John Entwistle - John Entwistle Band / The Who
Detroit, MI - July 5, 1999
 
This interview was originally done by writer David Lee Wilson back almost three years to the day of John Entwistle's passing, but is being republished here in respects to the recent passing of rock bass impressario, John Entwistle of The Who. While legends came and legends are replaced, rarely are there musicians of such caliber as to truly cement their standing in permanency. John Entwistle was one of those defining artists who was unsurpassed and inimitable in his style and performance. There will only be on John "Ox" Entwistle, and there should only be one. His status as one of the most innovative bassists will live on forever as his influence, far-reaching as it has been, shall undoubtedly continue to spread onto new musicians for decades to come. May John Entwistle rest in peace and may his name name and talents forever be revered. - Philip Anderson

The term "legend" has lost a bit of meaning over the years with its repeated use by rock journalists to describe every artist from Led Zeppelin to Quiet Riot. Though the first example is easily defensible, the second is much less so. To refer to John Entwistle as a legend would miss the mark under these standards so I shall hereafter simply refer to Mr. Entwistle not as a legend but as a rock god. The title is purposefully Grande because the man is Grande. His music, his physical being, the way he is able to spread his fingers across the bass guitar, it is all super-metaphysically beyond and above any comparison and therefore deserves such personalized tribute.
 
Of course Entwistle is best known for being the bassist and occasional singer for The Who yet, while that is enough to guarantee eternal reverence, it doesn't tell the whole story. The latest chapter of the Entwistle story involves this creation called The John Entwistle Band. Now the name may be a bit misleading because this unit really does come off as a group of musicians working as equals but in the final analysis Entwistle is probably a tad more equal than the rest. To see this band perform live is almost a religious experience. There are no guest musicians waiting in the wings and no horn section or back up singers, there are but four members creating a sound that comes as close to melting speakers and eardrums as anyone dare get. As John told me, this is all that he has wanted to do since the beginning, just play rock and roll hard and loud. It couldn't get any harder or louder.
 
Entwistle has chosen to surround himself with some extraordinary talent. Steve Luongo is the group's musical director in addition to being responsible for creating all of the bands' concussive percussives. Luongo is a monster behind the drum kit and more than a bit intimidating. I just can't see how a guy with arms that big can move around the kit as fast as he does, he is almost as surreal to watch perform as John Entwistle. Godfrey Townsend also pulls double duty as the group's guitarist and vocalist. Townsend is cut from the same stone as all of those blues inspired rock progenitors of the fifties. He has an incredible voice and playing style but it is the combination of passion and delivery that make him fit so well with this group. Gordon Cotten is the keyboardist and managed to escape my questioning this time but will be the first I grab next time around because he too is a wonderful player. In all, an excitingly sharp band who can do battle with each other on stage while at the same time doing justice to the music.
 
My interview of the band was to take place after the bands Detroit performance on the Rock Never Stops tour but, as often happens in rock and roll, the plans changed. First off, this was the only date that the band was playing on the Rock Never Stops tour so things were not running in usual clockwork fashion. Entwistle and band having come in to fill the vacancy left by Ted Nugent (who refuses to play a Detroit show until the Millenniums Eve gig with Metallica) didn't seem to be welcomed by the under-bill and had to struggle through most of their set with a monitor mix set for another band. Luongo strained an elbow and had to search for ice and the local security was giving everyone the bums rush so it was decided to regroup back at the hotel bar. Off we went. Nothing terribly different about all of this with the exception that this night I chose to bring my six-year-old son, Ian, to the gig thinking it would be an in and out deal after the show. So now Ian [my son], myself and the band are sitting at the bar whilst everybody celebrates.
 
With Champaign all around, and a Coke for myself and the boy, the questioning began. We wagged on for quite some time and could easily have gone on longer but Ian had made a bed of the bar and pops was feeling a little guilty for dragging the boy along in the first place, it was time to let John and the band get on with their night. Below is a partial telling of the evenings events by its main actors, enjoy.

DAVID LEE: How did you put together this version of The John Entwistle Band?
John Entwistle: You tell 'em Steve.
STEVE LUONGO: We (pointing to John Entwistle) met twelve years ago at a NAMM show and we had been looking for the right project ever since. In 1995 we decided to put a band together. John and I had jammed with Godfrey in New York at the China Club and John said "Ring Godfrey up and see if he wants to play in a band." That was the nucleus.
GODFREY TOWNSEND: At first I said, "No."
SL: Yeah, first he said, "No." because he had a good gig out in Laughlin (laughs). Then Gordon joined up with us last year and here it is.
 
