INTERVIEW: Neil Daniels

I’m a music journalism geek. Aside from dudes like Steve Vai and Jimmy Page my heroes are dudes like Michael Molenda, James Rotondi, Charles Schaar Murray, Joe Gore, Joe Bosso, Alan Paul, Brad Tolinski, Jas Obrecht, Lester Bangs… the list goes on and on. And it seems I’m not the only one to geek out about such matters. Neil Daniels has written a whole book about what it means to be a metal writer, interviewing dozens of writers from across the metal-journalism spectrum (including Joe Matera who has written a few guest posts for I Heart Guitar here and here).

How and where did you get your start writing about music?

Well, I first started writing about music after I left Uni back in 2003. I started writing for websites like musicOMH and other lesser known sites and then I moved onto fanzines like Fireworks and Powerplay. I’ve contributed to Record Collector, Big Cheese and Rock Sound over here in the UK. I write mostly for Fireworks and Powerplay though. They’re great to write for and very lenient with the word count. It’s becoming a joke now in some magazines. I mean, how can you possibly say what you think about an album in 100 words? There’s hardly much point in listening to the whole album. It’s the same with music books. I read 100 word reviews of my books and wonder if the reviewers have actually read it or just skimmed through and looked at the pictures!

I then had an idea for a book which became ‘Defenders Of The Faith: The Story Of Judas Priest’ and from there the books have rolled on, thankfully. The Priest one was fortuitous timing because of the reunion and the new album ‘Angel Of Retribution.’ Since then of course there have been more books on them (some very good ones!) as well as my second book on the band ‘Dawn Of The Metal Gods,’ written with ex-singer Al Atkins. It is his life story. I really don’t think there is need for an official book. The time has passed. They’ll have to wait a few more years.

Who are your favourite music journalists?

That’s a good question and one that ties in with the publication of my new book ‘All Pens Blazing: A Heavy Metal Writer’s Handbook.’ It’s my first print on demand book – which seems to be the way to go for music/non-fic writers at the moment because of the recession – and is available from Amazon and as well as other online book stores. OK, so now the book plugging is out of the way (ha!) I’ll directly answer your question: I like the ex-Kerrang scribes like Derek Oliver, Paul Suter and Dave Reynolds. I’m not old enough to have read them back in the eighties but have discovered their writings through back issues. They were/are very, very passionate about music and have encyclopaedic knowledges of rock and metal. That kind of enthusiasm comes across better than a few well written sentences, if you know what I mean. Some writers try to be too clever and are more interested in themselves than the music, but with those guys you could tell it was the music that matters. They’re interviewed in ‘All Pens Blazing’ along with fellow ex-Kerrang scribes Neil Jeffries, Dante Bonutto, Dave Dickson, Malcolm Dome and Howard Johnson. There are 65 writers in total. Roll on volume 2!

I also like Martin Popoff – as every other metal writer does – because he is also very passionate and knowledgable and, with Martin, he intellectualises a style of music (classic rock/metal) that has been derided for years and that, I think, is very admirable. There should be more writers like him.

Have you had any mentors who showed you the ropes?

When I first started (even now) Joel McIver has been very helpful. He’s given me some advice and given me email addys of some publishers and told me what to do and not to do in a world where there are lots of people trying to screw you over. He is one of the good guys. He is, of course, very successful now and rightly so. Joel is a very good writer and is also passionate and committed. I’ve also learned about music writing and publishing from reading interviews with other writers online or in magazines which is the whole reason behind ‘All Pens Blazing.’ This book will tell you what you need to know!

Any eye-opening moments (that are printable!) with your interview subjects? Surprising revelations?

Surprisingly not. The heady days of getting drunk and flying first class with rocks stars is (mostly) long gone. Besides, if I did all that I wouldn’t have written six books in just under four years! I’m quite shy and reserved and prefer to stay here and write and speak to rock stars on the phone. Sounds kinda sad, but that’s what works for me. I suppose getting a hand written letter from ex-priest drummer Dave Holland – who is now in prison – is quite extraordinary. It’s in the book.

A lot of music journalists are musicians as well – do you play?

Nope. I did try back in High School but sucked badly. I didn’t have the drive to actually succeed. Looking back, I really should have stuck to it but truth be told I’d rather be a piano player and songwriter like Billy Joel than a rock star in a band. There’s more freedom and in the end, reverence. (Money too!) But no, I’ll stick to the writing. It seems to be working out OK at the moment.

I imagine you must have a pretty extensive archive, both of your own work and others for research?

It’s getting bigger, that’s for sure. It’s certainly not as big as some other writers but then I have only been doing this since 2003. The past year has been pretty insane in terms of music books and CDs, especially since I set up the website I try to review as much a possible but it really isn’t totally possible because there is just too much out there. I’ve asked this question to a lot of the writers interviewed in ‘All Pens Blazing’ and their collections sound like heaven for rock fans. I’m not really a collector, mostly a fan, but what I have is getting bigger week by week. I don’t throw anything away.

I not only like music but films and have a massive DVD collection. I also love comics and sci-fi/fantasy/horror and have loads of books all over my place. I have a very understanding and generous partner and I tell her it’s all for research but we both know it really isn’t. I’m obsessive about keeping everything in order because when you have so much stuff you need to know where everything is hence A-Z order, generic order, etc…

If you could beam back to any time in music history and cover a particular band’s early days, who would it be and why?

