Play like THE SHADOWS Rhythm and lead
Phil Capone reveals how The Shadows created their unique sound, focusing on the hugely influential rhythm and lead styles of Bruce Welch and Hank Marvin.
The Shadows’ unique sound signalled a new musical era in the early 60s. Phil Capone explores the highly-influential rhythm and lead styles of Bruce Welch and Hank Marvin.
The Shadows started as Cliff Richards’ backing band in the late 50s. But with the release of Apache in 1960 they unleashed a new and exciting sound on gloomy post-war Britain. Audiences loved it. Apache was a monster, topping the UK charts for five weeks and began a string of hit singles that included FBI, Foot Tapper, Man Of Mystery, Kon Tiki, Wonderful Land and many more.The band at this time featured Hank Marvin (lead), Bruce Welch (rhythm), Jet Harris (bass) and Tony Meehan (drums).
Bruce Welch’s rhythm work is the foundation of The Shadows’ sound. His deft strumming technique is never sloppy; even at brisk tempos his playing remains tight and focused. In the studio Bruce primarily played acoustic, simply because that’s what complemented Hank’s electric sound best. His guitars of choice were generally Gibson, including J-45, J-50, and J-200 models. Bruce was a huge fan of Buddy Holly and you can clearly hear this influence coming through on The Shads’ early recordings.
Hank Marvin’s influences included Scotty Moore (Elvis Presley), Cliff Gallup (Gene Vincent) and James Burton (Ricky Nelson and later on, Elvis). Hank speaks about the impact of these players in Just Hank Marvin, an instructional video from the late 90s: “We’d never heard anything like it in the UK. As soon as I heard them I wanted to play like that!” Hank loved the echo sound used by Scotty Moore on early Elvis songs like Mystery Train. “One aim I had in the early days was to sound like that, but it was impossible without tape echo. I don’t even know if Scotty sounded like that on stage because it was a studio effect. In 1959 I came across one of the first echo boxes, made by an Italian firm called Meazzi and sold in Britain as a Vox echo. It had five heads so you could have a series of echoes, not just a short ‘slap’ echo. Within a week of using it I was convinced there was no other way to go. I use that kind of thing, still, today”. Hank’s pioneering multi-tap delay sound was fully formed by the time Apache was released. The vibrato bar (mistakenly called ‘tremolo arm’ by Fender) was also a huge part of Hank’s sound as it enabled him to add vibrato (difficult to apply with fingers on heavy strings – especially the wound third that Strats came with in those days), dip into notes, incorporate string bends, and apply his trademark ‘waggle’, the incredibly musical and vocal vibrato that he would add to sustained notes for dramatic effect.
It’s hard to appreciate exactly how new and exciting The Shadows, and in particular the guitar work of Hank Marvin, would have sounded back in 1960. Hank famously owned the first Fender Stratocaster to be imported into the UK, so these guys were right on the cutting edge of the electric scene. To put it into perspective, this was five years before Bob Dylan ditched acoustic folk to go electric, and six years before the release of The Blues Breakers’ Beano album with Eric Clapton.
One thing is clear: The Shads are as popular as ever, that instantly identifiable sound still proving a source of inspiration for legions of guitarists over half a century later. And when you consider that the roster of formidable players that cite Hank Marvin’s beautiful melodic style as a primary source of inspiration, include Mark Knopfler, Brian May, George Harrison, David Gilmour, Pete Townshend and Jeff Beck as the tip of a gargantuan iceberg, the band’s influence appears all but incalculable.
HANK FAMOUSLY OWNED THE FIRST STRAT IN THE UK, SO THESE GUYS WERE AT THE CUTTING EDGE OF THE ELECTRIC SCENE