K2K: So you are now headlining the Rock Never Stops tour. . .
SL: No, actually we are not. It was just this show. We replaced Ted Nugent.
 
GT: He was out killing some things tonight and he couldn't make it in! (laughs)
SL: Yeah, he was out murdering animals.
 
K2K: The women were safe but he deer were scared.
SL: Yeah, there you go!
 
K2K: Yeah, I guess he won't open for anybody in the Detroit area. What about you? Will you open for anybody in... Hell, I don't even know where you are from. Leeds? (laughs)
GT: Leeds! (laughs)
JE: We'll open for anyone, we are just looking to play.
GT: Well, maybe not Cliff Richard! (laughs)
 
K2K: I got an e-mail from the management asking me to limit the number of Who questions but then tonight you start the set with a Who song.
JE: It is not a Who song, it is my song. It's a bass solo.
SL: I think that we wanted to get everybody's attention, and he has got to do a few of them.
 
K2K: Right. Obviously there is are certain expectations from the audience but when you were putting the set list together did you ever consider not doing any Who songs?
SL: Well, the only non-Entwistle Who composition that we do is "The Real Me" and if it were not for the bass line in that song, I mean, his bass, in our opinion, makes that song so that is why we do it. The rest of The Who material that we do was written by John. The only other stuff that we do is not Who material but stuff that was covered by The Who. Basically, we are looking at this as taking it into the future and that is why we play new material as well as old material. We don't want to be a retro band and make a fast buck, we are trying to make a contribution to the future.
 
K2K: That, and there is nothing worse than an artist who refuses to play the material that they are most famous for. It is very disappointing to the fans.
SL: Yeah. Those expectations come all the time and it is a double-edged sword. If you stay away from the obvious, people don't like that. But then if you go and do all the obvious there is constantly a comparison type thing. It is tough but we are very much a different band than The Who. The things that we do are our own style and we are not trying to live off of anyone else's bones. What we do is really an extension of his [John's] version of his past but there are three other people in this band that make contributions that make this The John Entwistle Band as opposed to a Who cover band.
K2K: That comes across in the live show very clearly. It was interesting to watch the stage banter amongst the four of you, there is no pretense involved when you are telling each other to "Fuck off."
JE: Banter? (laughs)
SL: Our show is totally spontaneous. I mean, it really is. It is about you coming to see one show on one night and you are the only one who is going to see that show. The people last night didn't see it, the people tomorrow night are not going to see it. It was meant for you and tonight, and that is the way it is played and will never be played like that again.
 
K2K: Well, there is a certain amount of structure to it because I didn't notice a whole lot of improvisational jamming going on.
SL: The problem with that, we have long improvisational jams and if you listen to the live album they are on there.
JE: Tonight we had a monitor problem and that made it hard to interact.
SL: Yeah, that made it hard to interact, and the other side of the coin was that we were on a curfew that is $1,000. per minute if you go over it. I mean, we went into "Young Man Blues" and that is usually twelve minutes long and tonight it was three minutes. There was a jam between John and I during his solo bit. This is very much a jamming band but don't forget, this is only our second show on this tour so we are sticking to what we are really comfortable with.
JE: The first eight songs we were using someone else's monitors and it is hard to follow the changes when you are jamming if you can't hear those who you are jamming with.
 
K2K: The band was in town playing a club date not too long ago, have you been home in between or has this all been part of the same tour?
JE: I went home and fed the dogs, they were pretty hungry.(smiles) We have nine hungry Rottweilers on the farm.
 
K2K: Do you really have that many?
JE: No, I have thirteen! Nine Rottweilers, two Labradors and two Collies.
 
K2K: And a sitter whose job it is to take care of them all?
JE: I take care of them all unless I am not around and then I have someone else who looks after them all.
 
