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JET HARRIS - 'Mean, moody, magnificent…'
Shadows’ bass guitar hero who enjoyed massive chart success in the early 1960s.

Jet Harris, who did more than anyone else to pioneer and raise the profile of the art of electric bass guitar playing in the UK, has died at the age of 71. He had been battling cancer for almost two years. Between 1959 and 1963 Jet Harris, who played bass guitar on over 80 hit recordings with Cliff Richard and the Shadows, was one of the UK’s biggest Pop stars before the advent of Beatlemania.

Terence Harris was born on July 6th 1939, in Kingsbury. He acquired the nickname 'Jet' because of a talent for sprinting, which saw him representing Middlesex at a schools athletics meeting at London's White City Stadium. As his teenage years approached he became increasingly interested in music. He was inspired by the heavy left hand bass notes on pianist Winifred Attwell’s recordings – specifically 1952’s "Left Hand Boogie". After a brief flirtation with the clarinet he bought a double bass for £40. By 1953 (although under age) he frequented Soho’s jazz clubs, often having to walk there and back from his Willesden home. At his favourite haunt, the Mapleton Club in Leicester Square, he was befriended by jazz bass legend Sammy Stokes who played with the Ted Heath Band. Stokes gave Jet lessons and the young bassist practiced for thirty to forty hours each week. Harris quickly became a very capable player. He left school at the age of fifteen, working as an apprentice sheet metal worker at the Dairy Supply Company in Park Royal. In 1957 when Stokes turned down a three week tour backing Terry Dene - he had no hesitation in recommending Jet Harris instead. Jet earned more (£90) in three weeks than he could in three months as a welder. He was also a regular at the legendary 2is coffee bar where he informally backed many future stars of the early British R’n’R scene. It was there that he first met future Shadows Hank Marvin, Bruce Welch and Tony Meehan. Some of those musicians had a brief spell together in the Vipers skiffle group.

When another early 2is star, Wee Willie Harris, embarked upon a national twenty–two week variety tour, Jet joined Tony Crombie's Rockets who were backing every act in the show. During the tour, Crombie suggested that Jet should try out a new invention – the electric bass guitar. Jet traded in his double bass for a £70 Framus bass guitar. It was amongst the very first to be imported into the UK. Initially unsure as to how to play it, Jet practised for countless hours until his fingers were literally bleeding. His next job was backing the Most Brothers who had been signed for a package tour headlined by the American Kalin Twins, and including Cliff Richard and the Drifters. During the tour, Jet was asked to join the Drifters on stage. He was initially reluctant but shrewdly noticed that Cliff’s “Move It” was starting to climb the record charts and so he accepted. By January 1959 the classic early lineup of what was to become The Shadows was established as Hank B Marvin (lead guitar), Bruce Welch (rhythm guitar), Jet Harris (bass guitar) and Tony Meehan (drums).

The Drifters were offered their own recording contract but were obliged to change their name following an injunction from the famous Drifters vocal group. It was Jet Harris who came up with the Shadows appellation – "Because Cliff will always be in the spotlight and we’ll be in the background – in the shadows." In late 1959 Cliff provided Hank and Jet with brand new Fender guitars. Jet’s Fender Precision bass was probably the first to be imported into the UK. With his moody James Dean aura and superb playing – Jet Harris inspired a generation of bass guitarists including a certain Paul McCartney from Liverpool. The Cliff Richard and the Shadows combination was sensational. Jet’s dynamic bass lines appeared on a staggering run of huge hit singles, including 'Travelling Light', 'Living Doll', 'Please Don’t Tease', 'The Young Ones”' and a dozen or so more. Even more remarkably – the Shadows commenced upon an immensely successful series of massive instrumental hits in their own right, beginning with 'Apache' in the summer of 1960 which knocked Cliff’s own 'Please Don’t Tease' off the top of the singles charts. Singer Jerry Lordan (who was on tour with Cliff Richard and the Shadows) had originally given the track to Bert Weedon but was unhappy with Bert’s then unreleased version. He played 'Apache' to Jet on a ukulele and it was at Jet’s insistence that he played it again the following day to Hank Marvin and Bruce Welch during a coach journey to a show at Bristol’s Colston Hall. 'Apache' started a remarkable run of 12 successive Top 10 hits for the Shadows, 9 of which featured Jet Harris. Other major hits included 'Man Of Mystery', 'Kon Tiki' and 'Wonderful Land'. 'The Shadows' was the very first LP by a British group to top the UK album charts and the Shadows were the first act to achieve a simultaneous No.1 hit single ('Kon-Tiki”), EP ('Shadows To The Fore') and LP ('The Shadows'). 'Nivram', Jet’s bass solo (which he also wrote), has become an evergreen standard of the bass guitar repertoire. The brilliant technicolour images of the Shadows sporting their matching red Fender guitars in 'The Young Ones' film were burned into the collective memory of a generation. However, personal problems were beginning to take their toll. Jet had begun to drink heavily after Cliff Richard had an affair with his wife Carol Costa and they subsequently divorced. Jet’s drinking sprees were creating tensions within the group and he quit in April 1962. Almost immediately he was signed up by pop guru Jack Good as a solo artist with Decca records. Jet pioneered a brand new sound with his Fender VI six – string bass, playing it like a lead guitar in the manner of Duane Eddy. The result was a huge, deep juddering sound dubbed as ‘The six – string thunder thrill.’ Harris enjoyed instrumental solo hits with tracks such as “Besame Mucho”, “Man From Nowhere” and 'Main Title Theme From The Man With The Golden Arm'.

