Saturday, August 10, 2013

Tony's Bass Picks - John Entwistle [The Ox]

In my opinion [and that of many others], John Entwistle of The Who was the greatest rock bass guitarist to ever walk the Earth.  Guitar Magazine calls him "The Bassist Of The Millennium".  Pete Townshend may have been the mind behind The Who, but it was Entwistle’s aggressive playing that gave the band its balls.  You can immediately tell the difference when you hear The Who live now with Pino Palladino on bass.  Palladino is a superb bass player, but The Ox he is not.  PT had the following to say about The Ox on the 10th anniversary of his death:

“John's sound was harmonically rich and filled an enormous part of the audio spectrum. There really is no one who can do what he did. Other bass players can copy his sound, and try to emulate his fingering, but at the heart of John's playing was a contradiction. His laid back character disguised a powerful musical ego, supported by immense musical talent. His playing was complex and fast, but there are few players alive who could combine such speed and eloquence on the bass with such good taste musically speaking. Like Keith Moon, he really is irreplaceable. His sound can be emulated, and I sometimes hear players who can approach John's musicianship, but John really was unique, a complete one-off, an innovator who never stopped experimenting.”

Technique:  John Entwistle started his career as a musician on piano, trumpet and French horn.  Since he had the dexterity to play all those instruments, he could play the bass using three fingers [most bassist use only two].  This allowed him to play rapid multi-note clusters, tapping the strings percussively as if he was using the bass like a typewriter.  His fingers were a blur, which stood in stark contrast to him being almost immobile on stage.  But sometimes, he would use a pick [on My Generation, for example].

The sound:  His sound was explained simply – “full treble, full volume.”  Always in search of the perfect sound, he would split the sound coming out of his bass with the treble signals going to one amp, the bass sound going to another amp.  As part of the “libretto” for Quadrophenia, Pete Townshend wrote this [from the point of view of the album’s protagonist, Jimmy] –

“The bass player was a laugh.  He never did anything.  Nothing.  He used to smile sometimes, but the smile would only last half a second and then it would switch off again.  My friend Dave said he smiled a lot more at his sister, they were engaged I think.  His bass sounded like a bleeding VC10.”

All true [except for the smiling at Dave’s sister bit] – John Entwistle started with Marshall stacks so he could hear himself over Keith Moon’s drums.  Pete Townshend started using Marshalls to hear himself over The Ox.  No wonder at one time The Who were the loudest band in the world.  By the end of his life, The Ox had so much equipment on his side of the stage that it resembled a big city skyline.

As far as his basses are concerned, he played Fenders, Danelectros, Rickenbackers, Alembics, Warwicks, and then played a custom Status Graphite Buzzard bass.  If you’re really interested in all the gear he used, follow this link:

Tony’s Favorite Ox Moments:

My Generation [single, 1965] – Rock’s first bass solo.  Legacy cemented.   Nothing more needs to be said.

My Wife [The Kids Are Alright, 1979] – As originally heard on Who’s Next, the emphasis is more on PT’s guitar, The Ox’s piano and horn parts.  The bass is buried in the mix [and it’s HIS bloody song!].  Not so whenever this song came alive on stage.   I prefer this version of the song [recorded in Kilburn, UK, December 1977].

Won’t Get Fooled Again [The Kids Are Alright, 1979] – The definitive version of this Who’s Next classic.  When The Kids Are Alright documentary finally got a DVD release, one of the special features was The Ox’s bass parts of this song isolated from the rest of the instruments.  One can do the same thing with headphones – the guitar is in the right channel, the bass is on the left.  Recorded specifically for the film in May 1978 [Note: this was Keith Moon’s last live performance]. 

Sparks [Tommy, 1969] – I don’t remember it being like this on the Tommy album, but when Carol and I saw The Who at the Oakland-Alameda Coliseum in August 1989, The Ox took a solo that shook the Coliseum to its foundations.  In all the concerts I’ve seen since October 1982 [when I first saw The Who], this was the only time I ever heard 65,000 people gasp in amazement all at once.   We were in the upper deck [someone screamed that Voyager had better seats than we did], and we felt it where we were - truly an impressive feat.  A similar version can be heard on the live album Join Together [1990].

