Hotlicks Instruction Tapes
'Master Series' By John Entwistle
John Entwistle joins the Hotlicks 'Master Series' instruction tapes range with what promises to be the definitive bass guitar tuition course. Gary Cooper took his Futurama and 3-watt Woolies practice amp to 'Plonk-Alonga-John'.
A couple of years ago, talking with Arlen Roth - creator of the outstandingly successful Hotlicks tuition tape series - he gave me the outline plan of one of the several ways in which he intended to develop the concept of cassette tape tutors. At that stage, he'd already launched his own guitar teaching tapes and won a deservedly rapturous reaction to them. But Arlen wanted to go one stage further. What bothered him was that some of the world's greatest Rock and Jazz players were going to leave little behind them, apart from their recorded works. How much better it would be for future musicians if there was some way in which succeeding generations of players could learn, 'from the horse's mouth' as it were, the stylistic ideas and playing techniques of these 'greats'. The result of Arlen's deliberations is the 'Masters Series'.
The latest in this rapidly expanding range is the John Entwistle bass course, a tape which promises, surely, to be the biggest selling Hotlicks course of them all.
No musician even half alive during the 1960s and 70s could fail to have been aware that there were two players directly responsible for taking the bass from its 'plonk-along' backing-only role to the accepted lead instrument status it has today: Jack Bruce and John Entwistle. Play any three or four bars of either player and you'd immediately know who you were listening to. No-one (and I'll accept no 'what abouts' here!) had anything like the influence of these two. To analyse what it was that made either player so remarkable would take a book apiece but, in many ways, John's Master Series tape does a pretty fair job as an autobiography of his role in the development of the bass. He explains why he did what he did, how he did it and, given enough skill and imagination, how others can take the foundation that he's laid and develop it further.
Anything John Entwistle touches is illuminated by his brand of dark humour, and these two one-hour tapes carry some lovely glimpses of that saturnine wit. More to the point, they deliberately lead bass playing away from that terminally boring slap and funk style, which seems to threaten any musical creativity today and has done little more than pull the bass back in time towards a merely rhythmic role. On this point, side one opens with a very telling comment (preceded by some vintage Entwistle improvisation). "Christ, I don't know about you, but I'm bored stiff with it" (slap and pop, that is), 'I mean, if God had meant us to play like that all the time he - or she - would have given us crab claws!" Thanks John, it needed saying!
From there, you move in stages into the world of Entwistle's forte - the driving, dynamic bass line, half lead, half rhythm; he even tells you how to obtain that essential 'split' bass sound from your amps, and reinforces the advice with some very practical comments in the exhaustive handbook which accompanies the tapes. Right hand techniques are covered in minute detail (again, assisted by photos in the handbook) as John explains the various advantages and disadvantages of different ways of pulling and hitting the strings. He even covers the alternative right arm placing which, when lifted from its 'normal' rest position against the body, gives increased muscle tension to improve both speed and power. He rounds this section off with a series of practical exercises - one a lovely snappy, stutteringly aggressive passage which proves the point to perfection. All this, by the way, is backed by written details in the handbook, and as these are in both conventional notation form and easy to follow tablature style, they're simple to read and use.
John's inimitable string 'tapping' style is next under the microscope, followed by bass chords, harmonics and their uses and, once again, a brilliant illustration of how tapping, chords, harmonics and the other ideas he's discussed can be merged into a beautifully self-orchestrated bass part. Again shot-through with some funny/acid comments, John then proceeds to examine string 'flicking', his 'crab claws' right hand technique, left-hand damping and ways to improve the co-ordination, speed and accuracy of your right hand style.
Side two starts with a 'play-along' which demonstrates not only John's gift for melodic improvisation but also his well developed sense of timing. Still on damping, he breaks into Magic Bus to illustrate the point - and that's a case of one picture being worth a thousand words if I ever heard one!
The infamous My Generation solo is detailed note for note, while pick exercises, more damping techniques, relationships between octaves, hammer-ons, pull-offs, string bending, vibrato - all are illustrated with remarkable demonstrations and are, mercifully, free from music jargon. This is one of John's great strengths as a teacher: he refuses to festoon simple ideas with complicated names, so the listener never gets deterred by technical double-speak. Neither, for that matter, does Monsieur Entwistle approve of merely reading a bass part and playing it note for note. One of his greatest strengths has always been melodic improvisation and he is one of that handful of real musicians who still practise the art.
Apart from these invaluable insights into the Entwistle technique, John delves into his thoughts about gear, recording, types of basses (including 5, 6 and 8 string breeds) and much more. This two tape collection of the thoughts of Chairman John really must be the bass player's event of the year. Either for a beginner very much learning at the feet (hands?) of one of the instrument's few genuine masters, or - regardless of how good you are personally - as an insight into the thoughts and ideas of a true original, this is an outstanding contribution to bass playing. Whoever you are, whatever your own abilities, the Hotlicks John Entistle tapes are essential listening. Don't miss them!
2 TAPES + HANDBOOK RRP £21.40
More details from Labtek International, (Contact Details).
Review by Gary Cooper
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