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Johnny Marr (born John Martin Maher; 31 October 1963) is an English musician, singer, and songwriter. He was co-songwriter – with Morrissey – and guitarist of The Smiths between 1982–87. Marr has also been a member of Electronic, The The, Modest Mouse and The Cribs, as well as a prolific session musician. In 2013, he released a solo album titled The Messenger (2013).
In 2013, the NME honoured Marr with its Godlike Genius award, hailing Marr as "not content with rewriting the history of music with one of the world's greatest ever bands, The Smiths, he's continued to push boundaries and evolve throughout his career, working with some of the best and most exciting artists on the planet." He was voted the fourth best guitarist of the last 30 years in a poll conducted by the BBC in 2010. Phil Alexander, Editor-in-Chief of Mojo, has described Marr as "arguably Britain's last great guitar stylist".
Marr was born John Martin Maher in 1963 in Ardwick, Manchester, to Irish emigrants from Athy, County Kildare. The family moved to Wythenshawe in 1972. From 1975, he attended St Augustine's Catholic Grammar School, which in 1977 merged with other schools to form St John Plessington High School.
Maher had aspirations to be a professional football player. He was approached by Nottingham Forest and had trials with Manchester City F.C.
Maher formed his first band, The Paris Valentinos, at the age of 13, with Andy Rourke and Kevin Williams (who later became an actor, known as Kevin Kennedy), performing for the first time at a Jubilee party in Benchill in June 1977, playing Rolling Stones and Thin Lizzy covers. In 1979, he played a single gig at Wythenshawe Forum with a band called Sister Ray and re-united with Rourke in a band called White Dice. White Dice entered a demo-tape competition organised by the NME and won an audition for F-Beat Records, which they attended in April 1980 but were not signed.
In October 1980, Marr enrolled at Wythenshawe College, serving as President of the school's Student Union. White Dice dissolved in 1981. Maher and Rourke then formed a funk band, The Freak Party, with Simon Wolstencroft on drums. Around this time, Maher first met Matt Johnson, with whom he would later collaborate.
By early 1982, The Freak Party had fizzled out, being unable to find a singer. Marr approached Rob Allman, singer in White Dice, who suggested Steven Morrissey, a short-lived singer with The Nosebleeds. Maher approached a mutual friend asking to be introduced and they visited Morrissey at his house in Kings Road, Stretford in May.
Marr's jangly Rickenbacker and Fender Telecaster guitar playing became synonymous with the Smiths' sound. Marr's friend Andy Rourke joined as bass player and Mike Joyce was recruited as drummer. Signing to indie label Rough Trade Records, they released their first single, "Hand in Glove", on 13 May 1983. By February 1984, The Smiths fanbase was sufficiently large to launch the band's long-awaited eponymous debut album to number two in the UK chart. Early in 1985 the band released their second album, Meat Is Murder. This was more strident and political than its predecessor, and it was the band's only album (barring compilations) to reach number one in the UK charts. During 1985 the band completed lengthy tours of the UK and the US while recording the next studio record, The Queen Is Dead.
In 1989 Spin magazine rated The Queen Is Dead as number one of "The Greatest Albums Ever Made". Spin was not alone in this designation—numerous periodicals rank The Smiths and their albums, especially 'The Queen Is Dead', high on their best ever lists. NME, for example, has dubbed the Smiths the most important rock band of all time. However, a legal dispute with Rough Trade had delayed the album by almost seven months (it had been completed in November 1985), and Marr was beginning to feel the stress of the band's exhausting touring and recording schedule. He later told NME, "'Worse for wear' wasn't the half of it: I was extremely ill. By the time the tour actually finished it was all getting a little bit... dangerous. I was just drinking more than I could handle." Meanwhile, Rourke was fired from the band in early 1986 due to his use of heroin, although he was reinstated in short order. Despite their continued success, personal differences within the band – including the increasingly strained relationship between Morrissey and Marr—saw them on the verge of splitting.
