Jim Marshall, who made rock n roll rawer and noisier by inventing the amplifier that helped define guitarists from Jimi Hendrix to members of countless garage bands, passed away yesterday at a London hospice. He was 88.
His death was announced by the company he founded, Marshall Amplification. His son, Terry Marshall, said he’d had cancer and endured a series of strokes.
Mr. Marshall was part of the English music scene as a drummer, drumming teacher and owner of a store in London which sold drums as the new rock music was gathering momentum in the early 1960s. Musicians urged him to add guitars and amplifiers to his wares. One of them, Pete Townshend, said he told Jim that he wanted something bigger and louder.
I was demanding a more powerful machine gun to blow people away all around the world, Townshend recalled years later.
With his sixth prototype, Marshall and his assistants came up with a black box containing a speaker inside and controls on top. It would become the basis for the formidable wall of amplifiers used by Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page and almost every other major rock guitarist in the 60s and 70s and by the next generation of guitarists as well, including Kurt Cobain, Eddie Van Halen and Slash.
This acoustic artillery came to be called the wall of Marshalls or Marshall stacks. And Jim was named the father of loud.
The Marshall amps were cheaper than the ones made by Fender, which produced a more precise sound. But the emerging rockers wanted something rougher and rowdier. In a tribute on Twitter, Mötley Crües bassist, Nikki Sixx, said Marshall had been responsible for some of the greatest audio moments in musics history and 50 percent responsible for all our hearing loss.
James Charles Marshall was born in London on July 29, 1923, to parents who owned a fish-and-chips shop. He was stricken with tuberculosis of the bones and spent much of his early youth in a plaster cast from his knees to his armpits. When he was 13, sinking family fortunes forced him to take jobs in a scrap-metal yard, a jam factory and a shoe shop. Having learned to tap dance at 14, he was hired as a dancer and singer with a 16-piece orchestra. He took up drumming and rode his bicycle to performances, pulling his drum kit in a trailer.
During World War II, Marshall worked at an engineering firm after failing his draft physical and read engineering books on his own. After the war, he taught drumming and eventually had 65 students.
He used his teaching profits to buy his music store. A regular visitor was Ken Bran, from Peppy and the New York Twisters band. Marshall hired Bran as a service engineer. The new employee proposed building their own amplifiers, and Dudley Craven, a young engineer, was brought in to help. They collected ideas from music-makers about creating a fuzzier, more rambunctious sound then in demand. The sound became known as the Marshall crunch.
The first model, made in 1962, attracted 23 orders the first day. Two years later Mr. Marshall had 16 people in a factory making 20 amplifiers a week. Exports began in 1964 with an order from Roy Orbison. More growth followed as the company supplied mammoth sound systems to acts like Elton and Deep Purple.
In his later years, Marshall became involved with numerous charities and in 2003 was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II for his successful export of British-made goods and for his philanthropy.
He is survived by a son of his first marriage, and by a daughter, stepson and stepdaughter of his second, as well as by grandchildren and great-grandchildren.