K2K: Somebody in The Who used to have a fish farm, didn't they?
JE: Yeah, Roger did. I deep sea fish a lot. The Who has got the fish farm and I stock them! (laughs)
 
K2K: So, a gig with Ted Nugent might work out after all, he could bring the meat and you could bring the fish?
SL: Surf and turf! We could call it the "Surf and Turf Tour!" (laughs)
JE: He shoots things with legs and I shoot things with fins! (laughs)
 
K2K: The band has kept a Townsend on guitar, what drew you away from Laughlin to play in this band?
GT: I was out there for about three and a half months doing a gig. I was in the house band backing up all the headliners, it was pretty cool. We had Mitch Ryder, Spencer Davis, Jerry Mulland from Badfinger. We backed up Tiny Tim for a while, some friends of mine from Beatlemania were out there and we did a Beatles show. We did some pretty interesting things. Steve called me up and said that John wanted to go out on the road and had asked for me because we had played at the China Club a year before and it was like, we just met, shook hands and did a set of Who stuff pretty much cold and I guess John was impressed and he said "Could you handle doing this?" And I said, "Sure!" I think that we were going to get a lead singer in the beginning but he was one of these guys who wanted too much money and John said to me, "Could you handle singing the Who stuff?" and I said, "I have done it most of my life, I could probably cut it."
 
K2K: Does he kick you a couple of extra bucks for the added effort? (laughs)
GT: No, no, I kind of have to volunteer my services on that. I even paid for my own vocal lessons so I could do that right! But, he gives me a lot of clothes and stuff like that! (laughs)
 
K2K: Speaking of clothes, when I was looking through the files I came across a load of pictures where you are wearing some pretty tasty stuff. You were true to form tonight with the Zebra skin leather jacket.
SL: John has got some killer stuff in his closets at home.
 
K2K: Does he go through the closets and say, "This might look good on you."?
GT: Well, he doesn't do it, but somebody else does! (laughs) We were doing some promo shots for the album cover and his girlfriend was taking out all these clothes from everywhere, I mean, like Woodstock and Isle of White and we were all trying them on. As a matter of fact I kept showing up at a lot of the photo shoots in his stuff and he would look at it and go, "That looks familiar." (laughs)
 
K2K: Did you ever find anything interesting in the pockets?
GT: No. He doesn't keep anything in his pockets, do you?
JE: Cigarettes.
GT: I never found any money in the pockets or anything like that. Anyway, that is how I got out of the Laughlin gig. What is funny is that the guy who played with John before that took my gig out in Laughlin!
JE: He was the guy that I was thinking about! (everybody laughs)
 
K2K: He knew his singer was in Laughlin but he got the wrong guy! (laughs) Well it would seem to have worked out beautifully.
GT: It is funny. We kind of switched places.
 
K2K: The current album is a live record, is there an intention of going into the studio for a record?
SL: We have already done a studio album.
JE: We have got albums up the yin-yang! (laughs)
SL: We did a studio album before we went on the road last year.
 
K2K: I didn't know that.
JE: But, the album never got released.
 
K2K: Why was that?
JE: (Groans)
SL: Everything comes out eventually.
 
K2K: If you don't want to get into it, that is O.K.
GT: Yeah, and stuff like that. (laughs)
K2K: But, eventually there will be a studio album released, right?
GT: Maybe. Maybe some of the best stuff off of that album with some newer stuff, who knows.
JE: Who knows!
 
K2K: Speaking of The Who (laughs) is that a dead issue now?
JE: Dead tissue? (laughs) They are still going. They call me occasionally and reverse the charges or I'll never speak to them.
 
K2K: So, we are beyond that now...
JE: Is that the only Who question that you have?
 
K2K: I could go on for hours but the most important one is, (handing John a copy of the "Who'S NEXT" album) is that real piss on the wall?
JE: Only one and it wasn't ours, it was our manager's.
 
K2K: Alright, which one?
JE: It is the one on the other side! (laughs) It is only on the 3-D version!
SL: Tell him whose idea it was.
JE: Mine!
SL: See! Again, he is an unsung hero! (laughs)
 
K2K: So, at the time it was the most irreverent thing that you could think of?
JE: Actually, I only got part of mine out!(Everyone laughs)
 
K2K: Where was this?
JE: It was used to hold coal dust in the shape of a hill so that it didn't fall down on schools.
 
