JOHN ENTWISTLE'S RIGOR MORTIS - Rigor Mortis Sets In
(Track/MCA Records MCA-321, 1973)
John Entwistle´s musical career began aged 7, when he started taking piano lessons. He did not enjoy the experience and after joining Acton County Grammar School aged 11, switched to the trumpet, moving to the French horn when he joined the Middlesex School's Symphony Orchestra. He met Pete Townshend in the second year of school, and the two formed a trad jazz band, the Confederates. The group only played one gig together, before they decided that rock 'n' roll was a more attractive prospect. Entwistle, in particular, was having difficulty hearing his trumpet with rock bands, and decided to switch to playing guitar, but due to his large fingers, and also his fondness for the low guitar tones of Duane Eddy, he decided to take up the bass guitar instead. He made his own instrument at home, and soon attracted the attention of Roger Daltrey, who had been the year above Entwistle at Acton County, but had since left to work in sheet metal. Daltrey was aware of Entwistle from school, and asked him to join as a bass guitarist for his band, The Detours. After joining The Detours, Entwistle played a major role in encouraging Pete Townshend's budding talent on the guitar, and insisting that Townshend be admitted into the band as well. Eventually, Roger Daltrey fired all the members of his band with the exception of Entwistle, Townshend and the drummer, Doug Sandom, a semi-pro player who was several years older than the others. Roger Daltrey relinquished the role of guitarist to Pete Townshend in 1963, instead becoming frontman and lead singer. The band considered several changes of name, finally settling on the name The Who while Entwistle was still working as a tax clerk (temporarily performing as the High Numbers for four months in 1964). When the band decided that the blond Roger Daltrey needed to stand out more from the others, Entwistle dyed his naturally light brown hair black, and it remained so until the early 1980s.
Around 1963, Entwistle played in a London band called the Initials for a short while; the band broke up when a planned resident engagement in Spain fell through. In 1967, Entwistle married his childhood sweetheart Alison Wise and bought a large semi-detached home in Stanmore Middlesex filling it with all sorts of extraordinary artefacts, ranging from suits of armour to a tarantula spider. His eccentricity and taste for the bizarre was to remain with him throughout his life, and when he finally moved out of the city in 1978, to Stow-on-the-Wold in Gloucestershire, his 17-bedroom mansion, Quarwood, resembled a museum. It also housed one of the largest guitar collections belonging to any rock musician. Entwistle picked up two nicknames during his career as a musician. He was nicknamed "The Ox" because of his strong constitution and seeming ability to "Eat, drink or do more than the rest of them." He was also later nicknamed "Thunderfingers". Bill Wyman, bass guitarist for the Rolling Stones, described him as "the quietest man in private but the loudest man on stage". Entwistle was one of the first to make use of Marshall stacks in an attempt to hear himself over the noise of his band members, who famously leapt and moved about on the stage, with Pete Townshend and Keith Moon smashing their instruments on numerous occasions (Moon even used explosives in his drum kit during one memorable television performance on the "Smother Brothers Comedy Hour"). Townshend later remarked that Entwistle started using Marshall amplification to hear himself over drummer Keith Moon's rapid-fire drumming style, and Townshend himself also had to use them just to be heard over Entwistle.
They both continued expanding and experimenting with their rigs, until they were both using twin stacks with new experimental prototype 200 watt amps, at a time when most bands used 50–100 watt amplifiers with single cabinets. All of this quickly gained the Who a reputation for being "the loudest band on the planet", a point well proven when they famously reached 126 decibels at a 1976 concert in London, listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the loudest rock concert in history. The band had a strong influence at the time on their contemporaries' choice of equipment, with Cream and the Jimi Hendrix Experience both following suit. Although they pioneered and directly contributed to the development of the "classic" Marshall sound (at this point their equipment was being built/tweaked to their personal specifications), they only used Marshall equipment for a couple of years. Entwistle eventually switched to using a Sound City rig, with Pete Townshend following suit later as well. Townshend points out that Jimi Hendrix, their new label mate, was influenced beyond just the band's volume. Both Entwistle and Townshend had begun experimenting with feedback from the amplifiers in the mid-1960s, and Hendrix did not begin destroying his instruments until after he had witnessed the Who's "auto-destructive art".
