RE: Big Walter's live rig?
- Subject: RE: Big Walter's live rig?
- From: tom ball <havaball@xxxxxxx>
- Date: Tue, 25 Nov 2003 20:44:51 -0800
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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