I guess I would have liked to have been born in the late fifties which would make me a teenager in the early seventies and an adult in the eighties. I would have loved to have seen the early metal bands and experienced all the great hair metal bands of the eighties. Never mind.

You’re working on a book about Linkin Park, and even though they’ve been around for quite a while now, your other books tend to be about classic rock/metal acts. Why Linkin Park, and are there other similarly recent acts on your horizon?

Yeah, I guessed some people would pick up on that. My main area of interest is the older bands, more classic rock/early heavy metal orientated bands, but I’m not prejudiced and love a lot of new bands. Linkin Park have been around for over a decade and there’s not a book on them so the publisher approached me and I agreed. I don’t like the ‘Reanimation’ album and hate the Jay-Z stuff but love their three studio albums and they’re great live. I’d like to move between books on bands that have had massive success like LP and Bon Jovi to artists like Priest that have had lots of success but also, the books have an historical meaning however small. Same with ‘All Pens Blazing.’ I think it’s a really cool reference book.

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INTERVIEW: Bumblefoot

Ron Thal, better known as Bumblefoot, is a busy dude right about now. In addition to his solo career – including his latest album Abnormal, now distributed here in Australia by Riot Entertainment – he finds time for projects such as playing guitar for metal queen Lita Ford and being lead guitarist in a little band you may have heard of, Guns ‘N’ Roses. Thal’s workaholism verges on the humbling, and when I first called for our interview he was baled up in band rehearsal. When I called back later it was pretty late for Bumblefoot but I found him as animated and excitable as his playing.

How ya been?

Good, good! Been insanely busy, but I always seem to be like that. I never know how to say no to things, at the sacrifice of sleep and sanity.

Who were you rehearsing with today?

I have a new band that I’m starting up. I don’t want to say anything about it until the line-up is exact. We’re just waiting to see who our bass player is definitely going to be, but it’s going to be heavier than a lot of the other stuff I’ve done. It’s gonna be interesting. A lot of fretless guitar. I’m really looking forward to recording and touring and getting it out there really quick.

Is it going to be under your name, or are you gonna do a Chickenfoot?

It’s gonna be a different one. Actually I saw Chickenfoot last night. I got to hang out with Joe Satriani a little bit and catch up. They have such a great vibe, so down to earth and just having fun. Picture the Hagar-era Van Halen with Chad Smith, Chilli Pepper grooves and impeccable, ass-kicking guitar every time. It’s just a great thing.

Now, my first question was submitted by my mate and fellow Aussie guitarist Chris Szkup (

Chris Szkup! Wonderful guy!

Yeah! He’s putting out a CD soon.
He’s a great guitar player, and such a super-sweet human being.

His first question was, what are your memories of Australia on the Guns ‘n’ Roses tour?

Oh man, let’s start off with the flight to Australia. At first I was dreading the flight because it was a good 14 hours, but it was the most comfortable flight I’ve ever been on. It was the first time I actually had a full comfortable night’s sleep on an airplane in my entire life, so it’s the first time I ever experienced that. So it was off to a good start. I think we landed in Sydney then shot all the way over to Perth. Then we drove up to Fremantle and visited Bon Scott’s grave, paid our respects. Just the little things you remember. I remember being on a train and there was a young girl who had part of her face painted – she was going to a football game and the way it looked was something different to what you see in America. She had a little flag painted under her eye. It’s the little things like that. I remember those things more than the shows. Just the normal, human moments. Those are the things that really stand out. Y’know, the view from the hotel in Sydney overlooking the Opera House and the bridge and everything. Walking around with my wife, Sebastian Bach and a couple of guys from his band, and suddenly some guy in a trenchcoat comes running up to us going “Hey! Hey! Hey!” and he opens his coat up and pulls out Axl’s microphone. It turns out that the night before, when Axl through his microphone out, that’s the guy that caught it. Oh what else… I remember also in Sydney eating in a really nice restaurant along the water at night… just the nice moments like that. The shows are always… how do you even describe a show? It starts and your brain is in this other mode, and next thing you know the show is over and it’s more like one of those hazish dreams: “Did I just play, or didn’t I?” So unless something very significant happens in the show, I don’t really remember the show in a very clear way. But it’s everything after. Going back afterwards and meeting Chris Szkup and his girl, hanging with them. I can still picture seeing them and this nice drawing they gave me in a frame, which is hanging in my living room right now. It’s hanging over my wife’s head as she’s sitting on the couch right now watching Hell’s Kitchen on TiVo. So it’s little things like that. No matter what happens, good or bad, those are the fond memories that make it an endearing experience you cherish. The dinners, the hanging out.

One thing I thought was really cool was the bio on your site. I’m so tired of reading really stuffy bios. Yours is more like a real autobiography. You started playing from a pretty early age?

