Interview with John Entwistle

July 22, 1995, during the "Ringo Starr and His All-Starr Band" tour.



© 1995 by Alan McKendree (amck@eden.com), for 24K ENTERPRISES, 701-B Carolyn Ave. Austin, TX 78705. Permission is hereby given to reproduce this interview provided that it is unedited except for length, and is accompanied by this notice.



John Entwistle was the bass guitarist for the seminal rock group The Who, providing the foundation for the group's sound, and credited with developing the bass guitar as a lead instrument and designing many technical innovations in the instrument. Following The Who's 1982 farewell tour, he toured with Rat Race Choir as a solo act, and appeared in The Who's 1989 reunion tour. In 1994 he appeared with Roger Daltrey in the "Daltrey Sings Townshend" tour, a program of songs written by Pete Townshend, and is currently performing with Roger Daltrey in the "Daltrey Sings Townshend" tour, a program of songs written by Pete Townshend, and is currently performing with Ringo Starr in his "Ringo Starr and the All-Starr Band" tour.

How was the show last night? [at Caesar's Atlantic City]

Quiet. Playing for people sitting on sofas is kind of quiet.

Is it an older crowd?

It's kind of a mixture. Probably see a few people who walked in because it's "the show" in "the hotel."

I've seen audiences of college-age people that were pretty quiet, when I thought they'd be wilder.

A bit of the audience, during the second half sort of stood up and swayed about [laughs].

How was the reception in Japan? Was it crazed? What was your opinion of the audiences?

Well, you can never really form an opinion. They're good audiences but they can't tell you what they thought of the show. Language barrier.

Good responses, though?

Pretty responsive, yeah.

What size venues were you playing over there?

I don't know, I didn't really count. I suppose it was three or four or five thousand.

Roughly the same size that you were playing last fall with Roger? [The "Daltrey Sings Townshend" tour]

Pretty well, yeah.

I know Zak's there from Roger's tour, is there anyone else there from that tour? Bobby [Pridden]?

No, I didn't let him come along. (Laughs)

Why's that?

He's supposed to be working in my studio. He runs my studio, as an engineer and producer.

Is that Hammerhead Studios?

Yeah, ever since The Who sold Shepperton Studios my studio's been at the house. I have my own demo studio upstairs which is like a one-man operation, it's computerized and everything; downstairs is a studio that either I use or rent it out to other bands, and Bobby produces me.

So it's a whole new crew?

Yeah, mostly Americans.

How is that, not only working with a whole new bunch of people but a new repertoire as well?

It's always difficult for me, because I train bass techs, and then they go off. Because they've worked for me, they become desirable, and they go off working for everyone else. I lose bass techs left, right and center.

Did they give you sheet music, or charts, or could you just do it by ear?

It's a mixture. It was kind of difficult because the harmony arrangements were different from the tapes we were given to listen to. So after you start rehearsals it's no use to listen to the tapes because it's all changed around. So it gets difficult there because you haven't got any reference points. Difficult thing was, Ringo wouldn't allow any of the rehearsals to get recorded, so we had no reference -- but we managed to learn it all in time.

Is it normal to record the rehearsals and use them for study tapes?

Yeah, it's normal, but Ringo wouldn't allow it so it became very difficult.

What do you think was the reason for that?

Well, he didn't want lips flying around. And they [the tapes] do tend to disappear.

When did they first approach you about playing on this tour?

It wasn't that long before we started. I'd been joking with Zak saying wouldn't it be funny if I were approached to do the tour, cause Zak was obviously going to go out, and the day after I said that my office got the phone call. It wasn't anything to do with Zak, either; Zak was as surprised as I was.

How much lead time did you get?

About a month.

Do you remember when you first met Ringo?

It wasn't really a meeting. It was way back after they'd done Hard Day's Night, and we were at the bottom of a bill and they were top of a bill at a theatre in Blackpool.

Did you really have a chance to talk with them at that time?

No, it was during their "let's rush out and jump into a disguised van" period.

The first time I ever saw Ringo come into the picture concerning The Who was in "The Kids Are Alright."

Yeah, he was friends with Keith, they were both drummers.

I have this mental picture of you three running around pubs in England and America. Did you go out much together?

Not really, no, the problem about meeting other rock stars is that there kinda came a period where every rock star had their own little country house and their own following, their own circle of friends, and it was very difficult to interlock any of those circles of friends. You'd go to a party or something like that, that they'd throw, but it was very hard to actually sort of link up with other people. It used to be easy, no one had country house and we used to go down to clubs and the different bands would be there. But it's all changed. More money. You get more money, less social life.

Do you see that as a price of fame? As a downside, when people throng around you?

