The Smiths’ Johnny Marr once picked his favourite guitarist
Johnny Marr, not only the former guitarist of The Smiths, has been known to slay his Fender Jaguar in an array of other great bands over the last few decades like Modest Mouse, Electronic, The The and The Cribs to name just a few. It’s safe to say that Johnny Marr is undoubtedly in the conversation as not only the best but the most important British guitarist of all time.
So when Marr speaks about which other guitar players he finds inspiring or classes among his favourites then you take notice as praise seldom comes higher than from the mouth of the Mancunian guitar hero.
With so many iconic musicians who have carried the bastion of guitar music on from where The Smiths left off such as The Stone Roses, Pulp to across the pond with bands like The Killers or The National who have taken inspirations from Marr’s work with his previous outfit, which begs the question about who were the predecessors that inspired The Smiths guitarist?
In conversation with MOJO in 2015, Marr got on to the topic of Pete Townshend and was asked where he thinks he ranks in the conversation among the greatest of all time: “He’s the best of the ’60s guitar players by miles. Definitely my favourite. George Harrison was inventive, but I love the wildness in Townshend. His solos are brilliant – ‘I Can See For Miles’ and ‘Slip Kid’ – and he was always making progress. You can hear him developing his playing. I love that fluid lead playing he was doing in the ’80s, like on Eminence Front. Then there’s his acoustic playing.”
Marr continued to wax lyrical about Townshend: “Listen to the 12-string on ‘Substitute’, ‘I’m Free’ is a great acoustic guitar track. And what he did on ‘Pinball Wizard’ invented a whole thing. On the demos, too, you hear the incredible acoustic guitar. It’s neither the pretty picking nor the proficient strum. His approach to acoustic is fierce and dynamic – completely individual, and you can hear that on Tommy and the Quadrophenia demos.”
The Smiths legend was then probed further on the mastermind behind The Who and why he resonated with him: “One of the things I like about Pete Townshend is that he always seems very busy. When you used to see pictures of him, he always seemed like he was busy in the studio plugging things in; he was busy as a guitar player and he’s busy as a performer. I always found that inspiring. You didn’t get the impression that their music came together from them hanging out for four or five hours waiting for something to happen.”
There was also one attribute about the band that gave them that relatability that created an affiliation with Marr that he never had with The Beatles or The Rolling Stones, he explained: “Glimpsing them on telly in the in the ’70s, we were aware they were royalty but they always looked quite bedraggled. You don’t get the same sense of violence from the Beatles or the Stones.”
That is praise of the absolute highest order and it’s hard to disagree with the impact that Pete Townshend as had as not just a guitarist but a visionary with Tommy and Quadrophenia which remain as true art over 50 years on from their releases.