Monthly Archives: April 2014

John Entwistle – The Ox

Born on the 9th October 1944, John Entwistle lit up stages across the globe until the 27th June 2002.

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Entwistle was best known for his bass playing in British megaband The Who. In fact, he was the only member of The Who had had any kind of professional musical training prior to getting started. Over his years of success Entwistle has been the influence of hundreds of young aspiring bass players across the globe.

Growing up as an only child in London, his parents were both musical people and this evidentially was passed on to John. His parents went through a divorce, extremely rare at the time, and this led to Entwistle becoming a young recluse.

Having tried the piano, trumpet and French horn without any great or long-term success, his musical nomad years lasted until age 11. He met Pete Townshend and they formed a trad jazz genre band. His large fingers meant that he struggled to play the trumpet, and was recommended to try the guitar instead. Inspired by the tunes of Duane Eddy, he took up the bass and a legend was born.

He joined Roger Daltrey, a year older in Acton County School, in his band The Detours. john entwistle 2Both Daltrey and Entwistle encouraged Townshend to pick up the guitar and soon enough Townshend had joined them both in the band.

After your traditional young band changing names several times, they eventually settled on The Who. It was at this time that Entwistle dyed his hair black so that Daltrey would stand out from the others more.

In 1967, Entwistle married Alison Wise and they moved into a home in Acton, London. It was here that his taste for strange objects first materialised – from tarantula spiders to suits of armour adorning the walls and rooms of his home. By the time he moved to the Stow-on-the-World, away from the big city in the late 1970s, his Quarwood mansion resembled more of a museum than a home.

Known as “The Ox” because of his natural power or “Thunderfingers” because of his quiet persona off-stage but loud equivalent when he played, he was also one of the first to use Marshall Stacks to make himself be heard over the other band members. He even helped come up with new ways of playing the instrument with the likes of bi-amping, which makes use of both high and low bass sounds sent through separate signal paths, proving to be extremely powerful for the future.je1

He was part of The Who until 1971, when he released his own solo album alongside. He released seven solo albums in total, one of which was a collection of unreleased The Who music. As well as being a quality bass player, he was a fantastic artist and painter too.

He toured with groups like The Best and members of the Rat Race Choir throughout his later years. He also toured with The Who in the 90s, and he regularly played with various other bands and gigs across the globe until his untimely death.

He died in room 658 at the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas on the 27th June 2002. This was the day before The Who were to take on a US tour. It was determined that his death was brought on by a heart attack.

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John Taylor – Duran Duran groove master

john_taylor_duran_duran_91Born Nigel John Taylor, British bassist John Taylor is primarily known as the co-founder of MTV-era band Duran Duran. John Taylor claimed Roxy Music were his favourite band in his early teens. Other early musical influences included Paul McCartney, James Jamerson and the Chic bass player Bernard Edwards. He was born in Solihull, Birmingham in June 1960.

Taylor and art college friend Nick Rhodes created Duran Duran in 1978 along with Stephen Duffy. Drummer Roger Taylor was added later, and the Duran Duran sound was born. Taylor originally played guitar in the band, but switched to bass once Roger Taylor joined the group. The band name Duran Duran references “Dr. Durand Durand,” a character in the 1968 science fiction film Barbarella. Taylor’s philosophy to his instrument was summed up when he said “I don’t like the bass as a lead instrument. It’s OK to feature occasionally, but I’ve always thought that the best bass players you shouldn’t hear – you should feel.”

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During the early 1980s, Duran Duran was one of the most popular groups playing on newborn MTV. They had their first hit single in 1981 and they continue recording and performing today. The band’s early music featured melodic funk and disco bass lines from Taylor. Taylor described the music as “night music.” It was intended to be interesting, edgy and strong enough to get party-goers dancing.

As the early Duran Duran group began to split, John Taylor and guitarist Andy Taylor joined with singer Robert Palmer and drummer Tony Thompson of Chic fame to form the group The Power Station. They released one self-titled album containing the hit singles “Some Like it Hot” and “Bang a Gong (Get it On).”

John Taylor began his solo recording career at around the same time, recording a single for the 9 1/2 Weeks soundtrack. He spent time recording and touring with a side group, the Neurotic Outsiders, during 1995 and 1996. Taylor created his own company, “Trust the Process,” and recorded several more solo releases. He starred in the movie Sugar Town, along with appearing in several smaller TV and film roles over the next few years.

john-taylor-duran-duran-perform-live-at_3794167In 1996, John Taylor and Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols created the independent record label B5 Records. Taylor sang, played bass and guitar on his solo album Feelings are Good (And Other Lies). These tracks featured vocals and instrumentals with a rougher, rawer quality reminiscent of punk and grunge music, unlike the pop/new wave style of Duran Duran. Taylor created and toured with a band called “John Taylor Terroristen” in 1997 and 1998, releasing a live album before signing with a Japanese record label. After the tragedies of September 11, 2001, Taylor vowed never to use the “Terroristen” name again.

