toured his own John En­twistle Band.

In 1991, he and Max­ine Har­low got mar­ried. From the start, theirs didn’t seem a union made to last. They were wed at a ‘quickie’ chapel in

Las Ve­gas, with an Elvis im­per­son­ator as their wit­ness. By the time they di­vorced, in 1997,

The Who were res­ur­rected.

The sum­mer be­fore, Town­shend had in­vited En­twistle and Dal­trey, plus drum­mer Zak Starkey and an ex­panded back­ing group, to join him for a per­for­mance of Quadrophe­nia in Lon­don’s Hyde Park. Tours of Europe and the US en­sued. Two years later the band re­grouped again, as a five-piece on this oc­ca­sion, with Starkey once more and key­board player John ‘Rab­bit’ Bun­drick com­plet­ing the line-up. Town­shend

“Dad didn’t like the pe­ri­ods of in­ac­tiv­ity. He loved to play and show off.”

Son Chris En­twistle

would claim later that the cat­a­lyst for this reunion was the par­lous state of En­twistle’s fi­nances.

He told Rolling Stone in 2015: “Roger came to see me and said: ‘Lis­ten, I can’t see any other way that John can get him­self out of the hole that he’s in. He’s spent too much [and] if you’re re­ally the friend that you say you are, you should fuck­ing help.’ And so I agreed.”

“Dad did care about the de­tails,” coun­ters Chris En­twistle, who went to work for his fa­ther in 1997. “His ac­coun­tants used to ask him if he knew how much money he had got, and he would be able to give the fig­ure to within a pound. He never saw any pa­per­work, but he kept a run­ning to­tal of things in his head. I just don’t be­lieve that he sweated the small stuff.”

For the greater part of the last six years of his life, John En­twistle ap­peared to be thor­oughly con­tent with his lot. He en­tered into a new re­la­tion­ship with his friend Joe Walsh’s for­mer girl­friend, Lisa Pritch­ett-John­son. When not work­ing he could of­ten be found fre­quent­ing the pubs or pot­ter­ing about the antique shops of Stow-on-the-Wold, a small market town close to Quar­wood. He even paid for a new roof for the Stow Cricket Club pav­il­ion. Now, though, he was not the Ox of days gone by. His hear­ing was all but shot and he suf­fered from high blood pres­sure. His wan ap­pear­ance at The Who’s show at the Al­bert Hall in Fe­bru­ary 2002 alarmed friends, but he passed a med­i­cal re­quired for in­surance pur­poses for the Amer­i­can tour lined up for that sum­mer.

One Tues­day morn­ing that June, Chris En­twistle drove his fa­ther to the air­port to catch a flight to Las Ve­gas to be­gin that tour.

“I gave him a kiss good­bye, as I al­ways did,” he re­calls. “He turned around when he got to the door of the ter­mi­nal, we waved to each other and that was the last time I saw him.”

John En­twistle spent the evening of June 27, 2002 with friends, among them Aly­een Rose, an ex­otic dancer he knew from pre­vi­ous vis­its to Ve­gas. He took Rose to his room at the Hard Rock Ho­tel, where he did a line of coke and they had sex. Some time dur­ing that night, he had a heart at­tack and died in his sleep.

“It turned out that one of his ar­ter­ies was a hun­dred per cent blocked, and an­other seventy-five per cent,” re­veals Chris En­twistle. “High blood pres­sure is a fam­ily trait. His mother had it, as do

I, but we had no idea about the prob­lems with his heart, and nor did he. We were told they would only have been found out with an elec­tro­car­dio­gram, which he never had be­cause it hadn’t seemed nec­es­sary. He was very rarely ill. “You know what, though? It wasn’t the worst way to go. It could have been a pro­longed ill­ness. One of the things I was most ap­pre­cia­tive of, the doc­tor who per­formed the au­topsy told me that he wouldn’t have felt a thing.”

“He was a silly boy, but also very gen­er­ous, warm-hearted and very, very tal­ented.”

Ali­son En­twistle

John En­twistle’s funeral was held at St. Ed­ward’s Church in Stow on July 10, 2002. In his will he split his estate equally be­tween his mother, his son and Lisa Pritch­ett-John­son. Pritch­ett-John­son con­tin­ued to live in a cot­tage on the Quar­wood grounds af­ter En­twistle’s pass­ing, but had to move out when Chris En­twistle was forced to sell his fa­ther’s home to meet the crip­pling death du­ties.

“The In­land Rev­enue de­cided that ev­ery­thing dad owned had a value, in­clud­ing each item of cloth­ing and his per­son­alised car num­ber plate,” he ex­plains. “And they wanted forty per cent of it, thank you very much. The prob­lem was that most of dad’s money was in stuff. For in­stance, over the years he had in­vested in a mas­sive gui­tar collection, which was go­ing to be worth a lot of money down the line, but that was a bad time to have to sell.”

To­day, Ali­son En­twistle says that when she thinks back on her life with her late for­mer hus­band, most of­ten it is to the time their son was born. “John was so thrilled,” she says. “He was there when I gave birth at Queen Char­lotte’s Hospi­tal. I loved him for years and years, so you can never get rid of those feel­ings. He was a silly boy, but also very gen­er­ous, warm-hearted and very, very tal­ented.”

“I would like dad to be re­mem­bered as the best bass gui­tarist that the world has ever known,” Chris En­twistle con­cludes. “That’s who he was, the guy that stood there and got on with the job.

“I haven’t seen Pete or Roger in God knows how many years now, be­cause I won’t go to Who gigs any more. Not be­cause of them – I’m firmly be­hind the boys car­ry­ing on as long as they want. I just can’t han­dle the fact that dad’s not there on his side of the stage, where he should be.”

The Who in ’82: (l-r) Ken­ney Jones, Roger Dal­trey, Pete Town­shend, John En­twistle.

Suits you: En­twistle at his Quar­wood home in 1997.

Love, reign o’er me: John and Ali­son’s wed­ding on June 1, 1967. “They al­ways called him the Quiet One, but he wasn’t. He could do far worse things than Keith.” Ali­son En­twistle

En­twistle’s band for his third solo al­bum, 1973’s (l-r) Gra­ham Deakin, Tony Ash­ton, En­twistle, Ed­die Jones.

Rigor Mor­tis Sets In:

Tommy boys: En­twistle, Keith Moon and Pete Town­shend with Tina Turner, El­ton John and Ann-Mar­gret, March 18, 1975.

Their gen­er­a­tion: (l-r) Keith Moon, Pete Town­shend, John En­twistle and Roger Dal­trey in 1965.

Amped up: En­twistle at the 40th an­niver­sary of Amer­i­can Band­stand at ABC Stu­dios in Hol­ly­wood, Cal­i­for­nia.

En­twistle at CBS Stu­dios in Lon­don play­ing French horn on Don’t Look Away.

The kids are al­right – The Who in 1965: (l-r) John En­twistle, Pete Town­shend, Keith Moon, Roger Dal­trey.

Words: Paul Rees

Ringo Starr And His All-Star Band, with John En­twistle (front right).

The Who at Live Aid, Wem­b­ley Sta­dium, on July 13, 1985.

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