Yeah. It was the whole KISS thing. A lot of people from my generation heard the KISS Alive album for the first time and it got them so psyched up that they felt like they needed to experience that themselves – then spent the next 20 or 30 years working towards it. It’s the same kind of story. I was 5 years old and all the older kids in the neighbourhood got KISS Alive. Where I grew up there seemed to be two ages of kids: all the kids that were my age, and all the kids that were two or three years older. And the younger ones seemed to get exposed to a lot of the culture of the ones who were a little bit older. So I was five, six, seven years old and going out buying Boston’s first album, Yes’s ‘Going For The One.’ Blondie’s ‘Parallel Lines.’ Ramones’ ‘Rocket To Russia.’ Really getting exposed at a much younger and maybe even more impressionable age. And KISS and the Beatles, those were my two favourites that made me really wanna make music. KISS made me wanna get up on a big loud stage and put on a crazy show, but the Beatles made me truly love music. That’s what made me want to lock myself up in a studio, splice up tape, turn it backwards. All that kind of stuff. That was the creative inspiration.

That’s cool! For me my first hero was Mark Knopfler and I started playing when I was about 7, but then I saw Steve Vai in David Lee Roth’s ‘Just Like Paradise’ video when I was 10 and I was like, ‘That’s so cool! I’ve gotta do that!’

Yeah! The whole Van Halen, Steve Vai, Satriani thing, all those guys, they’re the ones that took everyone into guitar and showed them a whole other realm out there. They just make you rethink everything and start challenging yourself.

Let’s talk about Abnormal. It sounds so energetic and powerful and freaking awesome.

About five years ago I got an old house. I don’t live there, I just use the place to make a lot of noise and piss off the neighbours. When I got this house I started slowly renovating it and turning it into more of a studio than a house. That’s the Batcave, a place to get away from home and just have a place where there’s no internet, no phones, no cable, no TV, no anything. All you can do there is make music. And that’s where I go when I’m producing, if I’m working on my own stuff, whatever it is, that’s my Batcave.

What do you use to record?

It’s a combination of things. Way back when, everything I had was reel-to-reel, just little Mackie boards. After that ADATs and DA88s, then a Mac with Logic, then a PC with Cubase. For the longest time it was just digital, then last year I went and got a whole bunch of crazy analog gear, like the really expensive stuff that makes you really question if you should have spend that much. The tube EQs, the compressors that you just can’t hear any artefacts no matter how much you squash. I think people always have this ‘or’ mentality instead of ‘and.’ They don’t realise it’s meant to be analog and digital. Each one has something the other has and the other hasn’t, and together you get everything.

One thing I really like about Abnormal is the power of the rhythm guitars, and just how animated the vocal takes are. You can just tell you really mean it.

On this album I dug really deep and you can hear everything I was into at that primal, youthful… Sex Pistols, Ramones, AC/DC. Just a culmination of life up to that point. Like at moments you can probably pick out Van Halen, even Allan Holdsworth, maybe Yngwie, maybe Ace Frehley. All kinds of things. I think that album is a pretty good culmination. It’s sort of the score card adding up everything. It’s like ‘Here’s where your life is at up to this point.’ When I do these albums, that’s what they are. They’re as biographical as the bio on the website. I just put it all out there and spill my guts.

The energy almost makes it feel like a live album.

I definitely wanted that feel. Very natural, not studio-processed, not ‘Let’s do it again and make sure we got the right take.’ It was like, ‘That take is all screwed up but it’s honest and pure and human as you can get, so let’s go with that one.’ So if there’s a screw-up in there, if the voice cracks, keep it! That’s being real! Those are the things you rewind, like, ‘Listen to the way his voice broke up!’ Those are things that can’t be repeated. You caught a real human moment. It’s so easy to get obsessed and start just over-magnifying all the little things, I guess getting microscopically immersed in it to the point that you’re counting the tiniest little things, driving yourself crazy for an hour comparing two different takes. Don’t overthink it. If it’s right, trust your instincts and move on. If you were to take Robert Plant’s vocal takes and nothing else, you’d hear all these little noises and things that sort of get eaten up by the music, yet if they weren’t there, there would be something very sterile about it. On some level that stuff just gets into your soul. When the true spirit is there, you feel it. I think that’s the mistake people make these days. Because of the ability to edit so much, we’re editing away our spirit in the music.

One of my favourites is on David Bowie’s ‘Thru These Architect’s Eyes’ from ‘Outside.’ His voice cracks in the most awesome way. He’s trying to reach the notes and he’s pushing too hard but it’s perfect.

Yeah! The vulnerability, the strength when you’re just willing to let yourself be imperfect. It’s touching, it really is.

Are you much of a gearhead?

In some ways I am and then I tend to reel myself in. If it sounds good and it’s workin’, don’t overthink it. Find myself starting to get too geeky, then I just say, ‘Screw it, just give me an amp and I’ll plug in and play.’ With G’n’R the rig is an ENGL setup that I sort of modified. There’s an E580 MIDI II preamp. I can change the patches as well as anything else MIDI just from foot pedals. I had it modified so it’s even smoother when you go from one channel to another. I had them come up with some kind of circuitry to make it even less of a gap. That’s going into an ENGL 100 watt E850 power amp. That one, I had tried one with EL34s which I personally prefer, but with G’n’R where you have drums, loops, bass, keyboards, another set of keyboards, two other guitar players, vocals and backing vocals, it was getting a little bit lost. The EL34s weren’t cutting through and I found that the 6L6s in the power amp were very biting and very tight and they would just cut through everything.The tone was very pointy and stuck out. But it wasn’t as warm and comfortable as the EL34s. So what I have is, the left channel is 6L6s and the right channel is EL34s, and the front-of-house engineer can blend the two to get exactly what’s needed that’s gonna work best.

