Johnny Marr's multi-layered guitar parts on his '80s recordings with the Smith's influenced and inspired a new generation of guitarist that fell slightly left-field with their styles. Jamie Humphries
Jamie Humphries pays tribute to Johnny Marr - the legendary UK guitarist, and unlikely guitar hero..
Often when we hear the term 'guitar hero' it calls to mind the flash and technique of the archetypal Rock lead guitarist, hurling blistering solos into the ether. But there are other players with their own distinct voices on the instrument that fall into other musical categories. Nile Rodgers, The Edge, Andy Summers, Mick Ronson, Steve Cropper, Jonny Greenwood, Bernard Butler, and Noel Gallagher - all carved their own sound in guitar history. Another candidate for Guitar Hero status - often given the label of 'Indie's first Guitar Hero' - is Johnny Marr.
Marr's multi-layered guitar parts on his '80s recordings with the Smith's influenced and inspired a new generation of guitarist that fell slightly left-field with their styles. He is also said to be one of the guitarist that helped start the 'Manchester' sound. Johnny's blend of Bo Diddley and Marc Bolan inspired riffs, Roger McGuinn's jangly chords (from the Byrds), plus his use of layering and effects, have been hailed as some of the most important and influential guitar recordings of the 80's and although Johnny's career with the Smiths was over by the late 80's, his legendary guitar playing has made him an in-demand session guitar celebrity, as well as him embarking on new musical projects, ever since.
Born in Manchester, England, in 1963, the young Johnny was mesmerised by the songs of Del Shannon, T Rex, Johnny Cash, as well as the anthemic sounds of Phil Spector's galaxy of artists. Even from an early age, he recalls having a wooden guitar-shaped toy that he painted to look like a guitar and stuck beer bottle caps on to look like the controls!
Coming from an extended Irish family, there were often parties, weddings and birthdays, and at these family events the same band would play. The guitarist has a red Fender Strat and from the moment he took the guitar out of its case Johnny was transfixed. He felt a calling to play guitar, he had no thoughts of fame or making money, just a drive and passion to play, he says.
This passion blossomed in the summer of 1982, when an 18 year old Marr sought out reclusive poet Morrissey and formed the Smiths. Although they only released four albums in their five year life span, the partnership of Marr and Morrissey forged some of the most influential and important material of the '80s. Although critics were quick to label Marr's style as 'Jingle Jangle', guitarists knew better, instantly recognising that the complex layering of intricate parts was like the work of an artist painting a picture.