Even greater success followed when Jet teamed up with former Shadows drummer Tony Meehan (who’d quit the group late in 1961). Jerry Lordan (composer of several of the Shadows’ biggest hits) wrote “Diamonds” for Jet and Tony. Early in 1963 it went to No.1 in the hit parade, displacing the Shadows’ own “Dance On!” in the process. Further huge hits followed with “Scarlett O’Hara” and “Applejack”. Disaster struck when Jet was seriously injured when his chauffeur driven car ploughed into a bus. His nerves and state of mind were shattered. He developed stage fright and effectively had to give up performing for the best part of a decade. It was a desperate period as he descended into serious alcoholism. In 1967 he was due to be part of the Jeff Beck Group – but rehearsals simply didn’t work out. Jet had received £11,150 in compensation from his 1963 accident. The judge noted that whilst Jet "…was no Beatle and possibly no Cliff Richard, he was nevertheless at the top of his profession." Within a few years Jet was broke and had to resort to a series of menial jobs including labourer, bricklayer, hospital porter and bus conductor. Various comebacks seemed doomed to failure. Tabloid newspapers ran assorted ‘Riches–to–Rags’ type stories about him from time to time.

However, in 1989, he was invited with Tony Meehan to join in 'The Event', Cliff's 30th anniversary concerts at Wembley Stadium, when they joined Cliff's band to play "Move It". Marred only by some attention to his private life by the tabloids, it was one of the highlights of the decade for Jet. Perhaps the other highlight was his own “Anniversary Album”, which saw him re - recording his old hits to great effect. But Jet seemed to be cursed. Just as the new LP/CD was about to be launched, the PRT company went bankrupt and virtually the entire stock was seized. Jet’s partners lost thousands of pounds and the whole project was abandoned. Throughout the 1990s Jet was supported by excellent musicians in groups like the Rapiers and Tangent. In 1998, Jet’s importance to bass playing was recognised when he was presented with a Fender Lifetime Achievement Award. In 1999 a wealthy Italian fan arranged for Jet to visit a specialist clinic/health spa where he was remarkably cured of his alcoholism. In 1999 his career began a latter day renaissance with a fantastic show to an audience of over 1,000 at the BIC. In 2003, Jet headlined a one-off sell out concert at the London Palladium, on a bill which included Johnny and the Hurricanes, the Spotnicks and the Tornados. On May 27th 2007 Jet was back at the Palladium with Marty Wilde. At the finale they were joined by Hank Marvin, Bruce Welch and Brian Bennett thereby reuniting the second Shadows line up onstage for the first time in forty-five years.

Jet continued to tour theatres throughout the UK during 2000–2010. Usually he was in the company of artists such as John Leyton, Billie Davis and Mike Berry. He also undertook lengthy tours with Marty Wilde and appeared regularly at Bruce Welch’s Shadowmania extravaganzas. He released CDs of brand new experimental recordings in 2000 (“The Phoenix Rises”) and 2007 (“The Journey”) but most fans preferred another set of re – recordings with 2002’s “Diamonds Are Trumps”. Jet was diagnosed with cancer in 2009. He was awarded the MBE for his services to music in 2010. He also received another Special Award from Fender guitars as acknowledgement to his unique achievements in the UK. Onstage and wisecracking to the end, defying medical advice, Jet Harris courageously played his last show just over a month before he passed away. He is survived by his partner Janet Hemingway who nursed him through his final illness.

Jet Harris, guitarist. Born Kingsbury, London on July 6th, 1939. Died, Winchester on March 18th, 2011.

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