Return to Whotabs homepage

Interview with John Entwistle

By Alan McKendree, 7 September, 1994

©1994 by Alan McKendree amck@eden.com, 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

I’ll start off with some general questions about the current tour [“Daltrey Sings Townshend”], your impressions of it. Are you enjoying it?

I am, finally, yeah. I’ve worked out what volume to play at so I don’t drown the orchestra out. I’m getting used to playing with the orchestra now. There’s a lot of musicians up there; it’s very easy to get carried away and go off into what The Who used to be. With 30 pieces in the orchestra [60 at some shows] it’s tricky. I’ve got a volume I can work at now quite safely [where] we sort of cut the orchestra out but I can boost it when the orchestra’s not playing.

So your problem was learning to tone down when the orchestra was playing?

Yeah.

About how long did it take you to modulate that?

Started getting it about the fourth concert. It was OK most of the time but sometimes the orchestra’d get drowned out.

I guess it’s better that the alternative where they’d be drowning you out.

That’s true.

What did you think about going into this tour, knowing that there would be so many additional musicians onstage? Were you nervous?

Well, before the Carnegie Hall thing [“Daltrey Sings Townshend” concerts, Feb. 23-24, 1994] I was kind of nervous, you know, I didn’t have that much rehearsal time. The thing that worried me the most was I was less rehearsed than the rest of the band. I mean, they actually took it that I’d know the stuff anyway, but the main problem is learning the slightly different arrangements all the time. I felt meself drifting off into the way The Who used to play it. It was kind of a nightmare.

Of course, that would be fine with me, to hear it the way The Who play it. How much rehearsal did you have for this tour?

I finally got about four days. [laughs]

Doesn’t sound like a lot. Are there any good and bad moments that leap to mind concerning this tour?

Not really...the first concert in Denver was kind of choosy. First time we’d played in somewhere as big. We were kind of underpowered for a little while there, kind of scary. Denver was in Red Rocks, a hard place to play anyway.

I’ve never been; it’s supposed to be very beautiful, though.

Oh, it’s beautiful, yeah, but the audience goes straight up a rough cliff face. It’s a very strange sound.

I’m not getting much on the itinerary coming up. What do you think’s going to be your last date?

I really don’t know. The itinerary changes from day to day. They juggle it around so we don’t have too far to travel but we’re getting extra gigs coming in because people are hearing about it and realizing that it is a Who show. And it is rock and roll. People’s idea of it I think was Roger standing with an acoustic guitar in front of a 60-piece orchestra.

Have you been reading the reviews?

I get shown the good ones.

I was impressed by how good they were. Time after time they’d say, “If you had any doubts about this show, you should have been there.”

Most of the reviews are good. A lot of them have a little dig but they usually haven’t even seen the shows, they’re written before the show, [on] what they expect the show’s going to be like.

Do you pay much attention to them? After a career in “show business,” how much do the reviews affect you?

No I don’t, not really. There are a lot of cannibals out there who like bringing people down so they feel better theirselves.

And they can’t have a completely favorable review, there has to be something to quibble about?

Oh, yeah. There has to be something.

Have you heard anything about going to Australia?

I think so, yeah, probably next year.

So this might reform and go out on a second leg?

Yeah, yeah. There’s intentions for Australia, the Far East, Japan, hopefully back to America.

I’d like to put in a plug for the southern U.S.

It’s kind of difficult to decide where to cross over America to get to the West Coast, you either go down, or you go along the middle, or you go up to Canada and go through there. At the moment we’re zig-zagging all over the place, like a table-tennis ball in a wind tunnel. The Gumball Tour. The big problem was, we had to get the orchestras on the same day as we want to do the gig, and also, because of my hand getting cut we had to put it back a month, which kind of messed our scheduling up.

I wanted to ask you about that, because at one point they were saying the tour had to be postponed because you’d hurt your hand.

We put the tour off for a month, but I could have worked two weeks into that month, but I didn’t want to take the chance, because it was a split between my fingers, and I’d had my fingers bound together, and I didn’t want to play too soon because I didn’t want to open it up and have to start again.

So it was just a cut in the skin?