Can we talk for a moment about Les Paul?

I met his son a good handful of times at different events with Gibson. One thing that I’m so pissed about is that there are a lot of times when people said to me, ‘Man you’ve gotta come down and see Les Paul, he plays in the city every week and you could probably get up and jam with the guy. And I was like, ‘definitely wanna do that one of these days, definitely wanna do that one of these days.’ And now I can’t. But god, that guy, talk about the Thomas Edison of music. From multitrack recording to effects to the Les Paul. But all other things aside, we all remember him as the guitarist and the inventor and the innovator, but he was a member of a family and a person, and I think of it more as a personal loss for them, and I just wish his family the best.

Let’s talk about Chinese Democracy. Production-wise I think that was one of the best-sounding albums to come out last year.

Mastering was such a big issue and they were so meticulous about everything about it to make sure it stayed clear and the vision was realised. Mastering was a big part of making that happen. I think it was the first album of hopefully a lot more to follow that decided that quality was more important than the volume war – it would rather be not as loud and in-your-face, but something that keeps its dynamics and bandwidth. It’s such a full recording. There’s so much going on in it, so much information to be processed as you listen, that it needs to be clear and pulled back so you can really get it without it being just this giant square wave. So I’m hoping that with other albums that follow, people will start realising, ‘Hey, we can just turn up our stereo, turn up our iPod…’

What are your favourite moments on Chinese Democracy? For instance, my favourite track is ‘Better.’ What’s going on there?

There are little things I added to it. Besides the rhythm track I put in, there were some little bluesy riffs at the end of the second verse, just little things like a five-beat break after the Buckethead solo, then there’s the loud, screaming part going on… after all of that there was a break that was just keyboards and I just put in a simple thing with my fretless guitar. Just little things where, knowing I contributed something of value. But there are so many little things where you can go through it and find something that’s so interesting about the production, or musically, or performance-wise?

Are there any plans for more G’n’R touring?

There have been a lot of plans, it’s just that when it comes to battling the economy… there are so many variables that could make it not work. I’m guessing at this point that if something is confirmed, management would let everyone know. So at this point if I said anything it would be premature, so I should just wait for them to say anything.

CLICK HERE to buy Abnormal from Riot Entertainment

BLOG POST: I just interviewed Dave Mustaine!

First off, I’m going to try to do more regular blog-type posts in addition to the news, review and interview stuff. So here’s the first.

I just interviewed Dave Mustaine! Dave’s been a huge hero of mine ever since I was 12 or 13 years old and first heard Rust In Peace. I always dug the level of detail and precision in his rhythm guitar playing, as well as the fire and outright angriness of his lead stuff. And I also liked that he was unrepentently intelligent and also a bit grouchy at times. As a rather bookish lad and a budding metalhead at the same time, I liked having a hero who embodied both extremes.

So today finally, at age 31 and after seeing Megadeth live 5 times so far, I finally got to interview Dave! There were a few hiccups regarding a wrong phone number and stuff but eventually it got sorted and the interview happened a few hours after the scheduled time. The interview will be in the next issue of Mixdown and will also be here in extended form soon. Originally I thought I’d publish it tonight but I might sit on it til Tuesday cos I’m publishing my Bumblefoot interview this week.

I’ve done a lot of interviews over the years with some of my heroes – Joe Satriani, Zakk Wylde, Devin Townsend, Steve Lukather – and I’m not usually that fazed but I was kinda nervous talking to Dave – fanboy geek alert. But the dude is such a slick interviewee after many many years of doing it, that it seemed to go really well and he overlooked my geekdom. I think he got a bit bored when I asked one too many questions about Chris Broderick (sorry Dave!) but everything quickly got back on track when we both nerded out over Marshall and Dean.

It was a great chat and I can’t wait for everyone to read it.

LESSON: How to sound like John Petrucci

There are certain aspects of John Petrucci’s tone that have remained relatively consistent over the years: a flutey, rounded neck pickup soloing voice and a zingy, almost acoustic-like clean sound. His rhythm tone, however, has jumped all over the shop: thick and warm on Images & Words, Falling Into Infinity, Scenes From A Memory and Black Clouds & Silver Linings; somewhat scooped and harsh on Awake, 6 Degrees of Inner Turbulence and Train Of Thought; and somewhere in between for the rest.

