Johnny Marr explains his three biggest guitar influences: "Hand In Glove started out as a Chic riff"

Johnny Marr performs at Helsingin Juhlaviikot Festival 2023 at Huvila-Teltta on August 23, 2023 in Helsinki, Finlan
(Image credit: Venla Shalin/Redferns/Getty Images)

Johnny Marr was a recent guest on the Broken Record Podcast, and it found him digging into his past and huge body of work with other artists. But the overarching impression is that Marr's wonder at his role as a guitarist remains the same as it was when he was a teenager, and at his core he's been inspired by three key players in the last 40 years. But he's interpreted that influence in his own unique way. 

"They take all of these different elements that only to them make sense," Marr notes about musicians. "For example, in my case, I didn't really do a lot of interviews in the early Smiths days but when I was asked about guitar playing, when I had to really nail it down it was Nile Rodgers, Bert Jansch and James Williamson from The Stooges.

"At first people were like, 'Huh? Come again, Nile Rodgers influenced The Smiths?' But over time time now people know… listen to the second verse of The Boy With The Thorn In His Side, or there's a famous story about when I wrote Hand In Glove it just started out as a Chic riff. 

"The point being, that made total sense to me but you put it all through a funnel in your own mind and then it comes out and people say, 'Oh yeah that sounds like Johnny Marr.' But if I told you what I was thinking of when I came up with some of these riffs you'd say, 'What?!' 

Williamson's work with The Stooges had so much impact on Marr that when he first met fellow Mancunian Noel Gallagher, before Oasis, he was quick to turn him onto his influence too.

"When I first met Noel Gallagher he was young… I was pretty young myself – maybe 26/27. The first time he came to my house that was the first record I gave him, he wasn't aware of it."

In turn, Marr reveals it had been his old friend Billy Duffy from The Cult who had told him about The Stooges' Raw Power after remarking that a riff the teenage Marr had written sounded like the song Gimme Danger from that album. "When I heard it I thought, that sounds like the way I'm trying to play. Truth be told, I was a bit pissed that someone had already beaten me to this new song I was writing. 

"James is a massive influence on me. When I heard that [I knew], you're on the right path. You're doing the right thing."

Rob Laing
Guitars Editor, MusicRadar

I'm the Guitars Editor for MusicRadar, handling news, reviews, features, tuition, advice for the strings side of the site and everything in between. Before MusicRadar I worked on guitar magazines for 15 years, including Editor of Total Guitar in the UK. When I'm not rejigging pedalboards I'm usually thinking about rejigging pedalboards.