My Impromptu Two-Hour Jam with John Entwistle of The Who
The story of how guitarist Godfrey Townsend jammed with The Who's John Entwistle at New York City's China Club, and went on to become the guitarist in his band.
When we last left off, I was briefly summarizing the years of playing experience I had gotten under my belt and how, in turn, that helped prepare me for what was to come.
On Feb. 23 and 24, 1994, Roger Daltrey, lead singer for The Who, performed two sold-out shows at New York City’s Carnegie Hall in celebration of his 50th birthday. The show also featured Michael Kamen and The Julliard Orchestra, as well as guest appearances by Pete Townshend, John Entwistle, Eddie Vedder, Sinéad O'Connor, Lou Reed, David Sanborn, Alice Cooper, Linda Perry, The Chieftains and others. (The show is available on DVD.)
As I mentioned in my first blog, it was around this same time that I was hosting the Wednesday Night Pro Jam at New York City’s China Club.
The drummer I had been working with had previously toured with John Entwistle, the bassist of The Who. Having kept in touch with him over the years, he contacted John when he arrived in New York and invited him to come up to the China Club after his performance with Daltrey at Carnegie Hall. (I believe a limo was even rented to sort of sweeten the deal.)
I was a huge fan of The Who ever since discovering the rock opera Tommy at age 13 during the summer of 1969. (Apparently, a lot of great things happened that summer.) For decades, I listened to, learned and played everything by The Who that I could get my hands on.
So, when I was told that John Entwistle might show up at the Pro Jam to sit in, I was very excited and confident I could handle whatever he threw at me. Heck, I was even prepared to handle the lead vocals as well.
Needless to say, with the buzz going ‘round, the China Club was packed to the rafters with anxious Who fans waiting to get a glimpse of a larger-than-life, full-fledged rock star - and maybe even get to witness an impromptu, private and personal, up-close jam session.
Somewhere around midnight (the bewitching hour), The Ox walked in, wearing his jewel-encrusted spider necklace, followed by Linda Perry of 4 Non-Blondes, Pino Palladino, “Rabbit” Bundrick, Phil Palmer and Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam. The place became a madhouse, and it was necessary to get Entwistle right up onstage to avoid a calamity.
He walked up to me and shook my hand and said hello. He was handed a red vintage Fender Jazz bass guitar, after which he turned around to me and with a thick English accent said, “Okay, mate. Wot you wanna play?”
OK, how’s this for a setlist?
"My Generation / See Me Feel Me" (medley from Live At Leeds), "Shakin’ All Over," "I Can’t Explain," "The Kids Are Alright," "Happy Jack" (with a very drunk Eddie Vedder on lead vocal) and "Twist And Shout" (with Entwistle on lead vocal).
There was lots more. Apparently, they had so much fun, they came back again the next night as well. I remember also playing "Won’t Get Fooled Again," "Baba O’Riley," "My Wife" and "Long Live Rock."
When I called that one, John shook his head no and said, “I don’t know it.” I said, “Sure you do.” He then asked, “Wot’s the chords in the middle bit?” I explained to him what the changes were (imagine telling John Entwistle what notes to play to “Long Live Rock”), and we proceeded to play the song without a single mistake.
I also remember playing a few cover tunes. “Tush” by ZZ Top was one of them, and the other was “Whole Lotta Love,” which Linda Perry sang the hell out of. Earlier that first night, Steve Lukather (guitarist extraordinaire) from Toto and Jason Bonham were also in the house. We managed to get them up for a few tunes as well. Jimi Hendrix’s “Red House,” “Hold The Line” by Toto (It was like pulling teeth to get Luke to play it) and the Zep classic, “Misty Mountain Hop.”
All in all, it was a star-studded, rock 'n' roll-filled night I’ll most likely never forget. (The house soundman even captured the whole thing on three cassettes right off the board.)
A year and a half later, in September 1995, I set out to Laughlin, Nevada, for a three-month-long gig at the Flamingo Hilton Casino Showroom. I was offered the gig by my good friend Mitch Weissman, who was the original Paul McCartney in Broadway’s "Beatlemania" at NYC’s Winter Garden theater in the '70s.
We played a short 20-minute Beatles set and then backed up three or four featured guest artists like Joey Molland from Badfinger, Mitch Ryder of the Detroit Wheels, Spencer Davis, and even “Tiptoe Through The Tulips” by Tiny Tim. We played two shows a night, six nights a week, for three months. (More playing experience under the belt … about 144 shows).
Somewhere around the second month into the gig, I got a phone call from the China Club Pro Jam band drummer back in New York. He said, “Guess who wants to put a solo band together with you on guitar and go out on the road?”
… LONG SILENCE …
Tune in next time for "Godfrey Townsend, John Entwistle’s Other Guitar Player."
Please don’t forget to visit my official website for more info, gear pages and stories. And don’t forget to check out my instrumental guitar CD.
Godfrey Townsend is a New York-based musician who has worked with dozens of rock’s most influential names. In the past decade alone, he has performed nationwide with John Entwistle, Jack Bruce, Dave Mason and Alan Parsons. His current instrumental guitar CD, Easy Journey To Other Planets, is available at cdbaby.com, and a new album is in the works. Read more about him at godfreytownsendmusic.com.
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