It was a half-inch cut from a brandy glass I was trying to save falling off the table. It was a cheap brandy glass and it shattered, from my enthusiasm, at the part where the stalk joins the bowl, and cut through between my second and third fingers. I put plastic stitches on it but at the time it separated and started bleeding again so I had to bind my fingers together. It took awhile to get better.

How do you spend your spare time on the tour (except for doing interviews)?

Spare time is usually eating, watching TV . . . in the case of Florida I’ll probably go fishing, deep-sea fishing. Most of the time we’re travelling; once we get to a town — if we have the evening off we go out to dinner or something. The next day we have to go to sound check at like 4:00 and work with the orchestra. We don’t get much of the rest of the day.

Have you been playing in clubs much after the shows, or do you have any desire to do that?

I played in a little blues club in Chicago, fell out with a bunch of blues guys, played a couple of songs. I’ve been to the China Club lately, when we’re in New York a few days I hope to do some jamming there, a couple of nights at the China Club. It depends on where I end up after the shows. Usually if I like the look of the bass equipment I’ll get up there and play if I’m in the mood. I need a few drinks before I get up and play. Grabbing hold of someone else’s bass and playing with someone else’s equipment is scary unless you’re drunk [laughs].

Let me turn to some of your previous projects. Could you talk a little about “905” and the story of the science-fiction opera you were working on at the time? Is that still going on?

Yeah, I got lucky ’cause I can actually sort of write the music down and if I don’t like the sound of the music when I play it, I don’t bother to demo it, so there aren’t that many demos that are unused hanging around here; the best of that project was “905,” and “Had Enough” is on manuscript paper at the moment, hasn’t ever been demoed.

Was it ever going to fit into the “Lifehouse” project?

Parts of it could have, yeah. I’d have to change the words slightly. It was along the same lines.

What was the general plot, in a few sentences?

Pete’s plot [for “Lifehouse”] was music being banned; mine was called “Factory of Birth,” and it was a world without women which is very scary. The hero at the end realizes that there are women around, but they’re not being used for birth.

What ever happened with your band The Best?

We did a tour of Japan; I formed a band with Jeff Baxter, and Zak [Starkey] was in the band for a while, and The Best really jammed into that.

Do you think that might come back, be resurrected at any point?

Yeah, there’s always a possibility of it. The Best was never supposed to be a set band, there were supposed to be a couple of set members and then the rest would change. We had another tour planned of America, had lots of dates lined up, but we just couldn’t get the people we wanted at the right time. So it kind of fell through for that one year, and now I’m onto this thing. There’s a possibility it could come back again.

Is your own book on The Who still in the works?

Yeah, I still carry on, I’ve just finished a chapter on the Herman’s Hermits tour.

There’s a line in “Success Story”: “Take two hundred and seventy-six.” How many takes did it typically take? Did you ever get a song the first take through? How grueling was it?

A lot of them were usually the second. You’ll remember that most of the time we were learning the song, and by the time we got to the first take we were still ironing out little teasy problems and we still hadn’t arrived at the part we were intending to play. “The Real Me” was first take. I was actually messing around just taking the Mickey out of the song, you know, playing all over it, the bass part not thinking it was being recorded or it wasn’t important. We did it a few more times, but the first one still worked out for being the best.

It sounds like it would have a live-performance feel to it.

It kind of was, I was just sitting on top of the cabinet.

What do you think were the characteristics of a really good Who session?

I guess any time we all got exactly what we wanted out of our sound and our instruments, and we thought the parts were real inventive. A lot of really good sessions were around our second album, we had a lot of fun doing that album. And Tommy and Quadrophenia were fun too.

I’d think they’d be so technically demanding.

Well, in Quadrophenia we had a chance to hear the material. And also with Who’s Next. A lot of times with The Who we’d hear the demo, we’d go “OK, let’s do that one.” It was like “learn it and play it at the same time.”

Were you dissatisfied with the mix on Who’s Next? Are there plans to remix it?

Yeah, I wasn’t very happy with my bass sound. I was changing from Precision to Gibson Thunderbird round about that time. There seemed to be a sound that was “John Lite,” that was too close to a normal bass sound for me. It was difficult for me to adapt, I’m always trying to get my sound onto record, but it seems the only time it ever got onto record was on live albums, like Live at Leeds.

Are you planning on getting involved with the MCA reissue of the catalogue?