John Taylor and the other original members of Duran Duran reunited in 2001. Taylor released one final solo collection titled MetaFour in 2002. Since their reunion, Taylor and Duran Duran have signed with Epic Records and released several albums. They performed their 2007 album Red Carpet Massacre in its entirety live on Broadway for 10 shows in 2008. Duran Duran released their 13th studio album in December 2010. They toured from 2011 to 2013 in support of their album All You Need is Now, stopping for performances at Coachella and SXSW.

Throughout the years, Taylor has favoured using his Japanese Aria Pro II SB1000 bass guitar, settling later on his Phillip Kubicki Factor bass featuring a drop-D latch on the head. He inherited the Music Man StingRay that belonged to his musical idol Bernard Edwards. In 2006, Peavey Guitars partnered with Taylor to create the 4-string limited edition “Peavey Liberator JT-84” bass guitar. A six-string “Peavey Liberator A435” guitar followed. Taylor and Peavey released only 100 each of the individually numbered and signed instruments.

Taylor released his autobiography, In the Pleasure Groove: Love, Death, and Duran Duran, in 2012. He recounts his turbulent early years, the Duran Duran superstardom and his own struggles with addiction and recovery. John Taylor has been in recovery since 1994. He was named Patron of Mount Carmel in February 2014 in celebration of his 19 years free from alcohol and drug addiction. The South London treatment center featured prominently in Taylor’s own recovery process.

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He received the Writers in Treatment “Experience, Strength and Hope” award in 2013, and also was voted the “Greatest Bassist” by Music Radar in 2013. These honours join the six Lifetime Achievement awards garnered by Duran Duran over the years, including one from the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards and another from the BRIT awards.

The BRIT Awards also presented Duran Duran with the “Outstanding Contribution to British Music” award after the band played live on the show in 2004. This was Duran Duran’s first life performance with the original five members in nearly two decades. So far, Duran Duran has sold over eighty million records around the world, and their latest album All You Need is Now debuted in the Number One spot in 15 countries.

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Ray Brown – Jazz Legend

Ray Brown was a stunning jazz bass talent whose career spanned over 50 years. He played double bass and cello, and worked extensively with Oscar Peterson and Ella Fitzgerald. He was featured on over 2000 records throughout the years, performing with such jazz greats as Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, and Oscar Peterson.

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Brown was one of the leading forces in the creation of the bebop style of jazz in the 1940s, and he was a long-term member of the Oscar Peterson Trio. Ray Brown was one of the original members of the Modern Jazz Quartet, and he accompanied many famous singers of the day from Linda Ronstadt to Frank Sinatra. Jazz masters agree that Ray Brown was one of the leaders in defining the modern jazz rhythm.

Born in Pittsburg, Ray Brown began piano lessons at age eight. He began playing the upright bass in his high school jazz band. Major influences on Brown and his bass playing included Jimmy Blanton, the bassist in the Duke Ellington Band. Brown also felt a kinship with the likes of Ellington, Count Basie, Art Tatum, and Fats Waller.

Even before he graduated high school, Ray Brown was playing bass at local shows. He quickly became one of the most in-demand young bassists in the region. After graduating in 1944, he performed with the Jimmy Hinsley band for eight months.

At the tender age of 20, Brown bought a one-way ticket to New York City, where he was introduced to Dizzy Gillespie. Gillespie hired him for his bebop group without so much as an audition. The next night, Brown was onstage with the group that included Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, and Max Roach. These men were the giants in the bebop jazz style, and their music featured fast tempos and complex harmonies. Brown continued with Gillespie’s band through 1951. Drummer Kenny Clarke and Ray Brown formed the Modern Jazz Quartet, one of the most famous jazz groups of the time. He met Ella Fitzgerald and married her in 1947.

During the late 1940s, Brown played in Jazz at the Philharmonic concerts organized by Norman Granz. In 1949, Brown first performed with pianist Oscar Peterson. This led to a long-term collaboration in which Brown played in Peterson’s trio from 1951 to 1966. He also became a manager and music promoter during this time. He and Fitzgerald divorced in 1952, but Brown continued to collaborate with her and produce her music.

During the Oscar Peterson Trio years, Brown became widely known an admired for his intricate bass solos, and for the development of a hybrid cell-bass instrument in 1960. The trio ranked consistently as one of the most popular jazz groups in the 1950s and 1960s.

