Published: July 29, 2022

James Charles Marshall

If the only thing you did with your life was teach the art of drumming to Mitch Mitchell (The Jimi Hendrix Experience), Micky Waller ( Little Richard’s band) and Micky Underwood (who played alongside Ritchie Blackmore in The Outlaws), that’d be enough to earn you a place in the Rock Pantheon. Now imagine if that were your least significant contribution to Rock History thing. Imagine if in addition to that, you also invented the most iconic speaker of the last 75 years, the Marshall Amp, thus earning the nickname “the Father of Loud.”

Jim Marshall was born in West London on July 29, 1923, and spent much of his childhood in a body cast thanks to tubercular bones. But the party ended in the midst of the Great Depression, as poverty forced him to find work to help support his family, though he found time to learn tap dance, sing with an orchestra and learn to play drums. As a teen he would haul his gear to shows in a trailer pulled behind his bicycle.

After failing his physical to join the war effort, he got a job as an engineer, and then in 1962 realized a dream of opening a music shop, where a customer suggested he start make a cheaper, more affordable amp then the American models dominating the market. After talking to a bunch of musicians, including The Who’s Pete Townshend, he and engineer Dudley Craven came up with a unique sound that would become known as “the Marshall Crunch.” The amps debuted in 1962, and within two years he made his first export, to the great Roy Orbison.

It was Townshend who asked that a Marshall amp be connected to a cabinet, thus given birth to the iconic “Marshall Stack.” Townshend’s desire for everything to be louder was a regular motivator for Marshall.

In 1965, Eric Clapton was poised to rejoin John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers, but he’d left his old Marshall amp behind in Greece, so he asked Marshall for a more compact model.

“He wanted one so it would be easy for him to put the whole thing in the boot of his car,” Marshall explained years later.

Things really took off in 1967 when a relatively unknown American named Jimi Hendrix came around and purchased four set ups for his stage act. A few months later, Hendrix’s debut album, Are You Experienced?, was released.

“He was our greatest ambassador, without a doubt,” said Mr. Marshall. Among the other rock icon to play through a Marshall amp were Cream, The Jam, Guns n’ Roses, Dinosaur Jr, AC/DC, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Pixies, Iron Maiden, Paul McCartney, Aerosmith, Alice Cooper, Mötley Crüe, Motörhead, Blur, and Spinal Tap.

Over the years, Marshall eschewed several offers to buy the company.

“You can’t take it with you, you can only live in one house and drive one car at a time. It’s the name that means something to me — because it is my name.”

Marshall passed away on April 5, 2012, at the age of 88, having forever changed to sound of rock and roll.


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