John Entwistle: The 'Quiet One' Speaks Out

The notoriously mum bassist talks the Who's new album and one of his own

The Who
Ebet Roberts/Redferns
John Entwistle of The Who.
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John Entwistle's got a problem when it comes to interviews, which, naturally, are granted to promote albums. "When you get to the stage where you hate the album before it's actually out," said the tall Who bassist, "you can't really talk about it in glowing terms. You go, 'Oh, yeah. That album. I think it's coming out. . . .' "

Sitting on his hotel room couch, an interview schedule lying on the glass coffee table in front of him, Entwistle had come to Los Angeles to talk about two albums: his upcoming solo album, Too Late the Hero, due out this month, and the Who's Face Dances, which includes two Entwistle compositions, "The Quiet One" and "You."

He had no trouble summoning up glowing terms for his own LP, which he recorded with guitarist Joe Walsh and drummer Joe Vitale. "It's put me where I should be now, as opposed to where I got myself. I don't think I've ever enjoyed working with two musicians as much as those two. And everyone involved in the album still likes listening to it, which is always a good sign."

The Who album is a different story. "We recorded it in a studio where the playback wasn't too good," he said, sitting forward. "We never got inspired by what we were recording, but we figured it must be on the tape – it wasn't.

"Before we recorded the album, everybody was going around saying, 'We've got to do a real uptempo, bombastic Who album – loud shit, you know.' So I wrote two uptempo songs, and they ended up being the only songs where Pete [Townshend] laid down some really heavy guitar."

Next time out, Entwistle hopes, the Who will make that hard-rock album – at the studio they built but haven't used since Quadrophenia, and without an outside producer. "It's like being in two different bands," he said. "Onstage, we're almost heavy metal, and on record it's so toned down. That's a real failing. The only Who album I listen to a lot anymore is Live at Leeds, and that's the heaviest album we've ever made. Maybe we should do the next album live. At least it'll sound like us."

The Who recently canceled three months of European dates because they'd had virtually no time off since Kenney Jones replaced Keith Moon. Entwistle indicated, however, that they may tour America as early as this fall, playing to "the sons of out first fans." And with "The Quiet One," he finally has something to sing onstage besides "Boris the Spider" and the other songs that have given him his "strong, silent, macabre, black-humored John Entwistle image."

In fact, Entwistle hasn't ruled out solo sets in the new Who show. For someone who says, "It's easy to be overshadowed by the Who," that would be ideal: a few minutes to showcase tunes from an album Entwistle figures has a better shot at success than any of his four previous records.

Too Late the Hero was recorded over the past couple of years, during those infrequent months when both Entwistle and longtime friend Walsh were free (Walsh's James Gang toured extensively with the Who in the early Seventies, and the two men planned to collaborate for years). It's Entwistle's first solo album in six years. "I had stopped writing because I thought I was going in the wrong direction with the 'shoo-bop, shoo-bop,' old rock & roll stuff on Rigor Mortis Sets In and Mad Dog. When I started writing again, I went back to the kind of material I was writing before those albums.

"Until about two years ago, I tried to stay away from certain subjects. I was getting a feeling from everyone – from the fans right through my wife and family – that if you write about hookers, you must go to hookers, and if you write about drugs, you must take drugs. I got this reputation for sinister black humor after things like Whistle Rymes, when I was getting up at six in the morning to feed my son, Christopher, and then sitting down at the piano at seven to write songs about peeping Toms and suicide cases."

Now separated from his wife, Entwistle divides his time between a twenty-odd-room "house on a hill" in the country and a London apartment he shares with his pet tarantula, Doris (a birthday gift from Walsh). Entwistle said he felt freer to write about anything he wanted on the new LP – from the title song, which is about movie-fueled fantasies, to the record's recurring themes of "drugs, sex and disillusionment. The only thing I tried to avoid," he added with a small grin, "was writing six more songs about death, suicides and creepy-crawly things."

This story is from the September 3rd, 1981 issue of Rolling Stone.

From The Archives Issue 351: September 3, 1981