In August 1987, Marr left the group, and auditions to find a replacement for him proved fruitless. By the time Strangeways, Here We Come (named after Strangeways Prison, Manchester) was released in September, the band had split up. The breakdown in the relationship has been primarily attributed to Morrissey's becoming annoyed by Marr's work with other artists and Marr's growing frustration with Morrissey's musical inflexibility. Referring to the songs recorded in the band's last session together (B-sides for the "Girlfriend in a Coma" single, which preceded the album's release), Marr said "I wrote 'I Keep Mine Hidden', but 'Work Is a Four-Letter Word' I hated. That was the last straw, really. I didn't form a group to perform Cilla Black songs." In 1989, in an interview with young fan, Tim Samuels (who later became a BBC journalist), Morrissey claimed the lack of a managerial figure and business problems were to blame for the band's eventual split.
In 1996, Smiths' drummer Mike Joyce took Morrissey and Marr to court, claiming that he had not received his fair share of recording and performance royalties. Morrissey and Marr had claimed the lion's share of The Smiths' recording and performance royalties and allowed ten percent each to Joyce and Rourke. Composition royalties were not an issue, as Rourke and Joyce had never been credited as composers for the band. Morrissey and Marr claimed that the other two members of the band had always agreed to that split of the royalties, but the court found in favour of Joyce and ordered that he be paid over £1 million in back pay and receive 25% thenceforth. As Smiths' royalties had been frozen for two years, Rourke settled for a smaller lump sum to pay off his debts and continued to receive 10%. Morrissey was described by the judge as "devious, truculent and unreliable".
Marr and Morrissey have repeatedly stated they will not reunite the band. In 2005, VH1 attempted to get the band back together on its Bands Reunited show but abandoned its attempt after the show's host, Aamer Haleem, failed to corner Morrissey before a show. In December 2005 it was announced that Johnny Marr and the Healers would play at Manchester v Cancer, a benefit show for cancer research being organised by Andy Rourke and his production company, Great Northern Productions. Rumours suggested that a Smiths reunion would occur at this concert but were dispelled by Marr on his website.
In an October 2007 interview on BBC Radio Five Live, Marr hinted at a potential reformation in the future, saying that "stranger things have happened so, you know, who knows?" Marr went on to say that "It's no biggy. Maybe we will in 18 or 32 years' time when we all need to for whatever reasons, but right now Morrissey is doing his thing and I'm doing mine, so that's the answer really." This was the first indication of a possible Smiths reunion from Marr, who previously had said that reforming the band would be a bad idea.
Marr's guitar playing "was a huge building block" for more Manchester bands that followed The Smiths. The Stone Roses guitarist John Squire has stated that Marr was a major influence. Oasis lead guitarist Noel Gallagher credited The Smiths an influence, especially Marr, whom he described as a "fucking wizard", also stating that "he's unique, you can't play what he plays."
Paul McCartney, The Pretenders, The The, Electronic (1987–1999)
Marr has talked about a session that occurred with Paul McCartney shortly after the Smiths' demise. At the age of only 23, he found himself sharing a mic with the former Beatle on "I Saw Her Standing There", an occasion that he has described as, "a pretty good moment".
In August 1987, he was very briefly an official member of the Pretenders. In late 1987, he toured with the band and appeared on the single "Windows of the World" b/w "1969". He then left the Pretenders, and recorded and toured with The The from 1988 through 1994, recording two albums with the group. He simultaneously formed Electronic with New Order's Bernard Sumner. Electronic were intermittently active throughout the 1990s, releasing their final album in 1999.
Session work (1987–2002)
In 1992 he recorded a cover version of Ennio Morricone's The Good, the Bad and the Ugly for the NME compilation Ruby Trax together with Billy Duffy. Fellow Manchester band Happy Mondays also once tried to court him to be a member of their band, which did not work out.
He has also worked as a session musician and writing collaborator for artists including Pet Shop Boys, Billy Bragg, Kirsty MacColl, Black Grape, Jane Birkin, Talking Heads, and Beck. Marr played guitar on several Pet Shop Boys songs; he continues to have guest appearances on their albums, with his most significant contribution on Release (2002). The only remix that Marr has ever done was for the Pet Shop Boys—it was a mix of his favourite track from their 1987 album, Actually, called "I Want to Wake Up", and was released as the b-side to 1993's "Can You Forgive Her?" He later worked as a guest musician on the Oasis album Heathen Chemistry. He also joined Oasis on stage at a gig in 2001, playing "Champagne Supernova" and "I Am the Walrus".