Substitute [single, 1966] – PT plays the opening four chords of Substitute, but the riff throughout the song is all Entwistle.  He gets a solo while PT plays his.  Every bass player should learn this song.


I Wonder [Whistle Rhymes, 1972] – This song kicks off Side 2 of The Ox’s second solo album.  The Ox has a very fat bass sound that sounds like it has a “bounce” to it that isn’t present on any Who album.  The bass is higher in the mix than any Who album except Quadrophenia.  Out through the window and into the sky/I’m so glad that sharks can’t fly…

Back on the Road [Demo] [Whistle Rhymes, 1972] – John Entwistle’s lament about needing to play in front of adoring crowds has some deft, melodic bass work.

The Real Me [Quadrophenia, 1973] – Can anyone imagine this song without Entwistle’s bass parts?  I can’t and I doubt if any other hardcore Who fan could either.  Sure, he’s just playing scales, but he makes playing scales sound cool.  Quadrophenia is the Who album that has the best Entwistle bass sound on record.  Can you see the real me me me me me…

The Punk And The Godfather [Quadrophenia, 1973] – Like everything else on Quadrophenia, The Ox’s playing is outstanding on this song.  This one is just a cut above most [but just below The Real Me]. 

Success Story [The Who By Numbers, 1975] – One of The Ox’s songs, this one here’s Entwistle singing about how the music business can become a grind. It sounds like he’s playing “lead bass” here.

In a Hand or a Face [The Who By Numbers, 1975] – The final song from The Who By Numbers.

Dreaming From the Waist [The Who By Numbers, 1975] – While My Generation features a rock’s first bass solo, the band stopped playing while The Ox played his solo.  On this song the band keeps playing while The Ox wails away. The remastered The Who By Numbers features a live version of this song played in 1976 in the UK.

Trick of the Light [Who Are You, 1978] – One of three John Entwistle originals from Who Are You, this song is about a guy who goes to see a hooker and keeps asking her how he was in bed.  The Ox introduced an eight-string Alembic that was so trebly that the need for a lead guitar was eliminated.  Pete Townshend played only barre chords on the record, but live he didn’t play guitar at all – he would play a four-string bass while The Ox would play like Panzers storming through Poland on his eight-string Alembic.

The Quiet One [Face Dances, 1981] – The Ox plays a very fast bass riff.  Here he plays the bass like it’s a typewriter.

It’s In You [Face Dances, 1981] – This outtake from Face Dances marks the return of The Ox’s eight-string Alembic.  After Keith Moon’s death, PT started writing songs that abandoned power chords.  This song had more of a keyboard emphasis, and with his eight-string The Ox provides a very trebly bass presence.  It just sounds cool.  This song should have been on the original release.

Talk Dirty [Too Late the Hero, 1981] – Like The Quiet One, the bass provides the riff.

Dancing Master [Too Late the Hero, 1981] – Dueling bass solos!  One bass solos in one the, the other bass solos in the other ear.  I don’t know how he does it but Joe Walsh actually gets his licks in too.  Great headphone listening, this one…

Another Tricky Day [Face Dances, 1981] –Listen to what’s going on under the power chords.

Cry If You Want [It’s Hard, 1982] -  See Another Tricky Day

Eminence Front [It’s Hard, 1982] – With PT playing mostly rhythm guitar and a solo here and there, The Ox’s bass propels this song to be the last Who classic.

Magic Bus [Live at the Royal Albert Hall, 2003] – The Ox makes this one-chord offering from this 2000 show interesting.  He plays all kinds of runs while PT plays his power chords, even when “the bus” turns into a train on Cyril Davies’ “Country Line Station,” which PT and Roger Daltrey tacked onto the end.