First of all, that clean tone. Petrucci’s guitars have two humbuckers and a three-way pickup selector switch. The middle position combines one coil from each pickup, and the end result is conceptually similar to the middle setting on a Telecaster: two single coil pickups in parallel. Now, if you have a multi-channel amp and complex effect-switching system like Petrucci you can set up all sorts of effects to optimise this sound: delay, chorus, compression, sometimes even a phaser like in ‘Peruvian Skies.’ Personally I like to start with some high compression with a very fast reaction time (Petrucci’s live clean tone is particularly compressed in most cases), then sometimes I will either add a pitch shifter parallel to the chorus, or instead of it all together. Set the pitch shifter for a slight doubling just a few cents above the original note, and you’ll get a stereoriffic, hi-fi kind of sound which doesn’t waver and wobble like a chorus would. Check out ‘A Change Of Seasons’ or ‘The Count Of Tuscany’ for examples of this sort of tone – although keep in mind that Petrucci has the luxury of also using the piezo pickups mounted in the bridges of his guitars to get acoustic sounds too. That dude thinks of everything.
As for that flutey lead sound, there are some things that you just can’t dial in with EQ. You need a specific pickup to get them. Back in the earliest days of Dream Theater, Petrucci used the DiMarzio Humbucker From Hell, which is designed to have the frequency response of a single coil but the output of a humbucker. Later he shifted to the Air Norton, and a modified version of it for his Ernie Ball Music Man signature guitar, but nowadays he has the LiquiFire. These pickups all share that rounded tone that seems to emphasise pick attack as well as legato phrasing. One key aspect of that classic Petrucci alternate-picked neck pickup sound is the consistency from note to note, and the only way to get this is to practice. When playing fast, Petrucci typically anchors his pinky finger on the bridge pickup to minimise the distance his hand might stray from the string.
As for the bridge pickup, Petrucci used the Tone Zone – a very mid-and-bass-heavy pickup originally designed as a possible bridge pickup for the Ernie Ball Music Man Edward Van Halen signature guitar – on Images & Words; a midrange-scooped Steve’s Special on Falling Into Infinity and Scenes From A Memory; a custom-designed pickup based on the Steve’s Special but with some tweaks for his Music Man signature guitar; and in more recent years the D-Sonic, a pickup particularly suited to low tunings, before shifting to the new signature Crunch Lab model. He used the Blaze model in his Ibanez Universe 7-string on Awake, and tonally this pickup (which was designed for Steve Vai and is all over Passion & Warfare) is quite similar to the Steve’s Speical. One thing’s for sure, you’ve got buckley’s chance of getting close to his tone unless you use a high quality valve amp. It also helps to have a guitar with quite low action and to use a softer picking attack than you might use for other styles. Think of it as a precision-guided missile rather than indiscriminate bombing.
Photo by Larry DiMarzio

GUEST POST: Joe Matera interviews Jim Marshall

In a rare and candid interview from 2001, the man behind the legendary amplifier talks to Joe Matera about the Marshall legacy.

“I really like my old Marshall tube amps, because when they’re working properly i.e. when the volume is turned up all the way, there’s nothing can beat them, nothing in the whole world. It looks like two refrigerators hooked together……..”
James Marshall Hendrix – Los Angeles, 1967

Joe Matera: So how did a drummer end up developing a classic guitar amplifier?

Jim Marshall: Well, I’d started in show business as a singer. I’ve been in show business for 64 years, singing for 64 years but drumming for about 58 years. I started drumming afterwards you see. It’s just something that progressed over the years from showbusiness to teaching. I taught many of the top drummers like Mitch Mitchell with Hendrix, Micky Waller with Rod Stewart…many of the top drummers, I’ve taught during the 50’s and then decided to open a drum shop. But that went wrong because Pete Townsend and Ritchie Blackmore and one or two others got onto me and said “why don’t you stock amplifiers and guitars?”. I said “well, I know a lot about drums but not much about guitars”. They told me if I would stock them, they’ll buy them from me instead of going to the West End of London because they were treated there in London like idiots. The rock and rollers used to use the Fender Bassman. That was the nearest thing to the sort of sound they wanted. Later on in 1961 they said to me “well, the amplifier’s (Fender Bassman) not built to give us the correct sound”. So I got together with a young electronics engineer, he was only 18, but he was brilliant and after 6 proto-types we produced the first rock and roll amplifier and its been that sound ever since. That’s how I got into it and I actually only wanted to do it for my own shop and my own customers but it grew and grew and grew until it’s where we are now. We put roughly 4,500 units a week, amplifiers and cabinets, into the world market.

JM: In many magazines over the years, Pete Townsend has always been credited with developing the idea for the Marshall “stack”. Is this true?

Jim Marshall: No! Unfortunately, a lot of magazines write what they think readers want to read. What really happened was this. Pete came to me and said, “the 50 Watt amp I’m using is not loud enough for me, I want a 100 Watt”. He added, “but instead of a 4X12 cabinet, I want an 8X12 cabinet”. I said “well what sort of cabinet do you want?”. He said ‘a great big square one!” and I replied “that’s going to look stupid with a little amplifier on top, but leave it with me”. I said “what I think you need is the first 4X12 I designed, which was a straight fronted one and the second one to make the amp and cabinet look as if it was designed like that, cause that’s why I put the angle on. We’ll make that a stack”. Pete replied “No, I don’t want two cabinets…put them all in one cabinet!” I thought alright it’ll still be the image of the stack, but it’ll be in one cabinet. Well, I was very strong in those days and I had an athlete working for me on the cabinet side and we carried these cabinets out of the factory in Hayes, Middlesex and they were so heavy it was unbelievable and I said to Pete, “your roadies going to kick my ass!” and he said “they get paid!”. Well, two weeks later he came back and said “your right Jim. I tried to help one of the roadies top put one of these cabinets into the truck and IT was heavy!. Have them back and cut them in half”. I said well if I cut them in half they’ll fall to pieces. So leave it to me to go back to what I suggested in the first place to make it a stack”. And that’s the way it came about. It was him that wanted 8X12’s because of the 100 Watt heads, they were the first three 100 Watt heads we ever made…and he had them. Of course the 100Watt was no good in those days with one 4X12, because the speakers in those days were only capable of taking 25 Watts, unlike speakers today that can take 300, 400 Watts. Thats the way the stack really came about.

