Jet Harris was Britain’s first bass guitar player, the first to own a Fender Precision, and its first rock’n’roll hellraiser too

Jet Harris with Fender VI
(Image credit: Getty)

“If it wasn't for Jet Harris," Paul McCartney once said, "I would never have picked up a bass guitar.” A founder member of The Shadows, and a solo star for a short period in the 60s – until it all went wrong – Jet Harris was the inspiration for an entire generation of British bass players, including McCartney, John Paul Jones and Lemmy. “Jet Harris was very innovative for his time, given the band he was in,” said Lemmy. “He gave me the idea that the bass player didn’t have to stand at the back.” 

Blessed with good looks, a moody persona, a chip on his shoulder and a monkey on his back, he was Britain’s first rock’n’roll bad boy and (if you were standing far enough away) the coolest guy around. Jet was the first pro bass guitarist in the country and certainly one of the finest, first in one of the UK’s most influential bands – The Shadows – and then as a solo hitmaker who played the first Fender VI Bass to arrive on UK shores. His influence on British bass playing was so great that in 2010 Fender presented him with an award for effectively launching the bass guitar in the early 60s. But alcohol-fuelled bad behavior, gossip page scandals – including singer Cliff Richard’s affair with his wife – and a near-fatal car accident conspired to derail his career. 

Thank you for reading 5 articles this month**

Join now for unlimited access

US pricing $3.99 per month or $39.00 per year

UK pricing £2.99 per month or £29.00 per year 

Europe pricing €3.49 per month or €34.00 per year

*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription

Join now for unlimited access

Prices from £2.99/$3.99/€3.49

Tom Poak has written for the Hull Daily Mail, Esquire, The Big Issue, Total Guitar, Classic Rock, Metal Hammer and more. In a writing career that has spanned decades, he has interviewed Brian May, Brian Cant, and cadged a light off Brian Molko. He has stood on a glacier with Thunder, in a forest by a fjord with Ozzy and Slash, and on the roof of the Houses of Parliament with Thin Lizzy's Scott Gorham (until some nice men with guns came and told them to get down). He has drank with Shane MacGowan, mortally offended Lightning Seed Ian Broudie and been asked if he was homeless by Echo & The Bunnymen’s Ian McCulloch.