Week 10: Terry Marshall and Seventies Rock

Posted: April 4, 2018 in Rock n Roll History Course at Delaware Valley University

Week 10: Seventies Mainstream Plus a Conversation With Marshall Amplification’s Terry Marshall

So we moved beyond prog, glam, and punk rock to give the class a little flavor of the eclectic nature of ’70s mainstream music.

The critics hated the ’70s, because…I guess because there was no Beatles/Stones/Hendrix/Dylan leading the way. Artists went in so many different directions that it was hard to sort of keep it together or write about it in a thematic way. Sorry, but critics sometimes get caught up in musical snobbery. There really was some intensely great music (and a lot of crap, too, of course) that came out of that decade.

I think of the ’60s as a fine multi-course meal. You get your appetizer, soup/salad, a delicious entree, wonderful dessert, some drinks and perhaps a fresh cup of coffee to end the evening. The ’70s was more like a buffet. Not as classy, and there is some stuff you don’t want to touch, but you can find something you like.

So I threw a lot at them…everything from Steely Dan to Eagles to Tom Petty to Springsteen to Journey to Van Halen to AC/DC (thanks, Marshall M.) to Nicks/Buckingham era Fleetwood Mac to Pink Floyd to whatever. Overall, the students had favorable reactions to this week. Two of my metal head students even sang the praises of Journey, so there you go.

Oh, I almost forgot…see that Marshall M. reference above? He’s one of my students. When he first looked at the artists we covered, he asked me why I skipped over AC/DC. So I threw it back on him. Tell me why I should cover them and whom I should leave out. He gave me a strong argument for AC/DC’s massive influence and suggested I take out Springsteen. While I wouldn’t have a personal problem with that, I figured that’s not a good idea, so I decided to play up AC/DC at Van Halen’s expense. That was a tough one for me, given Van Halen was my first real rock album and my first concert.

When we got to AC/DC, I turned the lecture over to Marshall, who did a great job illuminating AC/DC’s indebtedness to the blues and their “simple but not so simple” approach to songwriting. He even played the first few chords of “Highway to Hell.” He did a fantastic job.

On Wednesday, Terry Marshall Skyped with us from England, rescheduling from last week’s snow-out.

We’ve had some great sessions with musicians, but this one took things up a level. The students asked some great questions and Terry provided thoughtful answers. One student asked him about the “Marshall crunch” she read about, meaning that powerful crunching sound their amplifiers deliver. Terry responded by talking about how some musicians, he mentioned Hendrix specifically, who like to turn up their levels all the way up until the amplifiers are cooking…sometimes quite literally…and that provides that crunching sound she was referring to. Which leads us to the best question of the semester…

One of my students, who always wears Steelers stuff (hey, we can’t all be perfect) asked Terry if he had seen Spinal Tap and if the Marshall company actually designs amps that go to 11. Ok, I lost it with that one. I laughed so hard that the students started staring at me and began to laugh at my laughing. Terry cracked up, too. He said, yes, the company in fact has made amplifiers that reach 11 in volume. I mean, it’s true. Once you’ve hit 10, where do you go from there? You’re stuck. But if you need that extra umphhh, well, you can go to 11. (Correction/clarification from Terry: We did make a limited edition that referenced the Spinal Tap quote with a front panel where the volume control showed 11, but the amps themselves were unchanged.)

TM 1

(That’s Marshall asking Marshall a question.)

Terry, speaking in front of an imposing set of Marshall stacks, gave us an overview of the company and how things got started in his father Jim’s drum shop. Musicians began to ask if they could carry other instruments, which they did, including of course guitars. In particular, regular visitors to the shop like Pete Townshend, Eric Clapton, Big Jim Sullivan, and Ritchie Blackmore asked if the Marshalls could also carry amplifiers that would provide an alternative to the not-so-powerful Voxes or the too expensive Fenders.

So Terry, Jim, the musicians, and a team of engineers got to work making their own amplifier. As a saxophone player, Terry used his ear to translate what the musicians wanted to the engineers. By tweaking the pre-amp, the Marshalls were eventually able to come up with the “Marshall sound.” Within a few years, the company became the dominant standard in rock n roll and went worldwide. Terry talked about the relationships the company made and still has with musicians.

TM 2

(Another student, another great question.)

Overall everyone had a great time chatting with Terry. He’s a great guy. I had the good fortune to meet him and his wife for dinner a couple of years ago in London. Love the European dining experience where you get a table for the entire night. You’re not rushed out like in America. We enjoyed our leisurely dinner, had some coffee, and finished things off with a shot of liqueur.

So next up is a Skype chat with my friend and Seattle music legend Rob Morgan on Monday. Then we will cover new wave and post-punk. We’ll see how the students react to that stuff.

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