Metal Mondays: All Hail Jim Marshall's Black Wall

Categories: Metal Mondays

marshall-rip.jpg
Photo by Jaakonam via Wikipedia
A wall of Marshall amps at a Slayer concert.
See also: The 10 Hottest Chicks in Heavy Metal

So, the Revolver Golden Gods are this week. Screw you if you're going. Yeah, I didn't plan wisely. Too busy bumbling about how Dungeon and Dragon nerds are more metal than you (guaranteed a ton of those dudes planned ahead) and shattering whiskey bottles in my room trying to star in the new Pantera video.

Which will be premiering at the Golden Gods.

Which I got press passes for a couple days before hand, but had no flight, no hotel, and couldn't take off work to travel to LA and party. And oh yeah, and no money. Pretty much because I'm a writer and a metalhead.

So as I sit here wallowing--damn't, I'm out of whiskey too?!--I decided not to talk about the Golden Gods. Anyone who loves metal is probably already on overload about the awards show, anyway. No, I've decided to use my time to hail and pay tribute to a different Golden God. A man who created the gritty, beautifully distorted roar that made Van Halen, Jimi Hendrix, or even the fictional Spinal Tap.

I'm talking about Jim Marshall, of course, the man who invented that famed lovely wall of black, vinyl-clad cabinets stacked to the ceiling, the amplification gear that has dominated rock stages since the early 1960s, and which without, rock 'n' roll -- and thus heavy metal -- would've never been the same. Controlled distortion? Check. Unprecedented volume? Check. A dramatic background of solid black noise that forever made musicians seem even more badass? Check.

Known as one of the four forefathers of rock music equipment, it's already been national news that Marshall died on April 5, 2012 at the age of 88. Rockers everywhere began paying their respects via social media, from Megadeth's Dave Ellefson ("You made rock 'n' roll what it is for so many of us") to Motley's Nikki Six ("R.I.P. Jim Marshall. You were responsible for some of the greatest audio moments in music's history and 50% of all our hearing loss").

Marshall's life wasn't centered solely around building audio equipment. Throughout his days he dabbled in tap dancing, being a big band singer and drummer, and worked as a toolmaker for aircraft manufacturers during WWII. At one point he began doling out drum lessons and opened a London drum shop, a move that led him to rock music's finest. One of his students was even Mitch Mitchell, who would later introduce him to the leader of his new trio, Hendrix.

But a major point in Marshall's path came from the incessant nagging of one of his shop customers. This customer, a young rock musician and the son of one of Marshall's big band buddies, was hanging around and he kept asking why Marshall didn't have guitars and amps as a part of his shop inventory. One day Marshall decided to take the young man's advice -- whose name happened to be Pete Townshend -- to add this equipment to his storefront, and his business took off. Then, once Townshend learned of Marshall's technical background, he asked him to devise an amp with more power and rawness than the more clean-sounding Fenders.

From this point on, Marshall would be on a mission to build the bigger, louder speakers that musicians always were looking for, and his first success was with his sixth prototype. He tried everything, from incorporating airplane vacuum tubes into the design, to packing four 12-inch speakers into angled cabinets, to eventually making the 100-watt amp powering eight speakers (two of the cabinets in the famed stack formation).

So with all the hype about this Wednesday's Golden God Awards - where no doubt we will all see several of the Marshall stack formations -- honor the people who are responsible for the sounds that you know and love with a salute, a shot, some headbanging. Not just the musicians, but people like Jim Marshall and many more who are mostly unknown to the fans, and helped make heavy music sound so deliciously loud that there's probably an entire generation who lost their hearing by the age of 42.

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1 comments
Barry Levene
Barry Levene

For all interested parties, MNVDISCS have footage of Jim Marshall at an award ceremony.
This event filmed by Will Scally, has never been broadcast.
Please feel free to contact me.
Regards,
Barry Levene.
3sixtypr@gmx.com

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