JM: You had so many of the early classic British bands actually form in your shop. Every one from Hendrix’s band to Deep Purple.

Jim Marshall: Mitch Mitchell, who was a child actor actually, came to me in the first place to ask me if he could have the job in the shop as the Saturday boy. Then he wanted me to teach him drums. Then Ritchie Blackmore was playing with one of my other pupils in a school group and they all came together in my shop. You see, all the guitarists that came in to see me were those playing with my pupils. I was the first drum teacher over here (England) to teach them rock and roll. And Micky Waller was the first one to get me to teach them, because he said to me “can you teach me to play this new stuff called rock and roll?” And I said “its only even quavers, basically its Latin American, so its quite easy and I’ll teach you”. Because the accents are in different places that’s all it is to it, and because I taught the drummers, the guitarists came in and it was like a labour exchange and thats where a lot of the early groups were formed, in my shop in London.

JM: In 1981, you introduced the JCM800 series.

Jim Marshall: There’s another story to go with that too, the true story! I’d just finished a 15 year contract with a company called Rose-Morris and unfortunately being a pro musician, I thought to sign a 15 year contract with regular money coming in was the next best thing since sliced bread….and I was wrong! After about 3 or 4 months I realized I could outsell this company any day of the week and during that 15 year contract they never ever reached a million pounds turnover in a year!. So in 1981 I’d already done re-designing the appearance of some of the things and I was stuck to know what to call it and for weeks I was thinking how can I put this over. Then one day, I walked out to the car park, and looked at my number plate: JCM 800. That was perfect for the 80’s wasn’t it, so that’s how it (the series name) came about. I had bought that number plate way back in 1972, so it was very lucky I’d bought that number plate then.

JM: You were also contracted to do the VoxAC30 re-issues?

Jim Marshall: Yes, because that had gone through 7 different companies earlier who tried to make the AC30’s and 15’s and none of them established the real sound. And although I did not want to do the Vox AC30 and 15, it was a challenge to me because I knew if anybody could do it, we could re-create the original Vox sound which we’ve done. Everybody else gradually before us got worse until Rose-Morris did it and that was a disaster!

JM: What’s the secret to the enduring success of Marshall amps?

Jim Marshall: Well it’s having a good design team as I have now, probably the best in the world and sticking to the original sound. The original sound MUST be in the unit somewhere. Although with the Marshall amps these days, you know, you can choose what sound you like out of it, it can be country and western, jazz, rock and roll etc.

JM: What is the company’s direction for the next few years?

Jim Marshall: Exactly what we’re always tried to do, you know, it’s to produce the best in the world and keep the established Marshall sound going through because that’s what all the rock and rollers and heavy metal youngsters want. But to try and please all musicians too, that’s all we want to do and to keep the quality as it is now…the best.

JM: What has been the highlight of your career?

Jim Marshall: Well I suppose it was the first time I saw Marshall on television.

JM: You would have many stories to tell. Which one in particular is your favorite?

Jim Marshall: I suppose the best one is of course, in regards to my greatest ambassador and that was Jimi Hendrix. He was playing at Ronnie Scott’s in London and Mitch (Mitchell) was on drums with him, but the group that was playing there at the time were all using Marshall and he said “I’ve got to meet this Jim Marshall because my name is James Marshall as well”. So Mitch brought him into my shop and Jimi said to me, “I’ve got to have Marshall amplification”. And I thought, “Christ!, another American wanting something for nothing!”. But fortunately he said ” I don’t want anything given to me. I want to pay the full retail price but what I do want is service wherever I am in the world”. I thought, “Christ, that’s going to be a tough one” because we were only dealing with France, Germany and Canada at the time. They were the only places I had distribution, but his roadie at the time, came and spent two weeks in the factory learning how to change the bias and change the tubes or valves if they went down and do simple soldering. And we were never called out once by Jimi Hendrix. He actually purchased 4 complete stage set-ups to have in different places in the world so he would not have to transport any too far. And that’s one of the best stories of the company.


CLICK HERE to see Marshall amps on eBay
Marshall JCM800 2203 Vintage Series 100W Tube Head
Marshall Haze MHZ40C 40W 1×12 Tube Guitar Combo Amp Black
Marshall Haze MHZ15 15W Tube Guitar Amp Head Black

NEWS: Vox releases Night Train cabinet

Back when the Vox Night Train amp head was released, I wrote a little news story about it and even though it was just a press release, it was one of I Heart Guitar’s most popular articles, which goes to show how much interest there is in this cool little amp. Now Vox has released the Night Train V112NT cabinet to maintain the visual vibe of the head. Available from September with an RRP of just $249.99.

Vox Amplification Releases Night Train V112NT Cabinet
August 21, 2009

VOX Amplification recently debuted the Night Train NT15 guitar amplifier head. This sleek, all-tube amp head took top honors as Best Guitar Head of 2009 in the Musikmesse International Press Awards. Now VOX introduces the V112NT speaker cabinet, designed to provide an aesthetic and musical match for the Night Train NT15 head.