K2K: And yet another rock and roll mystery solved with a simple explanation. Actually, that was the last Who question I had. (laughs) Is there a mission for The John Entwistle Band?
JE: Play to a lot of people! Our problem is that we play in a bunch of big bars and a whole lot of the younger people can't get into them and it is really frustrating. When we play something like we did tonight, we can get a lot of the kids in. I got a letter from someone yesterday that said, "I can go and join the Marines and get killed." It is kind of crazy. I mean, Eighteen years old is the age of consent in Europe and you can go anywhere and do anything you like. In America, it is dumb. At eighteen you should be able to do anything that you like, except get married.(smiles)
 
K2K: Well, even with that bit of trouble is it safe to say that, maybe, you don't want to keep doing Who tours and you see your future in this band as a focal point?
JE: I don't mind doing the Who tours when they come along but I want to get out there and play. I want to play what I am able to play and not play what I used to be able to play. It is real frustrating to go in front of a big audience and say, "This is what I am now."
 
K2K: Is there a lot a of material of yours that hasn't been used through the years? It seems that each Who album only had a tune or two of yours on it and I know you had to write a lot more than that.
JE: I got a couple on per album but my problem was that I wanted to sing the songs and not let Roger sing them. Once I said, "O.K. Roger can sing this song." then I started getting two or three but the main problem happened when I changed my publishing company from our management company to my company and suddenly I stopped getting B-sides and I stopped getting album tracks and the rest because our managers were not getting the publishing. (He spits!) Fuck them anyway. I mean it, it is kind of fucked that a management company won't put your stuff on an album because they don't get publishing from it. That sucks!
 
K2K: You seem like the type that wouldn't let that slide so what did they say when you confronted them about it?
JE: Well, once we switched to a different management company it started sorting itself out and I started getting songs together for Roger to sing and I would sing one song and Roger would sing two and that would bring it up to three that made it onto an album. The new management helped a lot but the politics of it all sucks a lot.
 
K2K: I have skipped the last several Who tours because it just didn't seem like The Who to me with a big band and Pete playing an acoustic guitar behind glass, was it, is it still The Who for you?
JE: No. It was a big band and that is why I insisted on having a four piece band, drums, guitar, bass and the organ/synth, I wanted to keep it small. It was a fourteen piece band and it was very easy to fill in those holes because there aren't any holes any more. They are cramping my style. It is great to be back in a four piece band where there are a whole bunch of holes to fill and I do it. It is exactly what I want. This band makes sure that we have whole sections of stuff that are free form so that they don't know what we are doing next, that is the fun part of playing. You are playing something that you haven't ever played before.
 
K2K: Do you ever feel a responsibility, because you are John Entwistle and you have this historical status as a player and writer, that you should be mentoring younger musicians?
JE: I don't wish my career on anyone. I set myself up to be a bass guitarist and bass players get a lot more work than people like me. I mean, if you play like me you better have your own band because nobody wants that amount of participation from a bass player. Guitarists hate me! Not many want to work with me at all.
 
K2K: Are there kids out there that you have noticed that obviously take something from your style?
JE: Oh yeah, I hear my bass parts all the time. They sound just like I did in the seventies! (laughs) I ain't heard anyone play like I do in my band and I am very happy about that.
 
K2K: There have been some projects that you have collaborated on along the way, I have a copy of this "Flash Fearless And The Zorg Women" album that you did with some other people.
JE: (Laughs) That was the producer who produced a couple of my solo albums. He produced my second, third and fourth solo albums. It was his project and I just joined him on it. I sang on one and played bass on another one.
 
K2K: Your solo material has varied a lot. Is it just the mood you are in at the time?
JE: Yeah.
 
K2K: Will you be re-releasing any of those in the near future?
JE: I have got an anthology album out. The American version has got the same mixes but the European version, I remixed them in the studio and added a couple of things that I have always wanted to add. I think that, I prefer the European version but now we have got this live album out and this is a "Where I am now album" and I am very proud of it. It is not as good as I want it to be but, it is as good as I am now! (laughs)
 
K2K: After it is all said and done, is it still fun? Are you happy doing what you do?
JE: Oh yeah! I love to do it. I love playing for people. When I go home I do some artwork, I do some drawing and see what is coming next. I am writing a book and that takes third place of importance. I have to wait for the time. What I feel I am doing now is giving to the people exactly what they paid for but never actually heard before. What you have got to remember is, a third of the Who's sound is me and if you are coming to see me at a show you are going to notice some similarities but it is still an altogether different thing.
 
So, there it is, The John Entwistle Band. The virtuosity of the man and the band can not be overstated. Should you be on a corner of the globe that will not get a chance to see this phenomena perform live, by all means go out and get "Left For Live" on CD. Please do be careful to check the volume before starting the disc, I take no responsibility for damaged speakers or eardrums.
 
Written by David Lee Wilson

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