Join Stuart Ryan as he explores the acoustic style of indie hero Johnny Marr, with his inventive chord work, capo use and tight rhythms.
Johnny Marr’s acoustic style with his tight rhythms and inventive chord work infused Smiths classics, says Stuart Ryan.
Born in Manchester in October 1963, Johnny Marr’s guitar style is perhaps the very definition of ‘indie’ playing at the highest level. Think of Marr’s classic guitar parts with The Smiths and you probably conjure words like ‘jangly’, ‘textured’, ‘layered’ and ‘rich’. Although often bashed by players of a technical or leadfocused bent, Marr is a fantastically inventive guitarist whose parts combine a wide range of influences to produce something distinctive and memorable. Like that other great player from the 1980s, Andy Summers, here we are dealing with a guitarist who eschewed lead playing for complex, layered rhythm parts and bright, sparse rhythm figures that belie a distinct rockabilly influence. Indeed, take a careful listen to Marr’s playing with The Smiths and you will hear everything from rock and roll style parts dripping with tremolo (How Soon Is Now), jaunty rockabilly (What Difference Does It Make) and even African Highlife (This Charming Man). Johnny Marr’s early influences were Keith Richards, The Velvet Underground and T-Rex. However, he has also been influenced by jazz-fusion legend John McLaughlin and funk man Nile Rodgers.
Marr’s early band work consisted of Thin Lizzy and Stones covers. His first group, White Dice, also included fellow future Smiths-man Andy Rourke. Soon after this he met Steven Morrissey and The Smiths were born. The bright, jangly sound of Marr’s Telecaster and Rickenbacker were the perfect foil for Morrissey’s mournful vocals and The Smiths were rightfully heralded as one of the era’s most interesting and inventive bands.
His electric guitar work is well documented but his acoustic parts are just as interesting. Although the acoustic commonly forms a bedrock to bolster the rhythm section on Smiths tracks there are plenty of times where it comes more to the fore and showcases Marr as a tight and confident chordal guitarist. Tracks like There Is A Light That Never Goes Out showcase this inventiveness while This Charming Man displays his layered approach with up to 15 parts in place to build the track.
This month’s study shows how Marr creates tight, strummed rhythm parts using a range of decorated chords to play through what may otherwise be a standard progression. However, he is also a great fingerpicker so delve into The Smiths and you’ll hear a unique and inventive player and essential study for anyone looking to develop their acoustic style within a band context. NEXT MONTH Stuart delves into the interesting chord work of 12-string lover David Bowie
while the acoustic commonly forms a bedrock to the rhythm section on smiths tracks, often it comes to fore
Johnny Marr with an old Martin D-28