I Don’t Even Know Myself & Young Man Blues [Live at the Royal Albert Hall, 2003] – The show for the first two discs was recorded in 2000 in support of the Teenage Cancer Trust in the UK.  But the third disc is a bonus, recorded 8 February 2002.  This is significant in that this was the last show John Entwistle played before his death four months later in late June 2002.  This is proof The Ox had “it” right up until the very end.  I still miss him. 

"I guess I would like to be remembered... As someone who helped change the bass guitar, and be probably the only Bass Guitarist that hasn't been copyable.” - John Entwistle

Absolutely.  RIP John Entwistle.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Joe Bonamassa - Beacon Theatre & Vienna Opera House

Joe Bonamassa is trying to displace Warren Haynes as the hardest working man in the music business.   He’s done two duet albums with Beth Hart, three studio albums and one live with Black Country Communion [now defunct], and he recorded guitar parts for Jon Lord’s Concerto for Group and Orchestra.  He puts out a studio album under his own name almost every year [10 between 2000-2012], and he tours constantly [documented by 4 live albums].  In the space of 6 months [September 2012-March 2013] he’s released two more live albums.  The first was recorded at New York’s famed Beacon Theatre on November 5th, 2011 [Beacon Theatre: Live from New York].  It was an electric show like what he usually presents.  The second album is a different kettle of fish.  An Acoustic Evening at the Vienna Opera House was recorded July 3rd, 2012.  As the name implies, it’s a totally acoustic show, something he hadn’t done before.  First, a look at the electric set from the Beacon.

Interesting song choices.  There are reverential tributes to two Irish blues rock legends – Rory Gallagher and Gary Moore.  Joe does more than justice to Rory’s Cradle Rock and Gary Moore’s Midnight Blues.  Somewhere those two Irish guitar giants are smiling… J He covers Leonard Cohen’s Bird on a Wire [?!?].  He pulled out his own rarely-played Blue and Evil from his Black Rock album.  At the end of the show he launches into Young Man Blues.  A valiant attempt, but The Who owns this song – they always have, they always will.  Other than the tunes I just mentioned he stuck with songs from Dust Bowl and Black Rock, with a couple of exceptions.

The guests.  Joe has three guests, the first of whom is Beth Hart.  Beth and Joe did two songs from their first album together, Don’t Explain.  Her performance of I’ll Take Care of You is smoldering.  But her take on Lowell Fulson’s Sinner’s Prayer is simply jaw-dropping.  This is simply the best version I’ve heard by anybody.  She’s sassy, brassy, ballsy, and bluesy.  Susan Tedeschi, call your office!  This is how women sing the blues!  Next comes John Hiatt, who performs two of his songs [Down Around My Place and I Know a Place].  Paul Rodgers is saved for last.  He and Joe’s band take a trip back to the Seventies and perform two songs from Free [Walk In My Shadows and Fire and Water].  Joe channels his inner Paul Kossoff very well, especially on Fire and Water.  Paul Rodgers performs as expected – perfectly.  It’s all good with all three guests.

The setlist:

72nd St. Subway Blues

Slow Train [Dust Bowl]

Cradle Rock [A New Day Yesterday]

When the Fire Hits the Sea [Black Rock]

Midnight Blues [G. Moore]

Dust Bowl [Dust Bowl]

The River [Had To Cry Today]

I’ll Take Care of You [Don’t Explain]

Sinner’s Prayer [Don’t Explain]

You Better Watch Yourself [Dust Bowl]

Steal Your Heart Away [Black Rock]

Bird on a Wire [L. Cohen – Black Rock]

Down Around My Place [J. Hiatt]

I Know a Place [J. Hiatt – Black Rock]

Blue and Evil [Black Rock]

Walk in My Shadows [P. Rodgers – Free]

Fire and Water [P. Rodgers – Free]

Mountain Time [So, It’s Like That]

Young Man Blues

If Heartaches Were Nickels [A New Day Yesterday]

The band:

Joe Bonamassa: Guitar/vocals

Carmine Rojas: Bass

Rick Melick: Keyboards

Tal Bergman: Percussion

Tony’s take:  Joe Bonamassa’s singing is not his strong point [it’s solid but not great], but he more than makes up for it with his electric six-string work, which is incendiary.  Make no mistake – the dude can wail on guitar, and if his vocals are passable that’s good enough for me.  He doesn’t write many original songs himself, but I like his choice in other peoples’ material.  This live offering is a little better than his Live from the Royal Albert Hall release [2009], and that one was pretty damn good.  Buy it!