Brown relocated to Los Angeles in 1966 and quickly gained work for television show orchestras. It was during this period that Ray Brown got the opportunity to accompany some of the musical greats such as Tony Bennett, Nancy Wilson, Sarah Vaughan, and Frank Sinatra. Brown also managed the Modern Jazz Quartet along with the young Quincy Jones. He produced shows performed at the Hollywood Bowl, developed a jazz cello, composed movie and television scores, and wrote jazz instruction books. Brown continued to work as a freelance jazz musician as well as a studio performer. Ray Brown got to play with the legendary Duke Ellington in the early 1970s, shortly before Ellington’s death.

raybrown_5After leaving the Oscar Peterson Trio in 1965, Brown moved to Hollywood and founded the LA Four in 1974. By the mid-1970s, Brown was playing four days a week on the Merv Griffin Show. Between 1974 and 1982, Brown recorded albums and performed live with the LA Four. He played on every Frank Sinatra TV special, directed the Monterey Jazz Festival for two years, and he was music director at the Concord Summer Festival in 1976 and 1977.

Zan Stewart of Down Beat magazine gave the Something for Lester album, created with pianist Cedar Walton and drummer Elvin Jones, a 5-star rating. Stewart commented that Brown was “the superlative bassist” and raved about his “glorious tone… his superb intonation.”

Throughout the rest of the 1980s and 1990s, Ray Brown led his own jazz trios, touring and recording extensively. He continued to refine and expand his bass style in everything he did. The emerging talent of jazz piano player Diana Krall studied under Brown, among others. The Legendary Oscar Peterson Trio reunited from 1990 to 1993, featuring Brown, Herb Ellis, and Oscar Peterson. Ray Brown continued to play with the last version of his Ray Brown Trio until his death in 2002.

His tasteful rhythm lines and his forceful yet melodic solo performances defined Ray Brown’s musical style. Not only was Brown technically masterful but he possessed a vast depth of musical knowledge and amazing bass technique. Other musicians described Brown’s playing as having “a feather-fingered guitar-like virtuosity” on the bass. He was treasured as an accompanist for having astounding foresight when collaborating with other artists. He took the bass technique to a soulful, more sophisticated than traditional jazz bass lines.

Dizzy Gillespie commented about Brown’s sound that it was “so deep and true you could hear the wood.”

Ben Ratliff of the New York Times wrote in 2000 “Brown is still one of the best musicians out there. His notes are shapely, fat, round and well defined. His rhythm is so propelling that on up-temp pieces his eighth-notes are always blowing wind into the music.”

Also in 2000, Mike Joyce from the Washington Post observed “One of the great and enduring joys of jazz is watching bassist Ray Brown dig his fingers into a deep, rhythmic groove until he is smiling like a kid who just got his hands on a new toy.

Dizzy Gillespie’s memoir “To Be or Not to Bop” claimed that “Ray Brown, on bass, played the strongest, most fluid and imaginative bass lines in modern jazz at the time with the exception of Oscar Pettiford.”

Ray Brown was the most-cited musician in the initial edition of the Penguin Guide to Recorded Jazz, published in 1992.  He received multiple awards, including the National Endowment for the Arts “Jazz Masters Award.” He received the Austrian Cross of Honor for Science and Art – 1st Class in 2001. In 2003, Down Beat inducted him into their Hall of Fame.

Ray Brown was a fixture in popularity polls of both listeners and music critics. Most include him in the top five greatest jazz bassists, in the company of Oscar Pettiford, Jimmy Blanton, Milt Hinton, and Charles Mingus. Brown received his first Grammy award for “Gravy Waltz,” which was later used as the Steve Allen Show theme song. The albums of the Legendary Oscar Peterson Trio earned at least four Grammies for Brown.

Ray Brown’s lasting legacy among jazz musicians is his contribution to bebop as a musical style and to the bassist’s role in that. Other standouts in the bebop revolution included greats such as Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, and Thelonious Monk. Brown led the way in educating young bass players as they learned the instrument.

Thomas Owens wrote in Bebop: The Music and Its Players in 1995 that Brown was “an agile, inventive, and often humorous soloist. His bow technique is excellent…he shines most brilliantly as an accompanist. Examples of his beautiful lines are legion.”

Herb Ellis, interviewed in The Guitar Player Book, stated “Ray Brown is in a class all by himself. There is no other bassist in the world for me, and lots of players feel the same way… Ray has it all locked up.”

In addition to being a top-echelon soloist, Ray Brown was a leader in defining the modern jazz rhythm section. He influenced some of the great jazz performers with his dynamic and unique sense of swing. Brown dedicated most of his later career to passing on his musical knowledge and experience to the next generation. He became deeply involved in mentoring and educating young jazz performers, writing bass instruction books and developing a jazz cello.