Marc Bolan -Guitarist Magazine Article

In this Guitarist Special we tell the story of how Marc Bolan plugged in, tuned up and rocked a generation too young for The Beatles and The Stones

In the autumn of 1969 Marc Bolan's musical fortunes were low. He had split with sidekick Steve Took on the back of a US tour, and returned home with no money, management problems, and a loss of confidence. But by the end of the year he had found two new musical partners; Mickey Finn and a white Fender Strat. Tyrannosaurus Rex was reborn. Bolan, then perceived as one of the least likely candidates to become a teen chart idol, was on a path that would change the face of English rock music.
The first fruit of this rebirth was the single By The Light Of A Magical Moon in January 1970. Taken from their forthcoming album, it featured the expected bongos and acoustic guitars, but also electric bass and some fine electric guitar fills. Reviewing it, Chris Welch wrote hopefully: "Marc has one of the most distinctive voices in pop, and it would be nice to see them get a hit after all this time." But predictably, it failed.

Three albums of acoustic music had given people a false impression of Bolan. By 1970 he was consciously returning to his first love, rock'n'roll.
"I've always been a fan of early rock and roll - it's really good music. The first Elvis records were incredible... My first experience of rock came when I heard Ballad of Davy Crockett by Bill Hayes. My Dad went out to buy me a record and got one by Bill Haley. I was so disappointed - until I heard the record. Then I threw Bill Hayes out of the window and rocked. I've been rocking ever since. I got turned on to Carl Perkins when the shop flogged me his version of Blue Suede Shoes because they had sold out of Elvis. I was really down. Then I played the record - and rocked again!"
Bolan now saw his duo rather differently to a chunk of his audience: "We are just a contemporary rock group. We are not the Incredible String Band or a folk group. We were thinking of going on at the Festivall Hall with 400 watts each and freak 'em all out." That spring it didn't happen. But the wattage was coming.
Bolan thought Beard Of Stars (March 1970) the best album he'd ever done and conceded: "I suppose there is more electric guitar... I've been staying down at Eric Clapton's home quite a bit recently and you can't be around Eric and not be influenced." The ads showed Marc holding the white Strat, and the Melody Maker's review announced 'Bolan goes electric': "Never before has T Rex sounded so heavy or exciting... Elemental Child will come as a considerable surprise. It features Marc's untutored but energetic and groovy heavy rock guitar work."

Bolan told Beat Instrumental that May: "A lot of the numbers on the new record didn't start as riffy as they ended up; they grew into heavier things", though still rooted in the Tolkeinesque landscape of Marc's imagination. This fusion of rock and roll with Middle Earth is probably Marc's most distinctive gift to English rock music. Some of Bolan's best lead is heard on the album, in particular the wah-wah solo in Lofty Skies, and Elemental Child, with its reality-is-on-the-blink whammy-bar pauses and an extended coda with heavy damping of the strings.
Bolan and Finn gigged the new material at shows like the Pop Proms in April at The Roundhouse, and rehearsed. Finn would drive round to Bolan's flat in Ladbroke Grove on his 650cc motorcycle and they'd jam for
a few hours. Bolan mused: "I think we'll have a bass player at some point, but not just yet... there'll come a point where if I want to do a long guitar solo, or just allow something to happen like that, then we'll need a bass player for that number. I always seem to have ideas long before I can carry them out. I mean, T Rex has sounded like Beard Of Stars to me for two years. I was always going to do it, you know? Even when we did Debora, it was always, Next week I'll plug my Stratocaster in. But I couldn't play well enough then to make the noises that I wanted to hear. Our new things are rock and roll... all 12 bars."
They played the Extravaganza Festival at Olympia on 4 June with John Peel, and the Lyceum in July. Meanwhile, the success of In The Summertime by Mungo Jerry led to talk of a skiffle revival. The resemblance between Mungo singer Ray Dorset's warble and Bolan's did not go unnoticed in the press. Dorset said: "What we're about is everybody getting up and jumping about. We just want everybody to be happy. I like listening hard to bands, but on the other hand a lot of people do go along to be entertained and they can't get into it." They were going down well at festivals playing 12-bar boogies that got people dancing again. A door was opening; people wanted to rock.

That summer of the Isle Of Wight, Bolan thought the next album would be a concept, built round his story The Children Of Rarn. In fact only a track of that name made it. During the summer Bolan's wife June told him one day to get out of her hair for a bit. Bolan retired to his recording studio. Hours later he emerged and played her the Ricky Nelson-influenced Ride A White Swan. In August it was announced as the next single.
Looking back, in November 1971, Bolan told Michael Wale about the crisis of 1970 and his musical change: "It came because I'd done four albums and we were boogie-ing along... things looked really nice, but they were comfortable, you know? I was very unhappy with the way that we were really being ignored by the media of all sorts, the papers and the radio and that. So what I did really was a gamble; either we've got to get a hit record, or I'm going to be a writer. End of story.
Like I was just going to back off, because I was beginning to be bored with what I was doing, the way I was doing it. That was, I suppose, just before 1970. Just before White Swan. We cut it and it sounded like a hit... so I thought, Well, fuck it, I'm going to put it out and if it's not a hit there ain't no way I'm ever going to get a hit record."
Sporadic gigs continued through the summer while they recorded what was to become known as the 'brown album'. They played the Roundhouse in September and in October embarked on a tour, taking in Leytonstone, Nottingham, Blackburn, Birmingham, Sheffield, Southampton, Dunstable and Hull. Bolan was playing more electric guitar now, closing sets with Summertime Blues (recorded for the B-side of White Swan), and some of the ads shortened the band's name to T Rex. Five more gigs were added in Liverpool, Bristol, Oxford, Guildford and Bournemouth.

