Ears still ringing from the 1960s? Jim Marshall might be to blame.
Marshall was the man behind “The” amplifier, the weapon of choice for guitarists like Jimi Hendrix, Pete Townshend of The Who, and Eric Clapton — “The Marshall.”
The sixties superstars’ ear-shattering sounds, blasting first in small clubs and music halls and later in stadiums and arenas, relied on the basic Marshall amp for their frenzied, thunderous roar.
That was no accident. Marshall, who died Thursday at the age of 88, was not looking for precision when he and his sound engineers came up with the early Marshall amps in 1960. He said in a 2000 interview that what he wanted was raw, fuzzy power.
He said the rival Fender amp, tremendously popular at the time, produced an extremely clean sound that worked well with jazz and country and western but did not satisfy younger players searching for something different. He was looking for a rougher sound.
Marshall was a larger than life figure with a taste for single malt Scotch whiskey and Cuban Montecristo cigars. Even in his 70s, when he was already suffering from some serious health problems, he thought nothing of hopping a plane to catch an Iron Maiden concert.
He had suffered several strokes in recent years, and developed cancer at the end of 2011, his son Terry Marshall said Friday hours after his father’s death.
He said the cancer led to an extended hospitalization followed by a brief hospice stay.
“My wife and I were with him when he passed away at about 8:15,” Terry Marshall said. “He got cancer toward the end of last year, and had surgery for that, and it came back. He was in a terrible state the last five or six weeks. He’s in a much better place now.”
He said his dad had liked being known as “the father of loud.”
Marshall’s death was announced on the company website with a statement honoring “the joy” his amplifiers brought to millions of music fans and vowed that the “world-famous, omnipresent script logo that proudly bears your name will always live on.”
The familiar amps bearing his name can be seen in thousands of rock ‘n’ roll performance photos dating back to the era when Townshend and the Who would smash their Marshall amps at the conclusion of their stage shows — Marshall said in 2000 that Townshend had actually been careful not to destroy the expensive speakers, damaging only the cloth exterior, which was easy (and cheap) to repair.
Terry Marshall said the first amp was produced in 1960, a few years before the musical explosion that would give guitar-oriented rock its place in music history.
The first Marshall amps didn’t look like much — just a simple black box with a speaker inside and basic controls on top — but they packed a formidable punch. Aficionados credit him with developing the “amp stack” that allowed garage bands to make a powerful noise in small dance halls and gymnasiums.
Jim Marshall turned his amplifiers into a successful business, keeping much of his production in England. The company is based in a small factory near Milton Keynes north of London.
Marshall was proud that he resisted suggestions that he shift all production outside of England to save costs.
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 his various charitable deeds.
He is survived by two children, two stepchildren and grandchildren and great-grandchildren.