I may promote it, and say “yes” or “no” at the end of it, but I really haven’t got time to be involved, with all the projects I’m doing.

What are those projects? Are you putting together any solo work?

I’m got some art shows to do; an initial series of ten cartoons, which we’re lithographing, a limited edition of each one of the different rock stars: The Who, some of the Stones, Elton John, Rod Stewart. It’ll be a numbered limited edition that’s probably coming up early next year. And then I’ve got the book. Also, there’s plans for a “best of” solo album/CD; going back over the five [solo albums] with three new songs which I’ve already recorded. So there’s a whole bunch of stuff, at the same time as carrying on touring with this band.

What are the three new songs you’ve recorded?

I recorded them with a band called The Rock, and they’re three of the four songs that I wrote for the album. I plan on redoing parts of them and maybe replacing some of the vocals. One’s called “Last Song,” one called “Life After Love,” and I haven’t decided what the other one’s going to be yet.

That sounds wonderful. Just yesterday on the radio they said here that there were rumors of a possible Who venture coming up with Pete — whether it was an album or a tour wasn’t really clear — what’s that about?

Uh, sounds like a rumor. I haven’t spoken to Pete in quite a while, I’ve heard nothing of any other Who project at all.

What did you think of the box set?

I like a lot of it. I must admit I play the video more than I do the box set because, I mean, there’s a lot of stuff on the box set that’s great — some of the remixes I wasn’t sure of, but it’s a really good set — but I think some of the mixes should have been left alone. I think there’s enough other material, the rare live stuff, that counteracts that.

Are there any songs that were changed that you would have left alone?

Some of the Live at Leeds stuff. It no longer sounded like Live at Leeds.

There’s talk of issuing the entire Leeds concert as a separate CD.

That is one I’d like to actually sit in on the mixes with. I wouldn’t want it to be wrecked again. It’s the one album I got my bass sound onto round about that time, I was really pleased with my bass sound. It was on the left-hand side so bass players could turn over to the left and hear me playing lead, guitar players could turn over to the right and hear Pete. The new mix doesn’t sound anything like it. It’s kind of a disappointment and a very sore point as far as I’m concerned because if Live at Leeds is going to be remixed then I want to be there.

Well, I hope you are. I hope they do it and I certainly hope you’re there. You were doing a “trade show” in Germany earlier this year. How many of those do you do?

I usually just do a couple. Frankfurt and the NAMM show in Anaheim and that’s it.

I noticed in ’89 you had amps behind you that said something like Acoustic Sound System?

Acoustic [Sound] Services — A.S.S. They’re a company in England. They make all those cabinets. They make those specially, a rig for me.

I was wondering if it was your own line of amps or cabinets.

No, they’re sold commercially, but they’re a very small company in South End in England. They used to make stuff like TurboSound by JBL. It’s just that their cabinets give you a very directional, perfect sound. The bottom end is very tight, top end’s very smooth. I haven’t found any other cabinets like them that last that long. I use exactly the same speakers that I use in those cabinets in other cabinets and they blow to smithereens.

If I were the company I’d be very happy to have that sort of recommendation.

Well I’ve done this tour, I’ve done a club tour, done a tour of sheds, done a couple of stadium tours with The Who with them, and I haven’t blown one speaker yet.

You mentioned there’s a second leg coming up possibly for this tour. Is the tour making money? What do you think about doing a solo tour later on?

Solo tours always cost a fortune, unless you get some backup from the record company, I’ve done two or three solo tours now and I’ve lost on an average about 40 or 50 grand on each one, and that’s just been doing clubs. If I went any higher than that like playing sheds like this, I mean . . . there’s no huge amounts of money being made on this tour. The tour’s being done to keep The Who’s music going and to prepare for what may happen in the future.

As far as keeping The Who’s music going, in ’89 you were playing for some people who had never seen you before, and I’m sure the same is true now. What would you say to people who are just learning about The Who as to which music they should listen to or concentrate on?

I couldn’t start to tell people what music they should listen to.

Is there anything that you play currently that you specifically like to point to and say “I really like this song” or “I’m really proud of what I do here, listen to this.”?

I think “The Real Me”, “Baba O’Riley”, “Won’t Get Fooled Again”, and a lot of Quadrophenia. [John is speaking here of the studio versions, as he doesn’t play “Baba O’Riley” on the current tour].

