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Jet Harris, bassist of the Shadows, dies: He was one of the first to create melodic bass lines in rock

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Jet Harris
Hayley Madden/Redferns/Getty Images

Terence “Jet” Harris, the original bassist for pioneering British rock group the Shadows, has died at age 71 after a two-year battle with cancer.

Jet Harris was with the Shadows from 1958 to 1962, a period that found the Shads blazing trails for instrumental rock as well as backing burgeoning star Cliff Richard (who had American chart success with the less-than-rockin’ “Suddenly” with Olivia Newton-John). In a statement to the UK press, Richard said that “Jet will always be an integral part of British rock ‘n’ roll history. Losing him is sad — but the great memories will stay with me. Rock on, Jet.”

Even if you don’t know the Shadows, you’ve undoubtedly heard their 1960 hit “Apache” before or it’s countless knock-offs. It was basically the foundation for all those surf rock tunes that pop up in Quentin Tarantino movies. “Apache” also lives on through a 1973 cover by the Incredible Bongo Band, which has popped up in innumerable hip-hop songs from the Sugarhill Gang to Missy Elliot.

The Shadows are an essential part of rock history that is far too often forgotten. In the period from the late fifties to the early sixties that found Chuck Berry in jail, Elvis Presley in the army and Little Richard busy with God, the Shadows were one of the few bands keeping guitar-based rock ‘n’ roll alive. Watch the echo-y, lovely “The Frightened City” here and enjoy their synchronized footsteps:

Bassist Jet Harris was arguably the crux of the Shadows’ highly influential style, as he was one of the first people in rock music to play echo-laden, melodic bass lines that were as essential to the band as the lead or rhythm guitar. Not to mention that he was the one who came up with the name “The Shadows.” They were originally called The Drifters, until someone let them know an incredibly popular American R&B group already had dibs on that name.

The Shadows might not have been a stylistically diverse band, but on songs like “The Frightened City,” “Kon-Tiki” and “Apache,” they created haunting, reverb-heavy soundscapes that influenced the Beatles (see the early Lennon/Harrison demo “Cry for a Shadow”) and demonstrated that a bass line can be the centerpiece of a rock song. As John Lennon once said, “Before Cliff [the band’s occasional lead singer] and the Shadows, there had been nothing worth listening to in British music.”

Rest in peace, Mr. Harris.

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