Johnny Marr was a revolutionary guitarist who left an immense legacy during his time with The Smiths, and went on to become a prolific session musician and successful solo artist. While with The Smiths, Marr revolutionized and renewed the potential for the guitar in pop music in the 1980s. His innovative guitar playing led the way for a full-scale revival in British guitar groups. As a professional gun-for-hire, he spent every year of his post-Smiths career playing with bands, elevating each group he joined and contributing to their breakout success. He toured and recorded with Pretenders in 1987, followed by The The from 1988 through 1994, recording two albums with the group. He simultaneously formed Electronic with New Order's Bernard Sumner, performing and recording intermittingly from 1989 and 1998, followed by stints with Modest Mouse (2005-08) and The Cribs (2008- ), before finally releasing his first solo album, The Messenger (2013).
Marr was born John Martin Maher on Halloween, 1963 in Ardwick, Manchester, England to Irish immigrants from Kildare. (He changed the spelling of his surname at the beginning of his musical career to avoid confusion with another Manchester musician, Buzzcocks drummer John Maher.) Marr was exposed to music at a young age, listening to his parents' record collection of '60s soul music and '70s glam-rock. Marr wasted no time in honing his guitar skills and formed his first band, The Paris Valentinos, at the age of 13. From then on, he jumped around groups, eventually joining his friend's band the White Dice. While the group won an audition with a record company, they were never signed and the group dissolved, but it came with a silver lining. Marr was in need of a songwriting partner when one of his ex-bandmates suggested he seek out a local scenester named Steven Morrissey.
In the summer of '82, the 18-year-old Marr along with Morrissey, bassist Andy Rourke (a friend since grade school) and drummer Mike Joyce formed The Smiths. They released their first single, "Hand in Glove," in 1983 on the indie label Rough Trade Records. This single and its follow-up "This Charming Man" incited one of the most electrifying songwriting partnerships in music and would transform British pop culture for years to come. By 1984, the band's fan base had grown exponentially which led to the band's long-awaited self-titled debut album crashing into the U.K. album charts at number two. Following their debut, the band became more confident and politically vocal, resulting in their 1985 release, Meat is Murder. That year, The Smiths toured extensively while recording their next studio record, The Queen Is Dead. Throughout the band's five-year lifespan between 1982 and 1987, they became a cultural phenomenon, recording four classic albums and 17 singles, spawning a fervent fandom which long survived the band's breakup. The musical chemistry of Morrissey's melancholic wordplay combusted with Marr's brilliant guitar work, and came to came to define a generation of British pop bands much the same way that R.E.M. did at the same time in America. Despite their continued success, the increasingly strained relationship between Morrissey and Marr led to Marr's departure from the group in August of 1987. Auditions for a replacement were futile and the band split up by the time their final album, Strangeways, Here We Come was released the following month.
At the age of 23, Marr was a living legend and guitar veteran. He would spend the rest of his career lending his songwriting skills and guitar wizardly to bring fame and fortune to whatever group he joined. As the elder statesman of Manchester rock, many bands sought out Marr for advice. Over the years he worked as a session musician and writing collaborator for artists including Pet Shop Boys, Billy Bragg, Kirsty MacColl, Black Grape, Jane Birkin, Talking Heads, and Beck. After spending the majority of the late '80s and '90s touring and recording with The Pretenders, The The and Electronic, Marr decided to try his hand at solo work, starting his own band, Johnny Marr and the Healers. The band never mustered up much enthusiasm beyond their one album, Boomslang (2003).
In 2005, he joined Modest Mouse to help the band with their next record, steering the group to the greatest commercial success of their career with their 2007 album, We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank. While Marr's involvement with Modest Mouse almost overshadowed the group, his next collaboration served as an enhancement to a band with a well-established reputation. After a chance meeting with Marr in his adopted hometown of Portland, OR, the Yorkshire-based group The Cribs invited him to join as a touring member in February 2008. Marr toured extensively with the group and played on their album, Ignore the Ignorant (2009), before departing to work on solo material. As a free agent, Marr took this time to full immerse himself in independent work, first composing the music for the TV comedy "The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret" (IFC 2010-2012), then working with legendary music and film composer Hans Zimmer on the soundtrack for "Inception" (2010), which earned them both an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Score.
Despite his initial false starts as a frontman, Marr released his first proper solo album at the age of 49, The Messenger (2013). The revered guitarist quickly had critics waxing poetic about his return to his glory days, while his singing was given fair recognition for the first time. In addition to album touring, Marr kept busy, returning to his former Portland residence for a cameo appearance as himself on the satirical comedy "Portlandia" (IFC 2011-) and penning his future autobiography to tell his side of the story after Morrissey released his in 2013.
Cast (Feature Film)
Music (Feature Film)
Misc. Crew (Feature Film)
The Smiths (The Smiths)
Meat is Murder (The Smiths)
The Queen Is Dead (The Smiths)
Strangeways Here We Come (The Smiths)
Boomslang (Johnny Marr and the Healers)
We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank (Modest Mouse)
The Messenger (Johnny Marr)