Yeah, but there's an upside, too. If that didn't happen, you'd start worrying anyway [laughs]. It's part of it. You [can] get fed up with it -- after you've signed the fiftieth autograph, it kind of wears thin -- I've always made a point of trying to sign as many autographs as I can for people, because one of these days they might not ask, you know.

I've read a report that your setup onstage was smaller than normal, is that true?

Well, it's the same size I used on Roger's tour. I used a small setup because there was an orchestra. I couldn't really sort of flood the stage with sound because everything started getting confusing, microphone-wise.

But you still have the same equipment?

Yes, it's half the size that I used with The Who in the stadiums. It's actually a quarter of the size of the original setup [laughs], the original setup that I had was eight 15" and sixteen 12" speakers, so I decided to cut that in half because I couldn't stand in front of it. It kept sweeping me to the side.

What are the equipment you're using?

At the moment I'm using two 12" cabinets and double four-way speakers in stereo, and two 15"s for the bottom end. The sound's split through a Trace-Elliott computerized pre-amp for the bottom end and a whole bunch of outboard gear for the top end, which is kind of a lead guitar sound, but a bass sound at the same time.

What guitar are you using?

Well, most of my basses have LEDs in the side of the neck, in case there's a blackout on stage, so I can keep going; but at the moment the lights are too close so it cancels the LEDs out so I can't see what I'm playing. I'm having to use one particular bass all the time, a Modulus graphite prototype, a bass that I designed, The Buzzard, with Warwick parts.

I've heard that your favorite was made in 1962...

I guess that was "Frankenstein." It was bits of five smashed basses.

Really? It's all assembled out of parts?

Yeah, I just put one good one together out of five smashed ones. There's something about the pickup on it that makes it a little raunchier than all the others, and I found out it was a particular characteristic of this bass that was made in '66. Made in England, it's just called a slab position. It's a wide square body with a black skirt screen. I bought another one of those, I think they only made about twenty and they all got sent to England, and they all sounded exactly the same, so I guess it must be characteristic. Fender made twenty of them and they didn't know what to do with them so they sent them all to England, and I've been through five of them.

You're doing "Boris" and "My Wife" -- do you think that'll be it for the tour?

Oh yeah, we can't change anything around, we'd have to learn too many songs in the process. The set changes slightly; tonight it'll be a shorter show. I won't perform "My Wife" and it'll be "Boris the Spider" twice.

You perform "Boris" twice in a show?

No no no no, two separate shows.

But you don't perform "My Wife"?

Not tonight, because of the two shows we change the set around.

Oh I see. You're doing two shows today?

So we don't perform all the material.

I never conceived you'd be doing two shows in one day.

Nor did I [laughs].

You've been playing "Boris" for thirty years and I'd think you could play it in your sleep.

Not really. I [can] get to the stage in the song where I get a mental block. I forgot the words to "My Wife" and "Boris the Spider" last night. I've only been performing them for twenty-five years. It's unbelievable.

So it gives you a challenge, to concentrate?

No, it's just that sometimes you forget your address, and your phone number, it's the same thing. There's just a brick wall and you go, "Oh God, what are the words? You have to make a joke of it, it's quite funny, after twenty-five years you forget the damn words to a song that you wrote.

What version of Boris are you using? The extended version from Roger's tour?

The short version, the straight two-minutes-ten-second version.

Do you get a chance to just let rip on either song?

The solo and the ending [on "My Wife"], and there's a couple of other songs. "Taking Care of Business" is a solo, there's a couple of songs I actually go crazy, [but] obviously a lot of it is playing straight bass parts, no treble, just normal bass sound.

So my question becomes are you having enough fun and do you have enough challenge onstage to make it worthwhile, and apparently you are.

Yeah, my main problem is volume.

Getting enough of it?

Oh no, I've always got plenty of volume. I've actually been plagued for so long about modulating my power I'm on number "two." If you gauged that by Roger's concert, most of the time I was on "four," and Who concerts I'm on "seven." You can judge what kind of volume drop I'm getting with half the equipment.

Do you play clubs after the shows at all?

Yeah, I've done quite a few jams, jamming in Chicago and New York. If I've got a concert next day I don't go out.

How does this show compare with Roger's? Is it better organized?

Not particularly. Roger's tour was chaotic anyway, the management was trying to get orchestras together, there were so many things to worry about it was bound to be chaotic.

Is that being better organized here?

Slightly. [laughs]

On Roger's the itinerary kept changing and dates kept being deleted and added...

This one isn't as bad but it's still pretty iffy, you don't find out what you're doing the next day until the morning before. It makes it very hard to organize things in the future.

Are you travelling mostly by plane, or are there any bus trips.

It changes. Mostly by plane, commercial. We fill up the first class on the plane. Busses aren't too bad unless you've got a real long journey. I've done quite a few bus tours, and they're great, but then you have a nine-hour trip, which gets tiring. You get bus lag instead of jet lag.