I was really glad to hear that you’re doing Quadrophenia songs on this tour.

We added “The Real Me” after about the fourth or fifth show. It needed to be there.

I think of that as one of your real showpieces.

The main confusion on this tour has been actually to what the tour was. Now people are realizing that it’s good loud rock and roll with a big magnificent-sounding orchestra behind it, people are starting to ask for tickets and say “Well, why aren’t you playing our town?” [laughs]

Have you read many or any books on The Who and if so, which ones did you like?

Well, I didn’t like any of ’em.

So you’d recommend yours when it comes out.

Uh, yeah, ’cause I was there. I’ve never spoke to anyone who wrote any of the major books. Richard Barnes, yeah, but ...

Not Dave Marsh?

They’d really have to talk to everyone in the band to find out what really happened, and I’m writing my book from my point of view, as being a member of the band. Mine isn’t a serious book with a lot of dates and sort of looking back on albums and rehearing them with a lot of hindsight. I’m basically writing the funny stories, the silly things that happened to us. I’m actually putting dialogue in it, because you can’t really tell stories about The Who without putting in what people said, or what you remember them saying. That way I can give myself all the best laugh lines.

Do you have any idea of when it might come out?

The Who’s roadie, Bob Pridden, who’s been with them like 29 years, he’s on my back all the time because he did a lot of the research for it. He’s forcing me to try and write every day, but I can’t. I have get into a book-writing head or a songwriting head or a playing head. I’m probably going to take some time in Ireland for a couple of months so I’m going to try and finish the first book then. It’s going to turn out to be a trilogy, there’s too much to put in one book. The first book goes up to ’67. I was going to take it up to Woodstock but that’s too far.

That’s sort of awe-inspiring to imagine — not just one book but a trilogy.

Well, I don’t want to make them big fat lengthy books; more like a series of capsulated chapters, going from one period to another.

Are there any authors or musicians that inspire you now, that you read for pleasure?

I’ve read the James Herriot books, All Creatures Great and Small; I’ve read those, and I like the way they’re written, they’re very amusing, very light reading. I figured he’s up to five or six books, so I’ll split mine into three.

Anything else?

I used to read horror story anthologies most of the time. I stopped that when I was about 23.

Some musicians have talked about a band having an obligation to its audience. Do you think that’s true? How do you see your relationship and your interaction with your audience?

With The Who, we actually got to meet most of our early audiences, then we kind of lost contact. I try to meet as many fans as possible, time permitting. When I did my solo tours, we would travel by bus and I’d keep the bus around for like 45 minutes and sign autographs in the bus, 2 or 3 people at a time, but that’s pretty impossible when you’re playing bigger places. I’m one of those people that unless I’m in mortal danger I’ll sign autographs until nothing more’s being passed in front of me. I have a lot of trouble, especially at NAMM shows. I tend to upset a few people because if I happen to stand still and pose for a photograph or start signing autographs I’m stuck in one place for like half an hour.

So who would get upset about that?

Well, when I have to say, “No, I’ve got to run, I’m supposed to be at another booth, blah blah blah.” I have to actually refuse autographs, which I don’t like doing. Most of the time at a NAMM show I run up the aisle or walk too fast, so people go, “Was it or wasn’t it? Maybe not.”

I have a couple of trivia questions concerning the adverts in The Who Sell Out. In the Rotosound Strings ad, is it “Hold your group together, or hold your groove together”?

It’s actually “Hold your group together with Rotosound strings,” like you’re tying the band up.

So it’s “Group”?

“Group.”

Good. And then on the Radio London ad, is it “The AM Sound” or “The IN Sound”?

I would say “The IN Sound,” at that time; AM and FM didn’t exist at that time, it was all AM.

In that case it would certainly have to be “the IN sound.”
Thank you for your time, John, and best wishes.

Disclaimer

A note on the content here:

This information, along with all other content included in Whotabs, is intended for private study, scholarship or research. Article content and associated images are included for reference only and are the property of the original owner. Non-Whotabs links are provided for informational purposes only and are not controlled or monitored by Whotabs. For more, see Terms of Use.

Site info Navigation

Whotabs is not affiliated with The Who, its record company or management.