RE: Big Walter's live rig?

T'was written:
I've been listening to "Big Walter Horton Live at the Knickerbocker" a lot
lately and I'd be curious to hear about Big Walter's stage rig from those of
you who were lucky enough to see him play up close and personal. Eyewitness
accounts ONLY, please.

Not sure what he used that exact night, but I did have the pleasure 
of seeing him on many occasions.

RE: microphones.  Like Jacobs, Walter Horton used several different 
mics during his career.  One can only guess what he was using on 
those incredible sessions of 1953 and 1954, but when I saw him in the 
'60s and '70s he was alternating between a Shure vocal mic, a pale 
green Calrad DS-2, a Shure 520 "Green Bullet" and an Astatic JT-30.

As to the vocal mic, harp ace Peter "Madcat" Ruth, who took a few 
lessons from Horton in '67 and '68, recalled one of them thusly: 
"The microphone Walter was using at that time was a Shure PE57, a 
plastic body, high impedance dynamic mic with an on/off switch."

There are several performance photos of him playing through various 
other vocal mics, but so little of the mic protrudes from his hands 
that it's impossible to determine exactly what they are.  And there 
are other photos of him playing through huge dispatch-type mics that 
appear to be bullet-shaped heads molded onto short stands (possibly 
an Astatic 200-S or a Turner?)  Horton evidently disregarded the 
attached stand and it's additional weight.

I first saw Horton live in about '66 and he was using a Calrad DS-2 
- -- a large, pale green, bullet shaped model.  Oddly enough there are 
a few other mics that appear to be identical to this model (like the 
Armaco M-131 and the Argonne AR-54,) and although I have no concrete 
documentation or proof, I've heard it rumored that these all might 
have been made by Shure.

RE: Big Walter's Amplifiers.  There has surprisingly been much less 
research into Walter Horton's amps than there has been with regard to 
Little Walter, which is a shame considering that Horton is generally 
remembered as having had such incredible tone. In the '60s I recall 
seeing him several times with a blackface Fender Princeton Reverb, 
and other times with a blackface Fender Princeton (no reverb.) 
Whether those choices were based upon tonal preference, portability 
or simple availability remains unclear, but they are great sounding 
amps for harp (especially in the hands of a master like Horton.) The 
only possible drawback to these amps is their low wattage (+-12 
watts,) but then a low wattage amp can always be independently miked 
and run through the P.A. if necessary.

In the '70s Horton was sometimes spotted using a tweed 4 x10 Fender 
Bassman, but the amp apparently didn't belong to him.  Other reports 
have him using a blackface Twin Reverb, a silverface Princeton Reverb 
and on occasion a blackface Super Reverb.

RE: Big Walter's Effects.  The first recordings of Horton on which we 
hear effects are, in fact, his first electric recordings: sessions 
from September 15, 1952, recorded at Sun Studios.  These first 
electric sessions (and a subsequent unissued session from December of 
that year) are not heavily laden with effects, but there is slightly 
audible reverb and/or echo present.  Initially, Sam Phillips only had 
a single-track, mono-input board, but by late '52 he was using a few 
methods for reverb and/or delay, including plate reverb, and (much 
like Bill Putnam's set-up at Universal) the linking of two Ampex tape 
decks together to provide a slap-back effect which he most often used 
on the drum kit.

The 1952 Horton waxings have much less overall effects than some of 
his recordings of the following year.  Up in Chicago in '53, Big 
Walter cut the classic sides with Johnny Shines for J.O.B. Records, 
but there are no details at all on the technical aspects of that 
session. '53 was also the year he recorded the great instrumental 
"Easy," (back again at Sun,) which featured steadily mounting echo 
throughout.  In Escott and Hawkins' book "Sun Records-The Brief 
History" Big Walter recalled, "We cut that thing in three or four 
takes but my box started screechin' and we had to cut it.  I played 
real loud on that one.  I like to play loud."

One wonders if the other takes of "Easy" have survived - not only 
would it be instructive to hear the differences in the harp, but 
perhaps there is a take in which guitarist Jimmy DeBerry plays the 
correct figures! :)

The jury is still out as to whether either Big (or Little) Walter 
ever used a Fender outboard reverb unit once they became available in 
the early '60s.  It has been suggested that they did, but there are 
no confirming photos or first-hand reports.  While there is audible 
reverb on both of their harps during recordings from the mid-'60s, it 
may well have been supplied either from plate reverb in the studio or 
from built-in reverb tanks in their amps.  In any case, these 
outboard units are wonderful additions to the modern harp player's 
arsenal... if you can find one at a reasonable price.

In sum, Big Walter Horton (like Little Walter) appeared to have had 
little specific preference about equipment, as long as it worked.  He 
seemed to be able to wring his massive tone out of whatever was 

For my money, the ultimate amplified harmonica tone ever committed to 
wax would be Big Walter's 1953 recordings with Johnny Shines for 
J.O.B. Records, especially "Evening Sun" and "Brutal Hearted Woman." 
Although I've been inquiring about this session for decades, no one 
seems to be able to supply any information about the recording 
techniques or the equipment used.  Of course it's only my opinion, 
but I consider this 78 to be the absolute pinnacle of possible 
Chicago blues harp tone - by all means, try to dig up this recording!

In any event, a fun thread!  Enjoyed reading BBQ Bob's informative 
comments too, and thanks for giving me a chance to rattle on about 
one of my favorite subjects.  :)

cheers to all,

Tom Ball <<<<back from the UK but still sipping Guinness.

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