Featuring an open back and a single 12″ authentic “Greenback” Celestion 16 Ohm speaker, the V112NT is distinguished by its rounded corners, unique black-on-black fret cloth, and elegant white trim. The look was designed to complement the Night Train’s mirrored chrome finish. As with the Night Train NT15 head, the V112NT is meant for musicians on the go, weighing less than 25 lbs and equipped with a sturdy carrying handle.

The VOX V112NT speaker cabinet will be available in September 2009 with a U.S. MSRP of $249.99.

For more information, visit their web site at

CLICK HERE to buy the Vox Night Train NT15H 15W Guitar Amp Head Chrome from Musician’s Friend for $499.99.

FEATURE: My 15 favourite Frank Zappa albums

Most bands don’t even have 15 albums during their entire career. But for Frank Zappa, that’s pretty much the number of records he would release before his first coffee in the morning. With that in mind, I find it impossible to pick just one favourite Frank Zappa album, so here’s my top 15. Click on any of the titles to buy the album from

1. Over-Nite Sensation
Home to a whole barge full of particularly well-known FZ songs: the track listing is ‘Camarillo Brillo,’ ‘I’m The Slime,’ ‘Dirty Love,’ ‘Fifty-Fifty,’ ‘Zomby Woof,’ ‘Dinah-Moe Humm’ and ‘Montana.’ Out of all of those, only ‘Fifty-Fifty’ is unlikely to show up on a list of the ‘big ones.’ I’d love to hear this one on vinyl some day. It has that dry, clear sound that is a bit sterile on a CD or MP3 but really comes alive when it’s streaming off a big slab of shellac.

2. We’re Only in It for the Money
Wow. I only heard this one for the first time about, what, a year or so ago? Maybe two years? I dunno. I’m a busy dude and I’ve kinda lost track of my own temporal orientation. What I do know is that pretty much everything I want to hear in music is here: virtuoso performances, unique rhythms, amazing tones, powerful concepts, lyrical diversity, funny stuff, dense arrangements as well as simple clobber-you-over-the-head arrangements… I thought I was getting far too cynical and grouchy to have my life changed by an album these days but We’re Only In It For The Money totally did that for me. If you’re skipping through the CD for the first time looking for good bits, don’t pass over ‘What’s The Ugliest Part Of Your Body.’ What may sound initially like a straightforward doo-wop tune has the coolest from-out-of-nowhere middle section (the ‘All your children are poor unfortunate victims’ bit) which moves me in ways I can’t describe.

3. Broadway the Hard Way
Most of these songs are about social issues that are uniquely relevant to 1988 America (lyrics about Ronald Regan, Oliver North, Surgeon General C Everett Coop and the Iran Contra scandal are far too overt to be taken as allegory), but while the issues and topics may be dated, there’s something that feels eerily current about this one. It’s almost like listening to a musical production of The Daily Show if it was around in the late 80s. Yet for all its humour, cynicism, criticism and occasional downright meanness (Tammy Faye Baker is described as “an ugly little weasel bout three-foot-nine” in ‘Jesus Thinks You’re A Jerk’), Broadway The Hard Way includes a couple of my all-time favourite Frank Zappa guitar solos, in ‘Any Kind Of Pain’ and ‘Outside Now.’

4. Zappa in New York
This one would be worth it even if it was only a single with ‘I’m The Slime’ on one side and ‘Titties and Beer’ on the other. But the performances by drummer Terry Bozzio and the inclusion of tracks like ‘The Illinois Enema Bandit,’ a killer ‘Pound For A Brown,’ a crazy ‘Punky’s Whips’ (one of my all-time favourite Zappa tracks) and two totally different and equally headspinning ‘The Black Page’ renditions elevate Zappa In New York from mere cool album to the status of Monolithic Achievement Worthy Of Being Blasted Into Space To Remind Our Future Alien Overloads Who They Were Messing With And What Mankind Was Capable Of Achieving When They Weren’t Being Absorbed For Their Lifeforce By Gelatinous Space Monsters.

5. Uncle Meat
This one is very compositional and eclectic. It may be too trippy for some. For others it’s musical and emotional nourishment of the highest order. It’s all here – the pretty little bits, weird flourishes, songs changing direction almost arbitrarily in ways that don’t make sense in the moment but which reveal themselves as perfect in the wider scheme of things. And ‘Louie Louie’ played on the organ at the Albert Hall. If you’re new to Zappa this is probably either the worst or the best introduction possible, depending on your perspective.

6. Jazz from Hell
FZ, meet computer. Computer, meet FZ. One of the most daring musical extrapolations ever to issue forth from the hard drive of the now archaic Synclavier music system, Jazz From Hell was one groundbreaking mother of an album. Back when you actually had to have a pretty thorough knowledge of musical notation in order to make electronic music in a computer, Frank and his assistants tirelessly fed musical scores into the Synclavier to recreate the music Frank heard in his head but was unable to get live musicians to perform to his satisfaction.

