The guitar world has been in mourning since last Thursday when Jim Marshall, “The Father of Loud” and the legendary founder and leader of the amplifier company that bore his name passed away.
James Marshall was born in 1923 in a London suburb, and grew up during the depths of the Depression, which he credited for his intense work ethic. At age 5, he contracted “tubercular bones,” a rare disease that makes the bones extremely susceptible to cracking and breaking; he spent the next seven years in a full body cast and was home schooled by his uncles and parents.
To strengthen his legs, his father signed him up for a tap dance class where his talent for rhythm and singing emerged. At age 14, he began singing with big bands and also took up the drums. Unable to enlist in the military during World War II, he did metal work at a Spitfire fighter plane manufacturing plant, learning skills he would later apply in his own manufacturing business. Simultaneously, he developed his drumming skills and became quite popular, resulting in an endorsement of Premier Drums.
In the 1950s, Marshall opened a drum school in his home to capitalize on his popularity, teaching up to 70 students a week. (Some of his students — notably Keith Moon and Mitch Mitchell — went on to great success themselves!) In 1960, Marshall opened a small drum shop, which became a popular hangout for musicians. (Legend says that Keith Moon joined The Who by responding to a flier on the bulletin board in the shop.) At the request of the guitarists who gathered at the shop, Marshall began carrying Fender and Gibson guitars in his store.
Marshall’s move into building amplifiers is credited to Pete Townshend of The Who, who wanted Jim to make him a bigger, louder amplifier. In 1962, Jim joined with his repairman Ken Bran and EMI technician Dudley Craven to begin work on the amp project. The JTM 45 (“J” for James, “T” for Jim’s son Terry, and “M” for Marshall, with the “45” inexplicably representing the amp’s output, which was actually around 35 watts) was released to great acclaim from Townshend and other guitarists. Soon the shop was selling up to 12 amps a week. Using the skills he mastered during the war, Marshall himself built the amps’ metal chassis between drum lessons and running the store.
In 1966, everything changed when Jimi Hendrix asked to meet his namesake (his full name was James Marshall Hendrix) at the amplifier company, and subsequently purchased three stacks. Hendrix used the amps on stage at Woodstock and Monterrey, and exposed the brand to the world, leading to massive growth in sales. (Jim Marshall dubbed Hendrix “Marshall’s greatest ambassador.”) In 1967 a Marshall factory was opened, followed by a second two years later. Marshall moved the company to its current location in 1984. Driven by his work ethic and constant reinvestment in the company, Marshall continued to innovate and thrive when many companies did not survive, and celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.
Marshall was named an Officer of The Order of the British Empire, received several Queens Export Awards, and was given an honorary Doctorate from Five Towns College. He was one of the first to be named to the Rock Walk in Hollywood. Marshall was an active philanthropist, donating hundreds of thousands to charities annually. He was also a member of the Grand Order of Water Rats, a charity that boasts such names as Peter Sellers, Charlie Chaplin, and Sir George Martin.
Jim Marshall remained active in his company until his death, attending trade shows and signing autographs at events. He passed away on April 5, at age 88, from cancer.
Our condolences to the entire Marshall family. As we said on our Facebook page, “In memoriam, let’s have a moment of loudness. Thanks, Jim, for rockin’ our world.”