Hank B. Marvin influenced a whole generation to pick up the electric guitar and put their own imprint on the instrument, on rock ’n’ roll. He influenced the greats. Players such as Brian May, Jeff Beck and Tommy Emmanuel all worshipped what Marvin did with the Shadows, which, even now, over 60 years since their debut album’s release, sounds so fresh.
Here we sit down with the man himself to talk about his first guitar, his favorite piece of gear, embarrassing moments, and for some wisdom that the next generation of guitarists can use when trying to find their own sound.
Who or what inspired you to pick up the guitar?
“The initial inspiration for wanting to pick up the guitar was due to skiffle music, which was very popular in the U.K. at the time. Prior to skiffle, I had been listening to people like Big Bill Broonzy, Lead Belly and Brownie McGhee, and I noticed they all had guitars. Then, once skiffle came along, it, too, brought the focus onto the guitar.”
What was your first guitar?
“A Hofner Congress that I got for my 16th birthday. It was a smaller-bodied guitar with an F-hole design that came with very heavy strings. Sadly, I gave it away to somebody in the late ’60s.”
What was the first song you learned to play?
“I tried learning to play some skiffle tunes on that guitar. I also used to try and copy things I heard on the radio, where I would try to learn to play the tune that the singer was vocalizing and any sax phrases or orchestral phrases that were like a hook line. But the first song I probably learned from start to finish was Rock Island Line by Lonnie Donegan.”
Do you remember your first-ever gig?
“It was with a skiffle group I had with school friends at a church hall for a youth club. I played banjo while one guy had a tea chest bass, another had a washboard and another guy strummed a bit on guitar as well; he was able to play piano, too.”
Ever had an embarrassing moment on stage?
“There’ve been a few of those! One that stands out was this one time when we [the Shadows] were playing Atlantis and I went totally blank halfway through the first verse and didn’t know what to play next! I just had no idea. It was a strange experience, as I didn’t know where to put my fingers or what the tune was.
“I had to stop and start again, and the same thing happened again the second time around, and by this time the audience thought it was a gag, so they were all laughing hysterically. Thankfully on the third time around, it all came back to me, and I played it without any problem.”
What’s your favorite piece of gear?
“My original Meazzi Echomatic 1, which was made in Italy under the name of Meazzi Vox Tape Echo and was being imported into the U.K. by Vox. The great thing about it is you can adjust the speed of the echo and the interplay of the heads as it has several recording heads. Depending on which combination of heads you choose, it can give you a basic slap echo, like that old type of rock ’n’ roll echo.”
What are some of your favorite recorded moments?
“The stuff that was done on our first album [The Shadows, 1961], not all of it but a lot of it, I’m very happy with. And this is because firstly, we were recording an album and secondly, it was all done in four three-hour sessions. It was recorded quickly and live in the studio. But in later years, where I felt I had improved somewhat, something like Cavatina – the theme from The Deer Hunter – I’m very happy with too.
“That was done quickly too, and most of it in one take. I just had to repair one bit though, a two-bar section, as there was a slight bit of distortion on the guitar where I must have been playing a little too hot and it just seemed to spoil it a little, so I redid it. It has such a great feel and is such a beautiful tune to play. It was a very good moment for me to nail it in one take, and to also get the correct feel and emotion and everything.”
What advice would you offer to young guitar players?
“Really listen to other people because if you like something someone else plays, a phrase, or the way they approach a song, try and copy that first. But then move on to your own style. Every player starts off by copying, and then they develop their own path – and that’s what’s important for anyone.”