Entwistle's wry and sometimes dark sense of humour clashed at times with Pete Townshend's more introspective, intellectual work. Although he wrote songs on every Who album except for Quadrophenia, he was frustrated at Townshend not allowing him to sing them himself. As he said, "I got a couple of songs on per album but my problem was that I wanted to sing the songs and not let Roger sing them." This was a large part of the reason that he became the first member of the band to release a solo album, "Smash Your Head Against the Wall" (1971) which featured contributions from Keith Moon, Jerry Shirley, Vivian Stanshall, Neil Innes and the Who's roadie, Dave "Cyrano" Langston. He was the only member of the band to have had formal musical training. In addition to the bass guitar, he contributed backing vocals and performed on the French horn (heard on "Pictures of Lily"), trumpet, bugle, and Jew's harp, and on some occasions he sang the lead vocals on his compositions. He layered several horns to create the brass section as heard on songs such as "5:15", among others, while recording the Who's studio albums, and for concerts, arranged a horn section to perform with the band. While Entwistle was known for being the quietest member of the Who, he in fact often exerted major influences on the rest of the band. For instance, Entwistle was the first member of the band to wear a Union Jack waistcoat. This piece of clothing later became one of Pete Townshend's signature garments.
In 1974, he compiled "Odds & Sods", a collection of unreleased Who material. Entwistle designed the cover art for the band's 1975 album The Who by Numbers and in a 1996 interview remarked that it had cost £30 to create, while the "Quadrophenia" cover, designed by Pete Townshend, had cost £16,000. Entwistle also experimented throughout his career with "Bi-amping," where the high and low ends of the bass sound are sent through separate signal paths, allowing for more control over the output. At one point his rig became so loaded down with speaker cabinets and processing gear that it was dubbed "Little Manhattan," in reference to the towering, skyscraper-like stacks, racks and blinking lights. While Townshend emerged as the Who's songwriter-in-chief, Entwistle began making distinctive contributions to the band's catalogue, beginning with "Whiskey Man" and "Boris the Spider" on the "A Quick One" album in 1966, continuing with "Doctor, Doctor" and "Someone's Coming" (1967); "Silas Stingy", "Heinz Baked Beans" and "Medac" from "The Who Sell Out" (1967); "Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde" (1968); and "Heaven And Hell", with which the Who opened their live shows between 1968 and 1970. Entwistle wrote "Cousin Kevin" and "Fiddle About" for the Who's 1969 album Tommy because Pete Townshend had specifically requested Entwistle to write 'nasty songs' that he felt uncomfortable with. "My Wife", Entwistle's driving, comedic song about marital strife from 1971's "Who's Next", also became a popular stage number. He wrote "Success Story" for "The Who by Numbers" (1975), for which he also drew the illustration on the album cover; "Had Enough", "905", and "Trick of the Light" for "Who Are You" (1978); "The Quiet One" and "You" for "Face Dances" (1981); and "It's Your Turn", "Dangerous" and "One at a Time" for "It's Hard" (1982), his final album with the Who.
In 1971, Entwistle became the first member to release a solo album, "Smash Your Head Against the Wall", which earned him a cult following in the US for fans of his brand of black humour. Other solo studio albums included: "Whistle Rymes" (1972) and "Rigor Mortis Sets In" (1973). "Rigor Mortis Sets In" was his third solo album. Distributed by Track Records, the album was named John Entwistle's Rigor Mortis Sets In in the U.S. Co-produced by Entwistle and John Alcock, it consists of three Fifties rock and roll covers, a new version of the Entwistle song "My Wife" from The Who's album "Who's Next", and new tracks (only six of the ten songs were new). Rigor Mortis Sets In set in motion John Entwistle assembling his own touring unit during the increasing periods of The Who's inactivity. Bearing the dedication "In Loving Memory of Rock 'n' Roll 1950–∞: Never Really Passed Away Just Ran Out of Time", Entwistle's affection for Fifties rock and roll was evident by covers of "Mr. Bass Man", "Hound Dog", and "Lucille". As George Lucas had released American Graffiti at the same time as Rigor Mortis Sets In was released, creating a huge market for Fifties nostalgia, Entwistle's timing was uncannily prescient. In Entwistle's original material for the album, light whimsy prevailed over the darker (and more creative) vein of "Smash Your Head Against the Wall" and "Whistle Rymes". The album was completed in less than three weeks, ultimately costing $10,000 in studio time and $4,000 on liquor bills.
