James Marshall RIP
From; The Telegraph
Jim Marshall, who has died 88, was the man whose name – appended to amplifiers renowned for their expressiveness and power – has appeared over the last half century behind countless gyrating rock stars.
6:44PM BST 05 Apr 2012
Pete Townshend of The Who was a crucial early fan. Jimi Hendrix followed. Today, Marshall “amps” appear with near ubiquity on rock concert stages, blasting out the guitar-based anthems of auteurs from Status Quo to the heavy metal band Slayer. Despite this, it is probable that the amplifiers’ most celebrated musical association is with a band that never existed at all.
In the spoof rock documentary This is Spinal Tap, guitarist Nigel Tufnel shows “filmmaker” Marty DiBergi around his collection of guitars. Coming to his Marshall amplifiers, he pauses proudly to point out a special feature – customised control dials, including the volume knobs.
Tufnel: “The numbers all go to 11. Look, right across the board, 11, 11, 11, 11 and …”
DiBergi: “Oh, I see. And most amps go up to 10?”
DiBergi: “Does that mean it’s louder? Is it any louder?”
Tufnel: “Well, it’s one louder, isn’t it? It’s not 10. You see, most blokes, you know, will be playing at 10. Where can you go from there?”
DiBergi: “I don’t know.”
Tufnel: “Nowhere. Exactly. What we do is, if we need that extra push over the cliff, you know what we do?”
DiBergi: “Put it up to 11.”
Tufnel: “Eleven. Exactly. One louder.”
DiBergi: “Why don’t you just make 10 louder and make 10 the top number and make that a little louder?”
Tufnel: [bemused pause] “These go to 11.”
The film became a cult classic, with the Marshall amplifiers scene one of many endlessly parroted by devotees. Marshall even capitalised on the association by producing a special promo featuring Tufnel (in fact, the actor Christopher Guest) rhapsodising about a new Marshall amp that “goes up to 20”. “There’s another nine,” says Tufnel. “All the volume you could need. And maybe more.”
James Charles Marshall was born in west London on July 29 1923 to Jim and Beatrice Marshall. His early years were blighted by bone disease which condemned him to wear casts over much of his body. His illness meant that he had completed only eight weeks at school by the time he left aged 13.
By that time the family had relocated to Southall, west London, where his father ran a fish and chip shop. Rather than join his father at the fryer, Jim junior took tap dancing lessons. A girl in his class was the granddaughter of a bandleader, and after Jim sang for her he soon found himself performing at the local dance hall.
Invalided out of the Army during the war, he worked instead at an engineering firm, where he developing a taste for tinkering. In the meantime he joined a seven-piece band; when the drummer was called to serve in the Forces in 1942, Marshall took over.
After the war he worked at Heston Aircraft in Middlesex, while honing his talents on the drum kit. By the early 1950s he was good enough to be teaching dozens of pupils, among then Mitch Mitchell, who would later join the Jimi Hendrix Experience. From the money he earned, Marshall saved enough to start his own business.
He opened a shop selling drums, but as rock and roll took off it was guitars that were all the rage. Pete Townshend was among those who suggested Marshall branch out, so in July 1960 he began stocking guitars and amps. Among the musicians who visited was Ken Bran, of the band Peppy and the New York Twisters. Looking for steadier employment, he joined Marshall as an engineer, and suggested that instead of buying and reselling amplifiers made by others they design and market their own.
Working with a circuit engineer, Dudley Craven, Bran and Marshall set about producing an amplifier that could match the unvarnished spirit of rebellion permeating the Sixties’ musical scene. The sound produced by the team’s favourite amp, a Fender, was, according to Marshall, “too clean”. They wanted to “dirty” it up, without losing clarity or power. The first prototype, with two 12in speakers, was ready in September 1962. But the speakers could not stand the abuse, and kept blowing.
The team added two more speakers, and soon the first Marshall amp was ready to go on general sale. Word quickly got around and orders flowed in; by 1964 the first Marshall factory, with 16 employees, was producing 20 amps a week.
Among those who adopted the amps was James Marshall “Jimi” Hendrix. Despite their shared name, Marshall first dismissed Hendrix as a freeloader. “Jimi said that he wanted to use Marshall gear and that he was also going to be one of the top people in the world at this type of music. I thought he was just another one trying to get something for nothing.” In fact Hendrix turned out to be the brand’s “greatest ambassador”.
“There’s nothing that can beat my old Marshall tube amps,” Hendrix said in 1967. “Nothing in the whole world.”
By that time Marshall was a world leader, expanding its range over the next decade until, in the 1980s, recession hit. The company pruned its catalogue and survived, and in 1984 was awarded the Queen’s Award for Export Achievement. The following year Jim Marshall was invited to Hollywood to add his hand prints to the “Rock and Roll Walk of Fame”. There for the first time he met Les Paul, the celebrated inventor of the solid-body electric guitar, whose creation had by then been teamed numberless times with Marshall amps. “As I was putting my hand prints in[to the cement] I thought, ‘Good God! I’ve really arrived!’” said Marshall.
In retirement Marshall supported the Variety Club and London Federation of Boys’ Clubs, but above all he was determined to ensure that his company kept producing amplifiers of quality. “It’s the name that means something to me – because it is my name.”
Jim Marshall is survived by a son of his first marriage, and by a daughter, stepson and stepdaughter of his second.
Jim Marshall, born July 29 1923, died April 5 2012