The Smiths founding member, Johnny Marr, is a vital figure in influencing modern alternative music and whenever the topic turns to the greatest guitarist of all time, his name is rightly mentioned. His trademark jangly sound that he developed back in the early 1980s not only soundtracked a generation, but that generation went onto take inspiration from Mr Marr’s teachings which can still clearly be heard in 2020. His work is a mainstay in millions of our record collections, but what’s in his?
The last decade has been one to watch for Marr since he went solo following successful tenures in with cult indie bands like Modest Mouse and The Cribs. Having released four albums to date, it is clear he has found his idiosyncratic sound, different from what he produced with his fellow Smiths friends, bringing his different inspirations into one—but who exactly helped forge the Marr sound?
Marr is a man of exquisite taste in all aspects of life, ranging from his fashion sense to just his generally positive outlook on life so it’s unsurprising that the first record he ever bought is one that stands the test of time. In a feature with Pitchfork, Marr went through how his music taste has changed throughout his life and talked in-depth about falling in love with T. Rex’s Jeepster — which he still fondly remembers paying for with his own money.
“The first 45 I ever bought with my own money was a T. Rex record, which, luckily, is very cool,” Marr admitted before self depreciatingly noting, “It was a fluke, though—it was in a bargain shoebox in a furniture store, and I didn’t know what it was. But I bought it because it had a picture of Marc Bolan on the B-side label, and I figured I was getting more bang for my buck! I fell in love with that image. The song was ‘Jeepster’, and I didn’t have to learn to love it because those thunking guitar riffs were so great,” he continued.
Discovering that record at just 10-years-old was an eye-opening moment for Marr who had been enlightened into the world of rock ‘n’ roll which he had acquired a taste for at such an early age. Since that moment, he has never looked back and, if he had landed on a different record in that furniture store that day, who knows if he would have fallen as deeply in love with music as he did.
“After that, I spent every bit of money I had on 45s, and it’s a habit that’s not really left me. When ‘Metal Guru’ from T. Rex’s The Slider came out, I was knocked sideways, too. Hearing it for the first time was one of those things that can only be described as transcendent, people who’ve had those moments with rock music will know what I’m talking about,” he added.
“It’s not something you can get from anything else. Seeing ‘Metal Guru’performed on Top of the Pops was a life-changing moment for me. I got on my pushbike, aged 10, and rode and rode for miles until I got lost in this park in the early hours of the morning. It really affected me that deeply. That feeling was something I wanted to create in music.
“By this time, I was already trying to hold some chords down on the guitar. I was very serious about it. I had a crummy acoustic that took a lot of love and dedication to play, but I never had to be told to practice. I never had a lesson,” Marr concluded.
The guitarist was one of the countless kids who felt inspired to create after hearing the magic of Mark Bolan and T. Rex. That said, the fact that he succeeded in achieving his dream of replicating that feeling is a remarkable testament to not only his talent but also his determination from such a young age. From the moment he dropped the needle on Jeepster, Marr knew there was only one thing that he wanted to do with his life.
Even in the wildest dreams of this 10-year-old from Wythenshawe would he believe that one day he would be in the conversation alongside the likes of Marc Bolan in being one of the most important figures in the history of British music.