You said that is Live at Leeds were ever reissued, you wanted to be involved. Now that it's out. . . were you [involved]?

Only to the extent that I asked them to make it more like the original. The ones that came out on the box set were so drastically remixed it didn't even sound like Leeds.

What do you think of the actual reissue?

It's good. It's nice to have the extra songs on there. I suppose it really had to be remixed because of the extra songs, obviously, but ... I still prefer playing the original.

I heard there were new overdubs recorded for the reissue, is that true?

No. The only overdub I know about is "Heaven and Hell," where it sounds like I just wander away from the mike. It was the first song, and I probably went back and adjusted the volume of my bass and missed out some words. And as I'm the lead singer I had to replace them. I replaced one line of the chorus.

So you actually did record new vocals for it?

Yeah, I guess it was more like double-tracking the bit where I faded out. You can't really notice it because everyone else is singing as well but my voice just sort of disappeared. It sounded to me like I just walked back and adjusted the volume. The main reason "Heaven and Hell" wasn't on it [the original release] was because that piece of vocal was missing. I was in the studio ten minutes.

Have you heard the "Quick One" and "Sell Out" reissues yet?

No, I haven't had a chance yet.

What do you think about "Whiskey Man" being in pseudo-stereo?

Yeah, "Whiskey Man" always was in pseud-ee-o-stereo -- I have trouble pronouncing my r's on some words when I sing. On one of the Polydor issues I say "friend" on one side and "fliend" on the other, to make the "r" come out properly. In stereo it sounds very peculiar; it's OK in mono, it works.

Is there a stereo version of that recorded anywhere?

Yeah, Polydor brought one out in Europe. If you can get stereo from four-track.

I've heard of South American dates after the end of the tour?

No, they've been cancelled. Or, not cancelled, they never happened.

Have you made any plans about [attending] the [Who] convention in September?

I don't really know whether I'm actually going to be there [in England]. I'm hoping I can, but I'm pretty busy for the rest of the year anyway.

I'd seen that you were doing a tour with your art exhibit.

I think we might actually change that to a TV affair. It'd be easier on me than doing another tour of America. I haven't really got enough time to do that. They'll probably just stick me in front of a set of laser knives and the Flo-bee haircutter. I'll be in the middle.

So you don't know whether you'll be around?

I'm not really sure of the date.

It's the 16th of September.

I'll probably be in London, yeah.

That would be great. Is anyone handling your art for you, or are you doing that yourself?

There's someone on the West Coast, Michael Jensen, Jensen Communications.

Were you planning on having them [the cartoons] at the convention?

I wasn't planning on having them there, no. There's a series of ten cartoons that are coming out as a series, and we haven't started printing them yet, we only did the "Who By Numbers" covers. I'd be a little wary of having the originals there anyway.

I was recently speaking to Matt Kent [one of the convention organizers] and he said he might have Xerox copies of old tickets and newspaper clippings, rather than the originals, because it could be a little dangerous.

I chose about forty different drawings and put them in a little paper cardboard carrying case, and Virgin [Airlines] insisted that I check it on, and that was the last I saw of it. That was about three weeks' work right there.

It's just gone?

It just disappeared. And Virgin Airways offered me £30 compensation. I didn't bother to pick it up, it wasn't worth the trouble.

That's terrible. I can see how you'd not want to take a chances with originals any more.

I've heard you've been working on a CD with Glenn Tipton [from Judas Priest].

That's kind of an on-off thing, it's spread out over a couple of years.

There was a report it was finished but the record company shelved it?

No, it's not finished yet.

So it's still in progress?

Yeah, there's not enough time, I mean he's working, I'm working...

Are you playing on it, producing it...?

I'm playing on it, yeah. It's kind of Glenn's thing, Glenn started it as a solo album and then it became our album. I think probably the next CD that comes out will be a remix of about seventy minutes of my five solo albums. That's all remixed and we're waiting on MCA.

At one point you said you'd written three new songs for that. Are those on there?

No, we're not putting any new songs on there.

Why was that?

It would be changing the character of it. I figured to give value for money we'd fill the CD up with original tracks, put as many of those on as possible.

What do you think is going to happen with those three new songs?

They'll come out on something, maybe I'll work on a new solo album. I don't have time to think about that now. I'm still trying to finish the book.

Are you still planning a trilogy?

It'll have to be, it's too much stuff for just one book.

Will it come out one at a time, or simultaneously?

One at a time.

How close are you to finishing the first one?

Now that I'm doing this tour, not very close. I've still got another twelve chapters to go. I've done six, so I'm a third of the way through.

For the first book? Wow [eighteen chapters!].