Johnny Marr and the Healers (2000–Present)
In 2000 Marr recruited drummer Zak Starkey (son of Ringo Starr), Cavewaves guitarist Lee Spencer and ex-Kula Shaker bassist Alonza Bevan for his new project, Johnny Marr and the Healers. The band had taken two years to come together as Marr had wanted members to be chosen "by chemistry". Their debut album Boomslang was released in 2003, with all lyrics and lead vocals by Marr. A second album was originally scheduled for release in April 2005, and a short tour was expected soon after, but Marr has since stated that the band is on the "side burner" for the time being (Manchester Evening News, May 2007). Drummer Starkey is currently involved with the Who, and Bevan has regrouped with Kula Shaker. In 2011, Marr began performing with the Healers again. The new Healers line up consists of James Doviak on guitar, Max James on bass, and Andy Knowles on drums.
Seven Worlds Collide (2001–2009)
In 2001, Marr performed two Smiths songs and music by others with a supergroup called 7 Worlds Collide consisting of members from Pearl Jam, Radiohead, Split Enz and others, assembled by Neil Finn of Split Enz and Crowded House in 2001. A second set of concerts took place in December 2008/January 2009, and an album of new studio material titled The Sun Came Out was released in August 2009 to raise money for Oxfam.
Modest Mouse (2006–2009)
In addition to his work as a recording artist, Marr has worked as a record producer. In 2006, he began work with Modest Mouse's Isaac Brock on songs that eventually were featured on the band's 2007 release, We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank. The band subsequently announced that Marr was a fully fledged member, and the reformed line-up toured extensively throughout 2006–07. During 2008, when Modest Mouse opened for R.E.M. during their summer tour of the United States, Marr would come on stage during the encore of R.E.M.'s set, for "Fall on Me", and, toward the end of the tour, "Man on the Moon". Marr and R.E.M.'s guitarist Peter Buck have often been compared by alternative music fans as having a similar guitar style.
The new album reached number one on the American Billboard charts in late March 2007. For Marr this is the first time he has had a number one record in the US. The highest chart position before that was with Electronic, who made the Top 40 in the singles chart with "Getting Away With It".
In 2007 Marr was appointed as a Visiting Professor in Music at the University of Salford, where he delivered an inaugural lecture (on 4 November 2008), and a series of workshops and masterclasses to students on the BA (Hons) Popular Music and Recording programme.
In July 2012, Marr gained an honorary doctorate from the University of Salford, following his contribution to popular music, and the guidance he gave to students in his workshops and visits.
The Cribs (2008–2011)
In January 2008, Marr was reported to have been contributing his skill and experience to a secret songwriting session with Wakefield indie group The Cribs. Sources revealed that they worked together for a week at Moolah Rouge recording studio in Stockport and had penned a number of new songs. He also played at the Glasgow Barrowlands, Manchester Academy, Oxford Academy, Bristol Carling Academy, Leeds University, Cardiff University and Brixton Carling Academy with the Cribs on the NME Awards Tour. On 23 February 2008, XFM reported that Marr was to become a full member of the Cribs. On 28 February 2008, he also played onstage with the Cribs at NME Big Gig at the O2. he also played along with the Cribs at the Reading & Leeds Festival 2008, singer Ryan Jarman introduced Marr as "Johnny Jarman, the newest member of the band".
In 2009, he recorded an album with the band titled Ignore the Ignorant, which was released on 7 September. On Soccer AM in 9 September he explained he met up with the Cribs' bass player in Portland and it has gone from strength to strength. He says the Cribs latest album, Ignore the Ignorant, which came out last year, is "as good as anything I've done".
On April 2011 it was confirmed that Marr would no longer be part of the band. Marr, who had been understood to officially leave the band in January, released a statement in which he affirmed that he would be working on solo material "over the next year or so."
