Undoubtedly one of the greatest rock bassists of all time, Geddy Lee knows a thing or two about making the humble bass guitar sing. As the bassist of Rush, he pushed his instrument to the very limits of its sonic capabilities, conjuring infectious grooves and cavernous melodies like nobody else. But, like all aspiring musicians, there was one artist Lee was particularly obsessed with growing up, a player he would later refer to as the “first rock God”.
In a feature for Rolling Stone, Lee was asked to name ten of his favourite bassists. At the top of that list was none other than The Who’s John Entwistle. “He was one of the first gods to me,” Lee began. “Gods of rock. [Laughs] Ever since I first heard ‘My Generation,’ it’s like, ‘Who is that?’ That was a name you needed to know. And I still rank him as the greatest rock bassist of all time, in one sense.”
Listening to ‘My Generation’ all these decades later, Entwistle’s bass still packs one hell of a punch. Indeed, there’s aggression there that, in many ways, reflects the modish angst and sense of youthful rebellion conjured up in the track’s unflinching lyrics. In 1993, Singapore’s Big-O magazine asked Pete Townsend if the lyric “I hope I die before I get old” still resonated with him so many years later.
“I think it does,” Townshend replied. “The line actually came from a time when I was living in a really wealthy district of London, just by accident. I didn’t really understand quite where I was living at the time. And I was treated very strangely on the street, in an imperious way by a lot of people, and it was that that I didn’t like. I didn’t like being confronted with money and the class system and power. I didn’t like being in a corner shop in Belgravia and some woman in a fur coat pushing me out of the way because she was richer. And I didn’t know how to deal with that.”
Pinpointing exactly what made Entwistle’s fretwork so mesmerising, Geddy Lee said: “First of all, he was ferocious, and he had a sound that dared to encroach upon the domain of the guitar player. So he had a very loud, very aggressive tone”.
As Lee notes, ‘My Generation’ didn’t get nearly as much airplay in the US as it did in the UK, but it was still a hit, and a hit with a bass solo no less. “So I was drawn to, first of all, his tone, secondly, his audacity and thirdly, his dexterity,” Lee continued. “I mean, he had incredible dexterity, and just moved across the strings in such a fluid manner with such ease, and yet, sounded so tremendously ferocious at the same time.”
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