Favorites:  Sinner’s Prayer, Cradle Rock, Midnight Blues, Fire and Water, Blue and Evil

An Acoustic Evening at the Vienna Opera House.  He’s played at the Royal Albert Hall, New York’s Beacon Theatre, and now Vienna’s Opera House.  The likes of Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms presented some of their works here, so this is a prestigious music venue.  Who would think an American would play the blues here?

As Joe told an on-line publication:  “Originally, when I had the idea of doing an all-acoustic concert, I imagined doing it solo. I’d surround myself with a bunch of guitars, tell the background story of each song, and then play it. Kevin believed the show would be more exciting with a band and he got to work. All of a sudden, we had a five-piece group, and 72 hours to rehearse 20 or so songs. It was amazing, different than anything I’d ever done before.”  Instead of his regular electric band, producer Kevin Shirley assembled an acoustic band of all-stars to include Gerry O'Connor, on Irish banjo and fiddle; Mats Wester, on nyckelharpa and mandola; Arlan Schierbaum, on harmonium, accordion, baby piano and glockenspiel; and Lenny Castro, on percussion.  What the hell is a nyckelharpa [aka “key fiddle”]?  It’s a traditional Swedish stringed instrument that’s a cross-between a violin and a hurdy gurdy [see picture].  Instead of having a fingerboard like a violin, it has keys to press while bowing with the other hand.

Song choices:  Some of the songs presented here were originally recorded on acoustic guitars.  Others were originally don’t with electrics, so Joe had to take the same approach as Eric Clapton did on his Unplugged album.  Fortunately none of the electric songs were castrated like Clapton did with Layla.  Instead of loud guitars and drums we hear folky violins, banjos, mandolas, and different kinds of percussion that add to rather than subtract from the performances.

The setlist:

Palm Trees, Helicopters and Gasoline [You & Me]
Jelly Roll [Sloe Gin]
Dust Bowl [Dust Bowl]
Around The Bend [Sloe Gin]
Slow Train [Dust Bowl]
Athens To Athens [Black Rock]
From The Valley [The Ballad of John Henry]
The Ballad of John Henry [The Ballad of John Henry]
Dislocated Boy [Driving Towards the Daylight]
Driving Towards the Daylight [Driving Towards the Daylight]
High Water Everywhere [You & Me]
Jockey Full of Bourbon [The Ballad of John Henry]
Richmond [Sloe Gin]
Stones In My Passway [Driving Towards the Daylight]
Ball Peen Hammer [Sloe Gin]
Black Lung Heartache [Dust Bowl]
Mountain Time [So, It’s Like That]
Woke Up Dreaming [Blues Deluxe]
Sloe Gin [Sloe Gin]
Seagull [Sloe Gin]

Tony’s take:  In the movie Amadeus, the Austrian emperor was asked to critique Mozart’s music.  His reply – “too many notes.”  On some [not all] of the acoustic songs presented here, Joe has the same problem as Mozart.  He’s naturally an electric guitar player, so playing with blazing speed is something that comes naturally to him.  That approach isn’t always appropriate for the acoustic guitar.  Can you picture Muddy Waters or Howlin’ Wolf playing acoustic guitars at Warp Factor Eight?  Me neither.  Acoustic blues is supposed to be slow [IMHO anyway…]. The songs where he does ease off the gas and takes it slow are outstanding.  That having been said, the songs with the different acoustic instruments from all over Europe have a more colorful, more exotic character that makes for great listening.  The recording is flawless. Bottom line:  buy it!

Favorites:  Dust Bowl, Slow Train, Black Lung Heartache, Ball Peen Hammer