The Ox and the Loon: Rhythmic Lunacy
The Ox and the Loon? When I heard that drummer Brian Tichy was organizing a tribute to John Entwistle and Keith Moon in April 2014, I knew I wanted to go. I wasn’t a huge Who fan, but they were one of my favorite British rock bands. I never had the opportunity to see them live, but I purchased “Who’s Next,” “Live At Leeds” and “Tommy,” and had read the Pete Townshend memoir and several Who biographies. I was glad that bassist Entwistle and drummer Moon were finally getting their tributes. In 1988, I made a pilgrimage to The Bass Centre in East London. One room of the store was devoted to instruments owned by John Entwistle, “The Ox.” As a bass fanatic, I walked through the room as if it was a shrine. Entwistle may not have been the flashiest bassist, but he was the heart of the Who, and one of the finest on four strings. But “flash” was a word that could easily describe “Moon the Loon,” the soul of the Who and an amazing musician who inspired legions of men and women to pick up sticks.
But there was no way that I could make it to the Sunset Strip House of Blues on April 24, a Thursday evening, as I had to work on Friday. I admired the photos and watched the videos that were posted of the event. Maybe someday it would be repeated.
Brian Tichy and Joe Sutton decided to hold another show, this time in Santa Ana during the NAMM weekend in January 2015. The NAMM Show, the annual trade show of the National Association of Music Merchants, is held at the Anaheim Convention Center each January. Besides people who sell music-related products, the show also attracts many professional musicians, who come to check out the newest gear and hang out with their colleagues. The Ox and the Loon Show would be the third night of music at the Observatory in Santa Ana, following Bonzo Bash, a tribute to Led Zeppelin’s great John “Bonzo” Bonham and Randy Rhoads Remembered, a tribute to guitar phenomenon Randy Rhoads.
But how was I going to get there? Somehow, things fell into place and I was able to sample a little of the NAMM experience as well as attend the show on Saturday, January 24, 2015. The flyer promised “A Night of Rhythmic Lunacy in Honor of the Mightiest Rhythm Section in Rock and Roll,” and the show did not disappoint. Drummers and bassists held the spotlight all night. Some of the bassists, such as Tony Franklin, Robbie Crane, Sean McNabb, and Eric Brittingham, I had seen perform with bands over the years. Others were familiar from liner notes, videos, and concert reviews – musicians including Phil Chen, James LoMenzo, Billy Sheehan, Phil Soussan, Chris Wyse and Michel Devin. Besides Brian Tichy, the only other drummer I had seen perform previously was Dave Lombardo, but their names were also well known in the rock and roll community – Matt Starr, Corky Laing, Mike Portnoy, Stephen Perkins, Ricki Rockett, Lee Warner, Veronica Bellino, Kenny Aronoff, Todd Vinny Vinciguerra and Roy Mayorga. Even though the rhythm sections were generating most of the love, there were some great guitarists and vocalists accompanying them. Gilby Clarke, Paul Gilbert, Rowan Robertson, Tracii Guns, Steve Morse, and Mitch Perry were some of the six-stringers cranking out their interpretations of the sounds made famous by Townshend. Michael Devin, who doubled on bass on some songs, Chas West, Jeff Scott Soto, Oni Logan, Jeff Scott Soto, Joe Retta and others, handled vocals.
There were some performances and moments that stood out for me. Todd Vinny Vinciguerra and Tony Franklin, the “V” and “F” of the band VHF, joined Gilby Clarke and Joe Retta for “Substitute,” with Michael Devin on lead vocals. Legendary Mountain drummer and master of the cowbell Corky Laing, told the audience about his first encounter with Keith Moon – when he stole his jacket. Laing gave the jacket back to the raging Moon and the two became close friends. He sat in on several songs to honor his lifelong friend, including “Summertime Blues.” There was a rocking eleven-minute version of “Young Man Blues,” with Brian Tichy on guitar, Stephen Perkins on drums, and Michael Devin on bass and lead vocals. Phil Chen, who has a long history with the Who and many legendary musicians, was given the John Entwistle Legend Award. The Keith Moon Legend Award went to Mike Portnoy. Clad in a white jumpsuit, Paul Gilbert displayed and played Townshend’s moves and music in a medley of “My Generation” and “Amazing Journey” with Mike Portnoy, and Billy Sheehan. Current and former members of Lynch Mob, Oni Logan, Robert Mason, Robbie Crane, and Sean McNabb displayed their talents on several songs. The audience howled and applauded the efforts of the performers throughout the over four hours of “rhythmic lunacy.” The night ended with the destruction of several drum kits, in classic Moon fashion.
There were other musicians there that I haven’t mentioned and I tried to keep track of who played or sang what, but it wasn’t easy. Musicians were taking and leaving the stage constantly, contributing to the controlled chaos. I even obtained an official set list a few days after the show, but it didn’t match my recollections or my notes. There were several versions of well known Who songs, such as “I Can’t Explain,” “Summertime Blues,” and “Substitute.” Loving renditions of other Who classics, including “Join Together,” “The Kids Are All Right,” Pinball Wizard,” “Going Mobile,” “Who Are You,” “Love Reign O’er Me,” “Baba O’Riley,” “Magic Bus,” “Long Live Rock,” “Bellboy,” “Squeeze Box,” “Young Man Blues,” and of course, “Boris the Spider,” were also part of the evening. Everyone looked like they were having a good time. I’m sure there were dueling egos backstage, but the players seemed to leave them behind the velvet rope. A few lesser known Who songs were performed, and I would have liked to have heard a few more, the tunes that musicians practiced behind closed doors back in the day to impress their friends. “I Can’t Explain” is a good song, but did we really need three versions of it? And what was the deal with the fish in the drumhead? But as the basses and drums rang through the night air, I was already anticipating next year’s show.