Johnny Marr returned to play with The Cribs during the second of two special Christmas shows at Leeds Academy on the 19th December 2013.
Recent soundtrack, session work, and The Messenger (2011–present)
In the late 2007, Marr's daughter Sonny performed backing vocals on the track "Even a Child" on Crowded House's album Time on Earth, on which her father Marr played guitars. He played a large role in making the score for the 2010 science-fiction/drama film Inception, which was written and directed by Christopher Nolan. Using a 12-string-guitar, he produced repetitive, simple melancholic tones that became a character theme for the protagonist, played by Leonardo DiCaprio. "I kept coming up with this phrase 'churned-up,'" Marr said, "You've got this character who all the way through the film has this underlying turmoil." Longtime composer Hans Zimmer penned the soundtrack.
Marr has been working since 2007 with Fender to develop and design his own guitar. American Songwriter writes that "Fender had to modify their manufacturing process due to some of Marr's changes, but it will still sell for around the same price as other American-made Fenders."
On 25 February 2013, Marr released his debut solo album, The Messenger, in the UK through Warner Bros. and on 26 February in the US through Sire. The album was preceded by the single "Upstarts", released in the UK on 18 February 2013.
Marr will be doing music for The Amazing Spider-Man 2 with Hans Zimmer, Pharrell Williams, Michael Einziger and David A. Stewart.
Marr confirmed that his second solo album is due out in October 2014.
He and his wife Angie have two children. Having resided in Portland, Oregon for more than five years, the family returned to England for Marr to record his solo album in Manchester.
He is an honorary board member of Rock for Kids. He is teetotal, vegan and runs regularly. On 19 July 2012, he received an honorary doctorate from the University of Salford for "outstanding achievements" and "changing the face of British guitar music".
Marr has used a variety of different guitars throughout his career, but these are his most notable instruments.
Fender Jaguar- He has played a Jaguar since 2005, and in 2012 Fender issued the Johnny Marr Signature Fender Jaguar, with modifications including a body based on the 1954 Stratocaster and the wider neck of a 1954 Stratocaster.
Rickenbacker 330- This guitar is most often associated with Marr due to its 'jangly' sound for which he is known. He played it with The Smiths and it can also be seen in the promotional video for "Vivid" by Electronic. He also owns a "360" 12-string model that belonged to Pete Townshend.
Gibson Les Paul- Marr owns several, including a rare 1959 model. His cardinal red Les Paul was acquired in 1984 and was used extensively with The Smiths and with The The, appearing in the video for "Dogs Of Lust". He has now added a Bigsby tremolo system to this guitar as well as Seymour Duncan pickups with coil taps. He gave a sunburst model (also previously owned by Pete Townshend) to Noel Gallagher during Oasis's formative years.
Gibson ES-355- His cherry red model was used heavily with The Smiths during 1984 and inspired Suede (band) guitarist Bernard Butler and Noel Gallagher to buy one for themselves. It was bought for him by Seymour Stein in New York as an incentive for The Smiths to sign to his label, Sire Records. He also owns a black model, which appears in the videos for "Forbidden City" and "For You" by Electronic, and a sunburst, 12-string model that was used heavily on The Smiths' final LP, "Strangeways, Here We Come".
Fender Telecaster- Although the Rickenbacker sound is so commonly associated with The Smiths, it is a Telecaster (belonging to the band's producer John Porter) that appears on several Smiths songs, including "This Charming Man".
Gibson SG- Marr used a cherry red SG as his main guitar when playing with The Healers. He also owns a unique, blonde SG.
Fender Jazzmaster- Marr used several Jazzmasters while he was a member of Modest Mouse, for example one with a black finish and "tortoise" pickguard that can be seen in the music video for Fire It Up.
Marr has used Fender Amplifiers almost exclusively throughout his career. During his time with The Smiths, he used a Twin Reverb, a Deluxe Reverb and a Bassman amongst others. He also used a Fender Champ with The The and The Cribs. When playing with The Cribs, he used a Super Reverb. Marr's love of the Fender sound continues to this day with his Deluxe Reverb. He has used other amps, including the Roland JC-120, Vox AC30, Mesa Boogie and Marshall cabinets.