The cover art of the gatefold LP features on one cover an outdoor photo of a grave, whose heart-shaped headstone is engraved with the dedication described above, while the grave's footstone is inscribed "V.S.O.P." (a grading acronym for cognac). The opposite cover features a wooden coffin bearing a brass plate engraved with the album's name. The UK (Track) LP used the coffin on the cover and the gravestone on the inner gatefold, while the U.S. (MCA) LP had the opposite arrangement. Compact disc releases have been fronted with Track's original coffin cover, with the gravestone cover proportionally preserved inside as part of the liner notes. "Rigor Mortis Sets In" had a rough launch due to its title and cover art. BBC Radio refused to play the album and banned it, ironically in part due to the influence of DJ Jimmy Savile who had just suffered a death in his family. The album's U.S. debut was problematic for MCA Records (Track's new American distributor), who insisted on appending the artist's name to the title, out of concern that the album's sales would be weak without the Entwistle name in the title. The album was rated by AllMusic as a "Nosedive" in his career compared to "Smash Your Head Against the Wall" and "Whistle Rymes". His covers of "Hound Dog" and "Lucille" were known as "lifelessly performed that it sounds like the band is merely attempting to imitate Sha Na Na instead of sending up the original tunes themselves". The song that was known as the biggest offender in this respect was "Mr. Bass Man" which replaces the enthusiasm of Johnny Cymbal's original version with a self-consciously campy production built on cutesy vocals guaranteed to make listeners grind their teeth.
Further solo albums were "Mad Dog" (1975), "Too Late the Hero" (1981), and "The Rock" (1996). The band was preoccupied with recording "The Who by Numbers" during the spring of 1975 and did not do any touring for most of the year, so Entwistle spent the summer performing solo concerts. He also fronted the John Entwistle Band on US club tours during the 1990s, and appeared with Ringo Starr's All Starr Band in 1995. A talented artist, Entwistle held regular exhibitions of his paintings, with many of them featuring the Who. In 1984 he became the first artist besides Arlen Roth to record an instructional video for Roth's company Hot Licks Video. In 1990, Entwistle toured with the Best, a short-lived supergroup which included Keith Emerson, Joe Walsh, Jeff "Skunk" Baxter, and Simon Phillips. Towards the end of his career, he formed the John Entwistle Project with longtime friend, drummer Steve Luongo, and guitarist Mark Hitt, both formerly of Rat Race Choir. This evolved into "The John Entwistle Band", with Godfrey Townsend replacing Mark Hitt on guitar and joining harmony vocals. In 1996, the band went on the "Left for Dead" tour with Alan St. Jon joining on keyboards. After Entwistle toured with the Who for Quadrophenia in 1996–97, the John Entwistle Band set off on the "Left for Dead - The Sequel" tour in late 1998, now with Gordon Cotten on keyboards. After this second venture, the band released an album of highlights from the tour, titled "Left for Live" and a studio album "Music from Van-Pires" in 2000. The album featured lost demos of Who drummer Keith Moon together with newly recorded parts by the band. In 1995, Entwistle also toured and recorded with Ringo Starr in one of the incarnations of Starr's All-Starr Band. This one also featured Billy Preston, Randy Bachman, and Mark Farner. In this ensemble, he played and sang "Boris the Spider" as his Who showpiece, along with "My Wife".
