6 Guitar Players That Influenced Johnny Marr (Part 2)

In part one I introduced three great players who had a major influence on Marr – James Honeyman-Scott, James Williamson & John McGeoch. All three are in some way directly or indirectly related to punk/post-punk/new wave guitar culture, but the next three are most certainly not.

#3 – Nils Lofgren

Many people will be familar with Nils’ work through his sideman association with Bruce Springsteen & Neil Young, but during the mid to late 70’s he released a number of solo albums that had a major impact on the young Marr.

“Nils Lofgren had this really melodic lead style, as opposed to a modal, bluesy style. He played across relative minors a lot of the time, which meant he could play a really poignant melody even in the middle of a straight-ahead rock track, and that was something that really interested me. All guitar players know that when you first start it’s incredibly tempting and easy to just go for that Chuck Berry sort of thing, but Nils Lofgren never really did that. The songs were great, too, and he had this amazing, almost guileless, boyish voice. He also played beautiful slide on acoustic guitar”

Another notable feature of Lofgren’s style is his use of a thumbpick on electric guitar. In Johnny Marr’s immediate post-Smiths work he also deployed this technique. On the UK Top Of The Pops show, playing with The The, you can clearly see him channeling Nils via use of this and also sporting a natural wood finish Fender Strat.

The clip below is an approximation of Nils’ playing on the intro to the live version of ‘Keith Don’t Go (Ode to the Glimmer Twin)’. He uses lots of open strings, double stops and some interesting voicings; all features of Marr’s style too.

# 2 – Bert Jansch

Regarded as one of the all-time greats in the folk guitar genre, Bert started out in the early 60’s UK folk revival and went on to form the band Pentangle before returning to solo work in the mid-70s and beyond. His style is mercurial, loaded with attitude and brilliant.

On the topic of Bert, Marr is quoted as saying “I already had a certain facility and knew what I wanted to do. But someone gave me this album – and this is after punk, so it was quite a broad-minded thing to do in those days – with the tagline, ‘There you go, hotshot, with your Johnny Thunders shit – let’s see if you can get your head round that.’ And I must confess it was one of the few times I actually sat down and thought, ‘Wow, I’m either gonna have to work this out, or give up’.”

I’m assuming the album he is referring to is LA Turnaround (from 1974), which, amongst other great songs, contains the other-worldly instrumental Chambertin, where Bert plays one guitar and makes it sound like two.

In my clip below, I opted for something from sixties-era Jansch – the intro & verse from Blackwaterside, his interpretation of a traditional folk ballad.

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#bertjansch #blackwaterside #thumbpick #yamahaacoustic

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# 1 – Nile Rodgers

Last and by no means least in our list of 6 is the guitar playing, songwriting and producing giant that is Nile Rodgers.

Rodgers has written, produced, and performed on albums that have cumulatively sold more than 500 million units and 75 million singles worldwide. As a result, (although they are all great) he is a in very different category to the other musicians in this list. Most people on the planet will have heard something Nile created, produced or played on at some point in their lives.

“When I was younger I’d spend a lot of time sitting in my bedroom with my guitar-playing friends, listening to Neil Young and Bert Jansch, skinnin’ up and being serious, and my sister would be in the next bedroom listening to dance music and getting ready to go out with her friends, and they just sounded like they were having a better time – and they looked better, too! They’d say to me, ‘what are you listening to this miserable crap for?’ After that I started getting turned on to Chic, The Fatback Band, The Ohio Players and War. If you listen to The Smiths’ The Boy With The Thorn In His Side, the rhythm part from verse two onwards – that chick-a-chick part – it’s pure Nile Rogers”

In addition to ‘The Boy With The Thorn In His Side’ there are a host of other tunes where Marr tips his hat to Rodgers. One example: if you play the progression from ‘This Night Has Opened My Eyes’ with extra chick-a-chick emphasis it really does sound like something the Chic Organisation might have created in the late ’70s. Just needs some disco strings and a killer Luther Vandross backing vocal on it…

I picked out a Sister Sledge number for the video. Of all the clips in this series, its probably the only one that regular music fans might recognise :).

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