Johnny Marr pisses me off. The most gifted guitarist of his generation, The Smiths were over by the time he was the ripe old age of 24. 24! Most musicians would have called it a day after being in one of the most revered bands ever. But at the age of 24 Johnny was probably thinking his career was just beginning. And it was. Not in the same trailblazing way as with The Smiths, but he had the world at his feet and the world came calling.
You’re all intelligent people, so you’ll know a lot of this anyway. Some of those who came calling were Bryan Ferry, Chrissie Hynde, Simple Minds, The The, Billy Bragg, Kirsty MacColl, Karl Bartos, (deep breath in), Beck, Oasis, George Michael, Tom Jones, Jane Birkin, Lisa Germano, the list is practically endless. In the same way that Jimmy Page cornered the 1960s session market, for the past 20 years Johnny has been the guitar player that everyone calls. The Pet Shop Boys needed a guitarist. Neil Tennant was going to learn but couldn’t be arsed, so he called Johnny instead. The Pet Shop Boys were after all “the Smiths you can dance to” and Johnny duly added his distinctive guitar to 2 tracks on their ‘Behaviour’ album. Neil Tennant would later briefly join Electronic, but that’s a whole other blog post somewhere in the future.
Post-Smiths, Johnny really made a name for himself in dance music circles. One of the reasons The Smiths broke up was due to Morrissey’s reluctance to accept new technology (such as samplers and sequencers) into the mix. So Johnny went off and played with those who embraced exactly those things. Banderas (‘Rise’ 1991) and K Klass (‘La Cassa’ 1993) were two acts who benefited. As did Stex.
In 1991 they released ‘Still Feel The Rain’. Released on the Some Bizarre label and produced by former Altered Images member (and husband of Clare Grogan) Stephen Lironi and mixed by The Grid, this nimble Balearic anthem was dressed with a vintage Chic-esque Johnny Marr guitar riff. Not to mention the stacks of drum machines, keyboards, bass sequencers and synthesised horns. That sound you can hear in the background is the sound of a thousand quiffs collapsing in despair in bedrooms up and down the country. I liked it at the time. Nowadays, ‘Still Feel The Rain’ sounds like it was recorded about 16 years ago. Which it was.
More unusual (and a million times more interesting) is Johnny’s collaboration with Alex Paterson (The Orb) and Jimmy Cauty (art terrorist and ex-KLF). Originally called Custerd before settling on the name The Transit Kings, Paterson and Cauty called on Marr to play on their 2006 album ‘Living In A Giant Candle Winking At God’. I don’t think you’ll find it in Asda. In fact, you’ll be hard pushed to find it anywhere, but this track is a lovely piece of ambient house.
Taken from their ‘Token EP’ EP, the guitar playing on ‘America Is Unavailable’ is pure Johnny Marr. Every facet of his guitar style is here. A bit of feedback and distortion. A great riff. Some African sounding bits. Weird chords. Some slide playing. What sounds like some backwards stuff in the middle. Some frantic acoustic strumming. It’s all there.
Last year Johnny joined Modest Mouse after they put out the call that they were looking for a “Johnny Marr-esque” guitarist. “Why have Johnny Marr-esque when you can have Johnny Marr?” he asked, and he got the job. The Modest Mouse album ‘We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank’ is up there as one of my favourite albums of the year.
More recently, Johnny has become a lecturer in music at the University Of Salford. He’s only 6 years older than me, he plays guitar like no-one else, he’s done it all and his hair nearly always looks brilliant. Johnny Marr, you piss me off.
A post about Johnny Marr and not one picture of The Smiths.
More Johnny Marr stuff here!