November saw the release of T Rex, an album of woodland rock with 12 bar sequences and poetic lyrics. Guitar stand-outs included the funky Summer Deep, the wah-wah licks on Root Of Star and the outrageous fuzz-wah solo in Jewel. Bolan told Roy Hollingsworth that month: "At last it is working. The single is selling, the tour has been tremendously successful. I never really listened to anyone who tried to thrust a policy thing at us, we just kept on playing what we wanted to. I always wanted our music to rock more, to be heavier. I wish this album were heavier now. I am enjoying myself channelling musical energy into the electric side. We are very energy packed now... I want to get into guitar a lot more - electric guitar and rock."
Ride A White Swan cracked the Top 30. Today, singles leap into the charts and are gone within weeks. White Swan was a grower. On 7 November it made number 31. A week later it only rose one position to 30, but on the week of the 21st it jumped to 15, then seven. Through December it stayed at seven, crept to six, dropped to 12, picked up again to 10, where it stayed for the new year. By the end of 1970 it had sold 200,000 copies - but it hadn't finished. It spent January in the top four, quitting the Top 20 in February. Only Clive Dunn's dreadful Grandad denied it the Number 1 slot
T Rex started 1971 as a three-piece. At the end of November Steve Currie had been hired on bass. Whilst playing some US dates, the recording of Hot Love was completed in February. Featuring the voices of Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman from The Turtles and Mothers Of Invention, Hot Love was a nod to All Shook Up, with a neat variation on a 12-bar, sexual lyrics, and a singalong coda almost as long as Hey Jude's.

Bolan told Zig-Zag: "Hot Love I wrote because I wanted to write a rock record - I know it's exactly like a million other songs, but I hope it's got a little touch of me in it too. It was done as a happy record, I wanted to make a 12-bar a hit. What happened was we got very lushed one night, had four bottles of brandy, it was about four in the morning, and we just did it." He claimed to have written it in just 10 minutes.
After more UK dates T Rex went back to the States for March and April as a four-piece, with Bill Legend on drums. Bolan admitted he'd thought about expanding for a long time, but admitted: "In the beginning I was just totally opposed to it - like I usually am to anything anyone suggests. Someone said that if we had bass and drums we'd be one of the biggest groups in the world... but it was instant block - I just didn't want to know.
"Then suddenly I started thinking about it. I was overdubbing like mad on all the records and I wasn't getting the feeling I wanted - there was a great gap. And then it struck me, and I just couldn't do another gig without a bass player. Tony Visconti played bass on two gigs, we blew out another four and auditioned for bass. We got Steve; he was the first interviewed and he was dynamite. So we worked for two weeks like that and then realised that if Micky wanted to get into congas, which he did, we'd have to get a kit drummer." He told Disc in April: "We'll always do acoustic things... but I'm much more into rock now."
After a mixed time in the US playing with heavier bands, T Rex returned to find that Hot Love had been number one for six weeks. In mid-June they recorded Raw Ramp. Bolan said it was, "the first thing we've recorded since America, and evolved from an all-night jam last week." The pace was hotting up. Fly issued a compilation album The Best Of T Rex at a budget price of one pound and 15 shillings, hoping to turn new fans on to Bolan's back catalogue. T Rex played more gigs through July. Get It On went to number one for four weeks; as Bang A Gong it was Bolan's biggest US hit.
Of course, chart success ignited complaints from Tyrannosaurus Rex fans who felt betrayed by Bolan's musical change. One wrote: "T Rex used to be streets ahead of all the other so-called progressive groups who lash hell out of their equipment, but now they themselves have been lowered into the meaningless world of heavy rock." Bolan shrewdly observed: "It was just like reading those Dylan reviews when they slammed him with the electric thing. It was the same with me."

There was a fierce ideological fault-line in popular music in 1970 and '71. On the progressive side there was a deep dislike of anything that smacked of the charts. Singles were uncool. Bolan's musical evolution ran straight into this, as was evident from the boos when T Rex played the Weeley Festival in August 1971. "I was talking to Steve Marriott and he was trying to tell me that singles - forget it; albums were important. And I said, Look, man, we've had five hit albums, singles are important for us now."
Writing and recording continued between gigs. In September Bolan released his first full-fledged rock album, Electric Warrior. He toured to hysterical scenes reminiscent of Beatlemania, as teenage girls fell in love with his androgynous beauty once he made Top Of The Pops. Recalling Elvis' gold lame, Bolan wore satin, lurex and glitter, against the prevailing prog indifference to image. Fly pulled Jeepster off the album against Bolan's wishes and it went to number two. Electric Warrior became the fifth best-selling album in the UK. The other four were all classics: Motown Chartbusters III, Sticky Fingers, Every Picture Tells A Story and Bridge Over Troubled Water.
Rikky Rooksby