Toward the end of his career he used a Status Graphite Buzzard Bass, which he had designed. From 1999 to early 2002, he played as part of The Who. Entwistle also played at Woodstock '99, being the only performer there to have taken the stage at the original Woodstock. As a side project, he played the bass guitar in a country-rock album project of original songs called the Pioneers, with Mickey Wynne on lead guitar, Ron Magness on rhythm guitar and keyboards, Roy Michaels, Andre Beeka on vocals, and John Delgado playing drums. The album was released on Voiceprint. Shortly before his death, Entwistle had agreed to play some US dates with the band including Nashville's Grand Ole Opry, following his final upcoming tour with the Who. In 2001, he played in Alan Parsons' Beatles tribute show "A Walk Down Abbey Road". The show also featured Ann Wilson of Heart, Todd Rundgren, David Pack of Ambrosia, Godfrey Townsend, Steve Luongo, and John Beck. That year he also played with the Who at the Concert for New York City. He also joined forces again with the John Entwistle Band for an 8-gig tour. This time Chris Clark played keyboards. From January-February, 2002, Entwistle played his last concerts with the Who in a handful of dates in England, the last being on 8 February at London's Royal Albert Hall. In late 2002, an expanded 2-CD "Left for Live Deluxe" was released, highlighting the John Entwistle Band's performances. Between 1996 and 2002, Entwistle attended dozens of art openings in his honour. He chatted with each collector, personalising their art with a quote and a sketch of "Boris". In early 2002, Entwistle finished what was his last drawing. "Eyes Wide Shut" represented a new style for Entwistle. Featuring Jimi Hendrix, Pete Townshend, Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton, Entwistle's style had evolved from simple line drawings and caricatures to a more lifelike representation of his subjects. He was more confident and relaxed with his art and ready to share that with his collectors.
Entwistle died in Room 658 at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada, on 27 June 2002, one day before the scheduled first show of the Who's 2002 United States tour. He had gone to bed that night with stripper Alison Rowse, who woke that morning to find Entwistle cold and unresponsive. The Clark County medical examiner determined that his death was due to a heart attack induced by a cocaine overdose. Entwistle was 57. His funeral was held at St Edward's Church in Stow-on-the-Wold, Gloucestershire, England, on 10 July 2002. He was cremated and his ashes were buried privately. A memorial service was held on 24 October at St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Trafalgar Square, London. Entwistle's huge collection of guitars and basses was auctioned at Sotheby's in London by his son, Christopher, to meet anticipated taxes on his father's estate. On Pete Townshend's website, Townshend and Roger Daltrey published a tribute, saying, "The Ox has left the building - we've lost another great friend. Thanks for your support and love. Pete and Roger." Entwistle's mansion in Stow-on-the-Wold in the Cotswolds and some of his personal effects were later sold off to meet the demands of the Inland Revenue; coincidentally, he had worked for the agency from 1962-1963 as a tax officer before being demoted to filing clerk, prior to joining the Who.
One aspect of Entwistle's life emerged after his death that came as a surprise even to those closest to him, including the members of the Who. "It wasn't until the day of his funeral that I discovered that he'd spent most of his life as a Freemason," said Pete Townshend. Welsh-born bass guitarist Pino Palladino, who had previously played on several of Townshend's solo albums, took over for Entwistle onstage when the Who resumed their postponed U.S. tour on 1 July 2002. Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey spoke at length about their reaction to Entwistle's death. Some of their comments can be found on "The Who Live in Boston" DVD. On the opening night of their Vapor Trails tour, which began in Hartford, Connecticut on 28 June 2002 (the night after Entwistle's death), Geddy Lee of Rush dedicated the band's performance of the song "Between Sun and Moon" to Entwistle. Oasis played a version of "My Generation" during their set at T in the Park on Saturday 13 July 2002 as a tribute to Entwistle. In a Red Hot Chili Peppers gig at Slane Castle in 2003, Flea got on stage wearing a similar version of the famous skeleton suit that Entwistle mostly had on during The Who 1970 tour as a tribute to the British bass player.