The Smiths

Johnny Marr and Morrissey from The Smiths pose under the branches of a willow tree in London in 1983.

Clare Muller/Redferns

Joe Moss, the first manager of The Smiths and long-time associate of Johnny Marr, has died at the age of 72, following a battle with cancer.

“Joe was a one-off, an amazing person and totally unique,” said Marr in a statement announcing the passing of his close friend, mentor and, since 1999, personal manager.  

“Without him there wouldn’t have been any Smiths. He was an original beatnik and a true bohemian, respected by all. Everyone who met him loved him; he can never be replaced,” Marr went on to say.

Their association dates backs to the early '80s, when a 17-year-old Marr walked into Moss’ Crazy Face Wholesale Clothing store in central Manchester and introduced himself as a “frustrated musician.” The pair quickly became close friends and Moss took the young musician under his wing.

Marr credits him with planting the seed for the guitarist to turn up uninvited at the Stretford door of Steven Patrick Morrissey in 1982 and, in the process, beginning a songwriting partnership that would ultimately make The Smiths one of Britain’s most-loved bands. As Morrissey and Marr’s musical ambitions blossomed, Moss supplied the fledgling group with rehearsal space and equipment, guided them through their first live shows and secured the now four-piece, also numbering Andy Rourke and Mike Joyce, record and publishing deals.    

“He invested time and money in us when no one else wanted to know, and his belief in us kept us going,” reflected Marr. Moss’ management of The Smiths continued until late '83 when he left the group just as it’s breakthrough U.K. single “This Charming Man” was riding high in the UK charts and the band’s eagerly anticipated self-titled debut was about to be released.

In Morrissey’s 2013 Autobiography, the singer accused the manager of trying to coerce his bandmates to sack him during the band’s first U.S. tour. “Hanging by a thread, we resume -- deloused of Joe Moss” is how Moz, in his characteristically barbed style, describes the end of Moss’ time managing the band.

He subsequently worked as a promoter at Manchester live music venue Night and Day Café before returning to music management with the bands Marion (whose 1998 album The Program was produced by Marr) and the Manchester indie group Haven. In 1999, Moss resumed his role as Johnny Marr’s manager.  

He is survived by his wife Sarah and his children David, Rachael, Ivan, Stella and Edie.