Widespread Panic’s Dave Schools on The Who’s "Un-Bassist" John Entwistle
The Who appear on the current cover of Relix in a feature that includes an interview with Pete Townshend as well as many musicians’ memories of the group. Here is what Widespread Panic bassist Dave Schools had to say about John Enwistle and the group.
John Entwistle’s the reason I’m a bass player. I remember going to see The Song Remains the Same in the theater when it came out, looking at Jimmy Page and going, “That’s a mighty fine job you’ve got there pal. You’re wearing pajamas and playing a guitar for hundreds of thousands of people.” But I was also a big Who fan and once The Kids Are Alright came out about two years later and there was actual footage of Entwistle playing his bass, I was like, “This is what I need to be doing.”
John Entwistle is another of those un-bassists just like Phil Lesh, but in a completely different way. They’re all lead instruments in The Who. Roger Daltrey is lead vocal, Keith Moon is lead drumming and John Entwistle somehow managed to play lead bass and hold it down. Poor Pete Townshend is the only one doing any real rhythm playing.
Entwistle is a French horn player first and foremost, so there’s a lot of melody in his style—a lot more melody than probably nine out of 10 bass players were doing at the time. You had a hit-making machine like Sly and the Family Stone with Larry Graham playing very rhythmically and developing a style of thumb snapping and string snapping. That was a rhythmic thing and since The Who was a four-piece band, I think lot of horn-playing mentality came in.
He was like, “OK, Pete’s playing a lot of these rhythm things, Keith Moon’s going crazy, so how can I approach it as a bass player with two things in mind: one—anchoring it all together being the glue, and two—adding a counterpoint melody to go with Roger’s vocal delivery?”
I think if you listen to “Pinball Wizard”—that’s a great one, the bass line’s very unusual—then something further down the line like “The Real Me,” you’ve got this incredibly melodic counterpoint bass line. If you really want the arrow in the bull’s eye, you have the first recorded rock and roll bass solo on “My Generation.”
I am lucky enough to own of his basses. Probably a year after he passed away, his brother put what was probably the largest collection of vintage basses and guitars up for auction at Sotheby’s and I managed to get the bass that’s featured in the “Who Are You” video. If you YouTube that, then you’ll see the bass that I own.
If I had still been playing with Gov’t Mule, then it would have been my main axe. It’s made some appearances in the studio. It’s still got his strings on it. I haven’t changed a thing. I’m just not one of those people who buy something like that and hang it on the wall. I feel that it should be used.
The Who was always a weird band in that they had a very masculine approach but a lot of the songwriting had a more understanding and empathetic side to it, something that might be considered more feminine. A lot of it is very introspective but at the same time, there are still things like “The Real Me” that make you want to smash your head against the wall. If I ever hear “I Can Sleep for Miles” come on the radio, I will pull over to the side of the road, turn it up and you’ll see an idiot bashing his head against the steering wheel.
I’d put their live record Live At Leeds up there with Little Feat’s Waiting For Columbus or The Allman Brothers Band’s At Fillmore East. It’s one of the greatest live documents ever produced and I have bought it like a sucker every time they’ve repackaged it and put it out because it’s incredible.
As far as Townshend’s greatest work—and The Who’s greatest work—I have to say Quadrophenia. It’s the one that he really nailed the rock opera on—he nailed the songwriting, he nailed the weaving of musical themes throughout the whole work. It’s an absolutely gorgeous and fully realized piece of rock and roll history. It’s neat that they’re going out and touring with it. These old guys still have something to teach us and we better pay attention.
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Ron Sexsmith visits the Relix office to perform a tune from his latest record Forever Endeavor.
Crystal Bowersox stops by Relix to perform a song from her new album, All That For This.
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