7. The Yellow Shark
If Jazz From Hell is the sound of computers doing the musically impossible, Yellow Shark is the sound of musicians doing the computationally impossible. Recorded with the Ensemble Modern and worth buying just for the liner notes even if they forget to put the CDs in at the store, this set is the last thing Frank released during his lifetime and in many ways it sums up everything about him, from heartfelt sentimentality to artsy extrapolations like ‘Welcoome to The United States’ to downright musical obscenity. There’s an amazing, unmissable rendition of ‘G-Spot Tornado’ from Jazz From Hell to cap off the album.

8. You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore – Vol. 6
So there were two Frank Zappas, right? There was the stunningly virtuosic genius musician/composer, and there was the hilarious guy who wrote filthy, filthy songs. Often the two would mix – Frank wasn’t a fan of strict definitions and segregations within his music or life – and so we have You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore Vol. 6. This live album features performances culled from many different line-ups and eras, and it’s full of tawdriness, lewdness, sexual innuendo, sexual outuendo, sexual inandoutuendo, naughty words, provocative squats, fetishes and kinks. Real ‘listen to it with headphones on so you don’t get it confiscated by your parents’ kind of stuff.

9. 200 Motels: Original MGM Motion Picture Soundtrack
Disclaimer: I saw the film 200 Motels again recently and found it a bit too, uh, esoteric to really dig the way I used to. However, in the context of happy memories and impact on personal development this was a pretty big one for me. For some bizarre reason nobody will ever be able to explain to me, my local video store in small town Australia had a VHS copy of this for hire when I was in my teens. I used to take it out every couple of months, wait til nobody was home or at least had all gone to bed, then have my little 14-year-old mind exploded by the psychedelic perversity therein. Don’t go looking for any real sense of plot in the movie. Don’t go looking for much pretty in the music. Just enjoy the ride, and the awesomeness of a track like ‘Magic Fingers.’

10. FZ:OZ
A live album recorded here in Australia in the 70s. FZ pulls some very cool guitar tones on this one, and there’s a great spontaneous vibe. Dig FZ’s delay and wah-drenched solo on ‘Carolina Hard Core Ecstasy,’ not to mention a melancholic and restrained ‘Zoot Allures,’ which beat Steve Vai’s ballads to the punch by a decade and a half. Also includes the hilariously filthy ‘Poodle Lecture’ and some great versions of ‘Dirty Love,’ ‘Black Napkins’ and ‘Camarillo Brillo.’

11. Trance-Fusion
Frank’s Shut Up And Play Your Guitar series of albums and the album simply titled Guitar are pretty well known. They’re all constructed pretty much entirely of FZ guitar solos and nothing else. Which is cool. But for those who may have drifted away from Zappadom over the years and not paid any attention to his posthumous releases, there are some great moments on this one. Check it out. Although some of the posthumous Zappa releases are compiled by the Zappa Family Trust, this one was completed by Frank and he always intended for it to be released in this form. Dig the subtle Simpsons reference in the title ‘Good Lobna.’

12. Make a Jazz Noise Here
Mainly instrumental, this one has rearrangements of many a classic Zappa tune, with the focus squarely on the 5 piece horn section. Personal highlights are the ‘Let’s Make The Water Turn Black/Harry You’re A Beast/Orange County Lumber Truck’ medley, a great clean-toned guitar solo on ‘Stinkfoot,’ and Mike Keneally’s tapping extravaganza on ‘Stevie’s Spanking.’ There are also some pretty outstanding pieces that are unique to this set including ‘When Yuppies Go To Hell’ and ‘Fire And Chains.’

13. Ship Arriving Too Late to Save a Drowning Witch
This one can be pretty difficult to digest – the majority of the songs are too wacky for most people, but it’s worth pushing through the parody disco beats of ‘I Come From Nowhere’ and ‘No Not Now’ to enjoy what’s below the surface. And if you are able to digest the fiendishly intricate ‘Drowning Witch’ and ‘Envelopes’ (not easy for first timers, such as me when I happened to choose this as my first Zappa album), you’ll find some amazing playing by a very young Steve Vai. Challenging but brilliant.

14. You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore – Vol. 2
This one features probably my favourite Zappa line-up – Frank Zappa, Napoleon Murphy Brock, George Duke, Ruth Underwood, Tom Fowler and Chester Thompson – performing tracks like ‘Inca Roads,’ ‘Stinkfoot,’ ‘Village Of The Sun,’ ‘Pygmy Twylyle,’ ‘RDNZL,’ ‘Uncle Meat,’ ‘The Dog Breath Variations’ and ‘Montana (Whipping Floss).’ The band are at the top of their game and their relaxed interplay kinda makes you feel like you were there. I guess the fact that it’s the only one of the six You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore releases to have its own subtitle is evidence that Frank recognized its uniqueness.

15. Apostrophe (‘)
A few indisputable rock classics are on this album. ‘Cosmik Debris.’ ‘Stinkfoot.’ ‘Uncle Remus.’ All that stuff about yellow snow, including the incredible ‘St Alfonzo’s Pancake Breakfast’ (and did you see Dweezil play the marimba bit on guitar with Zappa Plays Zappa?). By the way, check out the title track for some mournfully teeth-grinding fuzz bass tone courtesy of one Mr Jack Bruce of Cream. I really enjoy this one but it’s probably my least favourite of my 15 favourites.