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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.

Jim Marshall

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Jim Marshall with one of his products Photo: REUTERS

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?”

Tufnel: “Exactly.”

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

Fade Into You

Mazzy Star

Post-Grunge, Seattle Rocks On

Time And A Place

New York Times

SEATTLE — Three months before he killed himself, Kurt Cobain spoke of his band’s breakthrough single at a concert here that turned out to be one of Nirvana’s final performances in the United States.

 “This song made Seattle the most livable city in America,” Mr. Cobain told the audience”

Then he ripped into the opening chords of “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” an anthem of indifference polished just enough to give it popular appeal.

Now, 20 years after Nirvana soared from obscurity to superstardom and the Seattle scene was anointed as rock relevant, a new exhibition, a film and a tribute concert planned for the anniversary make it clear how different things really are here now.

Seattle has become even more livable since Mr. Cobain’s dry declaration, way back in January 1994. The city still rocks, and its rockers still ache, but more gently now. Flannel? Sure. Screaming? There is less of it from this new stage.

Once mostly boom, bust and Boeing, Seattle rebuilt itself on high technology, global commerce and well-educated newcomers making waterproof peace with the weather. The Pacific Northwest, long a mysterious corner of the country, stepped out of isolation and into cliché: coffee, computers and Kurt, the voice and face of grunge.

“The times for Seattle to be sort of a misty forgotten land are over,” said Jacob McMurray, the curator of “Nirvana: Taking Punk to the Masses,” the exhibition at the Experience Music Project here.

The anniversary events are canonizing — and continuing to commercialize — the moment when, some people say, alternative music fully broke through to the mainstream. Yet many of the dark clubs where Nirvana and bands like Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam, Mudhoney and the Melvins built followings are gone.

A nonprofit group called the Vera Project, based in Seattle Center, now teaches teenagers how to do everything from silkscreening band T-shirts to working in sound studios. (It also offers “Punk Rock Yoga” classes.) Many of the newer pop performers associated with Seattle — Fleet Foxes, the Head and the Heart, Macklemore and Shabazz Palaces among them — are more diverse, offering art rap and “beard rock,” and they feel far less confrontational, at least overtly.

“Seattle and the music scene had a very antagonistic relationship,” recalled Mr. McMurray, who arrived in the city as a college student in 1990, the year before Nirvana’s rise. “It wasn’t like today, where we’ve got city initiatives, you know, ‘Seattle: City of Music.’ We’ve got the Vera Project that openly embraces ‘all-ages’ music. There was none of that back at the time.”

All the celebrating leaves some people wondering whether the aesthetically authentic response to the anniversary should instead be what the band itself advised back in the day: the name of the Nirvana album that included “Teen Spirit” — and unseated Michael Jackson’s “Dangerous” at the top of the charts — was “Nevermind.” It has sold at least 30 million copies worldwide.

Was it really One of the Most Transformative Records in Rock History?

When Mr. Cobain sang “I feel stupid and contagious/Here we are now, entertain us,” was it really emblematic of a new Seattle sound or was it just shrewdly packaged punk by some jaded dudes from a dreary old logging town, Aberdeen, Wash., more than 100 miles outside the city?

Does it matter?

“Probably in the mind of Kurt Cobain, if he was still with us, he would probably think the most punk thing would be to just reject it all,” said Charles Peterson, a photographer who still makes much of his living off the pictures he took of Nirvana. “But of course, you know, he would be a multi-multi-multimillionaire at this point. So, easy for him to say.”

Except that Mr. Cobain has been dead for 17 years. Regardless of the music being made in Seattle now, Nirvana and grunge loom like brand names, as connected to the city as Starbucks and Amazon and Microsoft. Some city tours include the house near Lake Washington where Mr. Cobain killed himself. A selection of the most prominent records by Nirvana and Pearl Jam are in a small sales display at the front counter of Easy Street Records in a West Seattle neighborhood near where Eddie Vedder, the singer for Pearl Jam, owns a house.

Were the records in such a prominent position because of the anniversary? “They’re always there,” said Ron Garcia, a store clerk.

“It’s our forebears,” said Malia Alexander, 24, interviewed on a recent night at the Black Lodge, an all-ages club next to Interstate 5. “It’s kind of my dad’s music.”

The band even surfaced in a Republican presidential debate the other night, with Jon M. Huntsman Jr., the former Utah governor, making an awkward and inaccurate reference to one of the band’s songs, “All Apologies.” Shortly thereafter, Krist Novoselic, Nirvana’s bassist and something of a political activist in Washington State, posted on Twitter: “Kurt Cobain Lives in the GOP presidential debate! Kurt supported Jerry Brown for president in 1992.”

Not everyone is reverent. A woman named Viki — she insisted that is all she goes by — said she had moved to Seattle for its music scene, but not grunge. Viki is 32 and said she played “electronics” for Midlife Vacation. She has no plans to see the new exhibition.

“I don’t care, because it’s in the past,” shei said. “I can’t believe they’re still talking about it. I mean, come on.”

Mr. Peterson, the photographer, now 47 with a 2-year-old son, agreed that there had been too much talk. But his pictures are all over the exhibition and on the wall at the Crocodile, one of the few clubs from the grunge days that is still operating.

“I may be a little sick of talking about it,” he said, “and I think most of the people that were involved are a little sick of talking about it, if, you know, it didn’t sort of further our careers to a degree. So, keep it coming.”

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