All hail the Marshall stack: The amplifiers that built rock
Andy Scott, former lead guitarist and singer for the British glam rock band Sweet, has a song called "Marshall Stack" that describes the undying allure of a column of Marshall amplifiers. Created by Jim Marshall, who died Thursday at the age of 88, the amplifier, best known as the Marshall stack, is a key ingredient in the symbology of rock. Not familiar? Here are some of the lyrics to "Marshall Stack":
Well he's six feet tall
And he's three feet wide
And when he's turned up loud
You'd better step aside
He's got a heart thats burning fire and steel
That's the kind of heat that gives him man appeal
Broad at the shoulder, broad at the hip
Everybody knows you don't give no lip
To Mr. Marshall Stack
He's dressed in black
With a power attack
He's Mr. Marshall Stack
Oh he don't mess around
No, the Marshall stack -- three Marshall components piled atop one another -- doesn't mess around; it's a heavy-duty amp system forged by the Who's John Entwistle and Pete Townshend in conjunction with Marshall and his British gear maker as a way to get bigger and louder. To hear the best evidence of its success, seek out "The Who Live at Leeds."
The stack in its various incarnations has become synonymous with the word "loud," a signifier for volume known the world over. It's Motorhead standing in front of them and rolling out the riffs, Bruce Springsteen perching himself atop a Marshall and jumping to the stage on beat.
It's French electro duo Justice creating one massive wall of them surrounding their DJ rig, constructed as a way to illustrate the seriousness with which they view volume -- even if none were actually plugged into a guitar. Slayer and Blue Oyster Cult gigged in front of walls of Marshalls, too. Jimi Hendrix used to stand before his on stage, get down on his knees and worship it. Let's not forget Led Zeppelin.
The lyrics to Sonic Youth's classic 1988 rock song "Teenage Riot" convey that same appreciation of the power of the stack as a signifier. Thurston Moore describes a wannabe rock star thusly: "You come running in on platform shoes/With Marshall stacks to at least give us a clue." The clue of which he sings is the volume, the determination -- the courage -- inherent in committing to a set of Marshall stacks and standing before them, electric guitar in hand (preferably a Gibson Les Paul), and letting the rock come out.
And for offering that wall of voluminous courage, Jim Marshall should be celebrated.
-- Randall Roberts @liledit
Photo: Catalog image of Marshall amplifiers. Credit: marshallamps.com