Yeah. Most of the time is spent on research. I have to get myself in a book-writing head. It's a funny book, so I have to be in a good sense of humor, otherwise it doesn't work out as funny.

Last fall you were just finishing a chapter on Herman's Hermits.

Yeah, I'm still finishing it [laughs]. I can't do a lot of things at once. We decided to get the solo mixes out of the way, and then this tour came along. Unfortunately, the book is the one that suffers the most. When I get a chance to play, I play.

Is there any story from that you could tell, as a preview?

Not really, it's very difficult because I actually use dialogue. You have to use dialogue or it doesn't work out as funny. A lot of the stories have been told before, but not in such detail, and not in such a truthful way. Most of the time, what really happened is funnier than the legend that grew up around it.

Do you have a release date for the new [best of] CD?

It's up to the record company. They were talking about Christmas, but Christmas is kind of a strange time to release something like this. It depends on who else is releasing [at the time].

Have you had any contact with Roger or Pete about getting together? Roger was talking about bringing back his tour from last fall. Is this in the works?

What, with Pete?

Probably not with Pete.

It's nothing really in the works, we're just talking about doing some other countries but not America. Everything's in talking stages, but nothing with Pete at all.

Have you spoken with him lately?

No.

Is it difficult to talk to him, or do you just not have much to say to him, or...?

Well, basically it's not necessary to talk to him.

[I wanted to ask about] your image -- all your career starting with "Boris" has been built the image of having an eerie or scary aspect, going back to the skeleton suit on stage, and the coffin imagery on the album art, and the songs [you write] are dark or melancholy or angry. Even the ballads have a sad edge -- I'm thinking specifically of "Lovebird" on "Too Late the Hero," that's a really pretty ballad, but again it strikes me as being really sad.

Yeah, that one in particular is quite sad.

Yet you read James Herriot and you have pets at home that you love...

Yeah, I mean the "black side" was basically a mixture of image and my interests at that time. A lot of the earlier songs came from an idea Kit Lambert and I had, because little kids seem to love "Boris the Spider," they love that sinister, scary side and I was working on a scary album for kids. "Boris the Spider," "Silas Stingy," "Jekyll and Hyde," stuff like that. Lots of those earlier songs were written for an album that didn't materialize. We used all the material for B-sides and album tracks. It kind of went on from there.

Do you think it is an image to an extent?

Yeah, I'm not particularly like that [laughs], fortunately.

Do you see yourself as fundamentally a happy person?

Pretty well, yeah, compared to the rest of The Who I seem quiet but that's basically image and interpretation.

Of course, you don't have to be loud all the time [to be happy].

Oh, I can be extremely loud sometimes [laughs].

Personally?

Yeah.

What are your spiritual or philosophical ideas?

What, religious ideas?

If that's what you have -- I'm not religious myself.

I'm not either, I believe in some kind of entity but it's more a matter of fate than an old man with a gray beard.

Is it "faith in something bigger"?

I guess so, yeah. I don't think about it that often. I mean, we could be a speck of dust lasting one second in a bigger time situation.

It pisses me off that we're going to die at all, which is why I like "Heaven and Hell" so much

That song was originally called, "I Don't Like the Sound of Either." [laughs] There could be something else. The chorus was changed a bit from the original. The original chorus was "I'd much rather stay in the middle with my friends, 'cause I don't like the sound of either."

That's great.

I don't particularly want to sort of go up, sit on a cloud and play a harp, but there again I don't particularly want to stand on my head in serious shit either. We don't get much choice do we? I'd rather come back.

That would be good. I'd just like to come back with my memories intact.

[laughs] I guess it depends on which cheerful 70's rock concerts you went to. Some of the clothes people wore then were real funny. Of course, the clothes we wear now are funny as well.

In twenty-five years, they will be. I suppose there are _some_ memories we can do without.

There's a lot of suits we could do without, as well.

I remember a red one you wore in Houston in 1980, I don't know if you still have that one around or not.

Ah, that one's in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on a strange dummy.

[The Hall of Fame is scheduled to open September 5, 1995.]

I've seen interviews with Roger where he says he believes in the socialist ideal, and I think Pete believes along those lines. Do you have any particular political...?

I don't believe in socialism, no. Nor would socialists if they had money. I vote Conservative 'cause it's less income tax. I was paying something like 94% when the Labor government were in , so sod Labor.

I find plenty to disagree with in either party; in America the conservatives seem to be after sanitizing the airwaves and the movies so you never hear an obscene word.

It's just not real life. I've spoken to American cops that half believe that some violence on TV is better; back in the 60s and 70s kids would shoot each other and be surprised that there was any blood.

Well, that's about all I had in mind to ask about. Do you have anything to say in conclusion, to an audience of computer users?

Um...I'm still letting Zak use mine.

Thank you for your time, John, and best wishes on the tour.

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