Great Gretsch Guitarists: Russell Marsden of Band of Skulls
Guitar. Bass. Drums. Rock ‘n’ roll doesn’t get any more basic and straightforward than that. Thousands of rock trios have started out in garages, but very few have ever made it to the big stage. One exception is Britain’s Band of Skulls, one of the most popular and critically acclaimed bluesy-rock trios of the past decade.
Formed while they were in college, Russell Marsden fronts the band and shoulders the entire guitar playing responsibilities. Emma Richardson, a former rhythm guitarist, plays bass, with drums provided by Matt Hayward (who recently departed the band). Russell and Emma are both exceptional songwriters and singers, and their separate voices, as well as their close, two-part harmony, are a staple of the band’s unique sound.
It’s a bit hard to categorize Band of Skulls. Although the band’s name sounds like a metal band (the name symbolizes the band members’ minds coming together rather than anything gothic or punk), and they play fast, slow, loud, soft, electric and sometimes all-acoustic, Russell makes it clear: Band of Skulls plays rock ‘n’ roll. And, sometimes with attitude.
Despite being a trio, Band of Skulls is a band famous for their arena-sized, overdriven, massive sound. Fans attending their live shows can’t believe only three people are generating such a full wall of sound. The key element is clearly Russell’s guitar. As the band progressed from playing small clubs to larger venues – and being the lone guitar player – Russell said he needed to add a new guitar to provide a bigger sound and to fill up those rooms. You can’t get much bigger than a Falcon. Russell’s upgrade to Gretsch White Falcons, Black Falcons, and Silver Falcons gave Band of Skulls their distinctive sound as the band toured extensively and formed a legion of fans around the world.
Perhaps influenced in choosing a Gretsch hollow body by Jack White, Billy Duffy, or even George Harrison (Russell admits he’s a big Beatles fan), Russell affectionately calls his Gretsch guitars “rock ‘n’ roll machines.” He’s a real master of catchy riffs, solid rhythms, and tastefully-controlled feedback, and says he personally gets a kick out of using gear, like a White Falcon, which wasn’t originally intended to front a loud, bluesy, high-volume rock band. Russell also proudly admits there’s still room for guitar solos and cranked-up amps in today’s music, and that’s how he still approaches songwriting.
Like all musicians, Russell continues to evolve and explore new tones and sounds. He’s been recently playing and performing with a black-and-gold Gretsch 130th Anniversary Junior guitar (and admits to double-tracking his Anniversary and Falcon on recordings to achieve what he calls “a slightly different flavor” of tone). But don’t let the smaller-bodied guitar fool you. With TV Jones Power’Tron pickups, Russell says his Anniversary Junior provides plenty of growl for all of the band’s loud, dirty, rock `n’ roll songs that need that signature “Gretschy Sound.”
I admire multi-talented artists like Russell who epitomize the singer/songwriter/guitarist/musician label. Not many players can front a successful rock trio and be both rhythm and lead guitarist, as well as the band’s lead singer and songwriter. I also admire his passion for introducing Band of Skull’s music to thousands of teenagers forming bands today. Russell admits he wants to keep rock ‘n’ roll alive and be an inspiration to the next generation of rock bands and rock trios. I’m personally proud Russell chose Gretsch guitars to help him with that quest.
“Asleep At The Wheel” from Band of Skulls’ third studio album, Himalayan, showcases the trio’s straightforward, powerful style of rock ‘n’ roll.
Band of Skulls’ huge sound (thanks to Russell’s Gretsch Black Falcon), rocked the Ed Sullivan Theater in 2012 when they performed “Sweet Sour” on Late Night with David Letterman.
Russell performing “Himalayan” with his Gretsch 130th Anniversary Jr. guitar.