Art Thompson: Remembering Jim Marshall

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When I heard the sad news today that Jim Marshall had passed away, I immediately thought about the last time I’d spoken with him, which was several years ago in Milton Keynes, England. I was there with GP editor-in-chief Michael Molenda on a visit to the Marshall factory. After touring the facilities and getting our ears royally pummeled by live demos of some new amplifiers, we were invited to lunch with Jim and his wife, along with Marshall product manager Nick Bowcott and Zakk Wylde and his wife.
Holding court at the table in his favorite restaurant, Marshall entertained us with stories—and he had lots of them to tell. Some I’d heard before, like how he came up with the first 4x12 speaker cabinet for Pete Townsend, but other I hadn’t, such as the one about meeting Jimi Hendrix in 1966. Jim didn’t sing that day—he usually reserved that treat for the late-night crowd at his famous dinner parties—but as the wine and scotch flowed that afternoon, we all peppered Jim with questions about Marshall history, which he recalled with uncanny detail and a certain fatherly-like pride that always seemed so genuine.
I returned home with cool memories and a couple of signed bottles of Marshall-labeled Inchmurrin single-malt Scotch whiskey. I still have them.
Jim Marshall was the last of breed of amp makers who was in the right place at the right time and had the right products for the most influential rock players of the era: Beck, Clapton, Page, Townsend, and Hendrix. Marshall was never knighted for his achievements, but it seems he earned a more appropriate title—“Father of Loud.”
I’ll always remember Jim Marshall at NAMM and other trade shows patiently signing autographs for fans that would stand in long lines for a chance to meet him. It was probably the part that Marshall enjoyed most about these events. My only regret is that I didn’t have him sign the back panel of my 1966 JTM-50. There would always be time, right?

The May 2012 issue of GP features a cover story called “Hendrix at 70,” in which we ran Jim Marshall’s own story about his times with Jimi. It’s a cool read, and a fitting tribute to the man whose amplifiers for so many decades have been “the sound of rock.”

Jim Marshall
Founder of Marshall Amplification

During the mid 1960s, a lot of well-known and also up-and-coming rock guitarists used to come and visit me at my music shop in Hanwell, West London. But there’s one chap in particular that I’ll definitely never forget. On a Saturday afternoon in the autumn of ‘66, a tall, lanky American walked in with Johnny Mitchell—or “Mitch,” as most people knew him. Mitch used to work in my shop as a “Saturday boy,” and he was also one of my top drum students. The fellow who came in with him that day was James Marshall Hendrix, and he quickly became the greatest ambassador Marshall Amplifiers ever had.
 When Jimi first came over to England in the summer of 1966 with his manager, Chas Chandler, he quickly put together a three-piece band with Mitchell on drums and Noel Redding on bass guitar. James “Tappy” Wright, who was a part of Hendrix’s management team, recalls that when the group started rehearsing, Jimi tried various amplifier setups but wasn’t happy with any of them. Apparently, Chandler asked Pete Townsend of the Who for some advice, so Pete sent over his roadie, Neville Chester—who later went on to roadie for Hendrix—with a Marshall Super 100 head.
I’m delighted to say that Jimi fell in love with the Marshall sound straight away. Knowing that Mitch knew me, Jimi said to him, “I’ve just got to have this Marshall stuff because it sounds so good. I also wouldn’t mind meeting up with this character who has got my name—James Marshall.”
I must admit, when Mitch introduced me to Jimi, I immediately thought, “Christ, here we go again—another American wanting something for nothing.” Thankfully, I was dead wrong. The very first thing Jimi said to me was, “I’ve got to use your stuff, but I don’t want anything given to me. I want to pay the full asking price.” That impressed me greatly, but then he added, “I am going to need service wherever I am in the world, though.” My initial reaction was, “Blimey, he’s going to expect me to put an engineer on a plane every time a valve needs replacing. It’s going to cost me a bloody fortune!”
 Instead, I suggested our staff teach Hendrix’s tech, Gerry Stickells, basic amp-servicing skills, such as changing and biaising the valves. He must have been a very good learner, because we were never called on to sort out any problems.
Despite his appearance—which was pretty wild for that time—and his fantastic onstage showmanship, Jimi was a surprisingly soft-spoken and polite young man with a marvelous sense of humor. We remained friends right up to his tragic and untimely death. Sadly, because we both had such hectic schedules, I only got to see him perform a few times. Jimi was a fantastic character, and I always had a great time on those rare occasions we managed to get together. In my book, Jimi’s playing is still the best ever, and goodness knows what he’d be doing if he was still with us today. I can still remember him scaring the living daylights out of all the big English guitarists when he first came over here, because they’d never heard or seen anything like Jimi. No one had. His talent was extraordinary.