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John Entwistle’s favourite bassists of all time


When discussing his favourite bass players of all time, Motörhead maestro Lemmy Kilmister opined, “I love John Entwistle of the Who. Best bass player I ever saw, Entwistle! [Paul] McCartney’s the second, though. He keeps giving in to the wimp in him, but he’s a great bass player.”

After that backhanded bashing of the famed Beatle, Lemmy continued his praise for Entwistle by adding, “The best bass player on the face of the earth. He was the best for me, no contest. He was so in command of his instrument. You never saw him flicker. Never a bum note that I ever heard. And he was so fast, both hands going like hell. The bass solo in ‘My Generation’, you still tie yourself in knots trying to do it now. You can work it out, but it was another thing thinking it up. And that was back in 1964!”

It’s an appraisal that encompasses everything that Entwistle had to offer, and it says a lot that it comes from a figure as thunderous as Lemmy. You see, The Who bassist had enough rock ‘n’ roll bravura to enamour a gang of passing Hell’s Angels, but enough intricacy and skill to raise the eyebrows of a concert hall composer. The late star was a law unto himself. 

However, he was not without his influences. Over the years, he wasn’t profuse with praise, but he was quick to worship the few heroes he had. Two of which were the inimitable trailblazers Jaco Pastorious and Stanley Clarke. Speaking about these two pioneering players in 1989, Entwistle said, “They were virtuosos who took bass in a different direction than I did: not in a rick way, but in a funky, jazzy way.”

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Adding: “If you drew a family tree you have me going up in one direction. Then you have James Jamerson, with a branch for Jack Bruce and Carol Kaye. They’re sort of the early funk, real bass players. They lead to Larry Graham, with branches for people like Stanley Clarke and Jaco, which then lead to people like Mark King and Pino Palladino.”

However, there are also heroes who he recognised a kinship with too. Renowned for his soloing ability, Billy Sheehan of David Lee Roth’s and Mr Big is one of a few players who could give him a run for his money. As he eulogised: “Billy Sheehan is my branch. But the sound isn’t quite there. I know I influenced him because he sent me a fan letter and some tapes back when he was with Talas.”

Flattery will get you places, but the ‘My Generation’ maestro also recognised his talent, stating: “I’ve met him a few times–he’s a nice chap. But there doesn’t seem to be anyone using the amount of treble and distortion I use. Plus, I alway make sure that there’s a clean bass sound that’s the backbone of whatever band I’m in. Then the treble is the part that makes it fun for me.”

Above all, Entwistle was a master allrounder of the bass, and this is reflected in the eclectic mix of stars who he admired. Speaking about Mark King of the new romantic band Level 42, he said, “To a certain extent, Mark King [impressed me]. They are not really sort of Rock bass players, a sort of funky-fusion,” he explained seemingly supposing that King was more than one man. However, he is far from alone in identifying King as a talent outside of the typical rock genre, as fellow bassists from the era like Flea also took inspiration from the star. 

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