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Dirty-South Blues Harp forum: wail on! > Horton's Easy effects (hands or amps)?
Horton's Easy effects (hands or amps)?
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89 posts
Sep 12, 2020
1:24 PM
I've been listenning Walter Horton's Easy a long time, but I could not figure Ifigênia vê get that tremolo using his hands (like Dennis Gruenling) or by the amp. Any clue? Thanks in advance
6807 posts
Sep 12, 2020
1:44 PM
I've seen a couple of threads which had strong and opposed views on this topic.

Some say it's totally organic, no electronic effect at all.

That seems to be the more commonly held position.

There are some who claim that there is a tremolo effect used on the amp.

Some say no such effect was available at the time. I believe the opposing camp demonstrated this was incorrect.

I have never heard that it was done with hands though. All discussion I've seen was regarding an effect using throat
1127 posts
Sep 12, 2020
4:46 PM
The effect is not perfect. Ergo, is not a machine (or amp).
Sorry for any misspell, english is not my first language.
John M G
370 posts
Sep 12, 2020
5:08 PM
This is one track that for me pushes Big Walter ahead of Little Walter (just my opinion)
This has been on my favourite listening list since the 70's.
I've never ever thought that this was an amp effect and I hear it as simply part of the skill set of Big Walter that we can try and aim for.
Whether it's throat or hand made, I'm not 100% sure. I'd be inclined to think that it's throat produced but would be happily corrected.
6808 posts
Sep 12, 2020
10:58 PM
This is the discussion I was thinking of. While he didn't have a lot of support, I think 5F6H made a pretty good case and the question of variability in the effect was defused effectively and supported by htownfess.

I admit to having splinters in my bum on this issue.

Whenever my friend argues strongly for a position and his supporting evidence is demonstrated to be spurious, his backdown statement is "I guess we'll never know"

261 posts
Sep 12, 2020
11:11 PM
Having seen Walter enough times between 1968 & 1973, I'd expect it was throat, hands, lips, not amp. He was a monster on tone and effects. He'd give different answers to the same "how" question, and if you thought you were going to watch to see what he was doing he had an ability to turn/move away, or move his hands to cover what you thought you were going to see and learn. The amp was almost superfluous to Walter's sound. There was a reason Willie Dixon described him as "...the best harmonica player I ever heard."
90 posts
Sep 13, 2020
9:19 AM
Wow, for some reason I missed this discussion at the time. Maybe SuperBee is right about "we'll never know", but I wonder why Horton never replicate this effect on other recordings? (as far I know I never heard that tremolo effect again from him). The fact that this effect is not constant on all the track make me think that it was created by BW (he seems to choose when to apply the effect), but I'm beginning to think that It might be a defective amp also, but most likely it was created by BW.
Grey Owl
1062 posts
Sep 14, 2020
5:58 AM
Love this track. What a huge sound he has. I can get this effect but it's difficult to do consistently. I don't believe it is vibrato but I think he does it by pulling air on the draw notes and pushing air on the blow notes. So for the blow it's a kind of rhythmic pulsing ha ha ha ha ha ha ha supported by the diaphragm. The trick is maintaining that regular pulse. Of course his big sound is enhanced by the amp reverb.


Grey Owl
3208 posts
Sep 16, 2020
5:19 PM
I was part of the original discussion-and i still believe its throat or diaphragmatic tremolo.

"but I wonder why Horton never replicate this effect on other recordings? (as far I know I never heard that tremolo effect again from him)"

It's there in the video below. Let me know if you can't hear it.
3209 posts
Sep 16, 2020
5:19 PM
3210 posts
Sep 16, 2020
5:22 PM
91 posts
Sep 21, 2020
9:29 AM
To my ears, it's a little bit different from "Easy". This weekend I read a Tom Ball's quote from his book: 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."
I also read Hawkins' book to check the quote, but could not find from where Hawkin's got it, but it's another evidence to my weird hypothesis of a defective amp.
A-Static Cal
9 posts
Sep 22, 2020
5:36 AM
Throat and diaphragm, all day long. If you can time the "cough" action in your throat with a quick diaphragm quiver, you get that trem sound. I'm no Big Walter, by a loooong shot, but I stumbled across that sound a while back. Lot's of fun when you get it.
Grey Owl
1063 posts
Sep 22, 2020
10:44 AM
tmf714 Yes it's not quite as defined as on Easy but the diaphragm shimmer is there.

A-Static Cal Yep, that's what I'm hearing. I tried it with the method I mentioned above (like a cough action), which worked ok for me when I played it slow but I had to swap to the diaphragm quiver to play it at the same speed as BW.

Here is a small, rough sample of my attempt.

To be honest I don't think my diaphragm could take the punishment of doing the whole song.

Grey Owl

Last Edited by Grey Owl on Sep 22, 2020 12:51 PM
2180 posts
Sep 22, 2020
12:42 PM
I think Walter Horton likely used throat and diaphragm as suggested above. The short instances of variability in the pulses would tend to indicate it is not an amp tremolo circuit. This technique would wear me out quickly. The prolonged diaphragm workout would cause soreness afterward!

There is another approach to a similar sound that I use at times, though I doubt it was used in this recording.

You hold the harp as usual in one hand (I use the left hand on low octave). Then you use the right hand on the right/high end of the harp to GENTLY move that end into and away from your mouth embouchure. The speed of the minimal movement determines the pulse rate. You can speed up the rate or slow it down, like a Leslie.

I mainly use this when playing octaves as a background, but it can somewhat replicate the Big Walter sound in "Easy". I think it is worth trying out.

Doug S.
3211 posts
Sep 23, 2020
1:26 PM
I hear ya Doug!
Since the diaphragm is a muscle,it can be built up over time.
I was able to use it for the whole song,but had to take a break the next day due to the workout it gave me!
2898 posts
Sep 23, 2020
10:17 PM
Big Walter used an unreleased harp pedal called the Harp Vibrato by Lone Wolf.

All kidding aside, have you looked into vibrato or tremolo effects available when he recorded Easy? Nothing was available at the time. It’s all Big Walter.
6823 posts
Sep 23, 2020
11:07 PM

Last Edited by SuperBee on Sep 23, 2020 11:09 PM
95 posts
Sep 24, 2020
3:57 AM
In early 50's there were some amps with tremolo built in (Premier 66, Gibson GA50T, both before 50, and Danelectro before 52, Magnatone and Fender released their version after 55).
Echo and reverb units came latter. What he hear in Sun and Chess recordings were effects created in studio, and I think the players had no control over echo or reverb, but tremolo was possible at the time.
1 post
Jan 15, 2024
12:44 PM
I realize I'm late to this discussion, but thought I'd throw in FWIW. Walter's Sun recordings were the first thing that drew me to harp many years ago and I've studied them extensively/obsessively.

Walter's vibrato in those years was very recognizable to my ear. Easy employs the same throat vibrato he uses on In the Mood, Cotton Patch Hot Foot, West Winds and several other tunes from this period. It's just far more noticeable on Easy because he's focusing more intensely on the vibrato and he's more intensely amplified/distorted than normal. Also the background is more minimal (just Jimmy's very basic guitar).

In later years Walter often seemed mainly to use breath vibrato, but obsessive listening reveals that he was capable of a wide variety of effects that he only occasionally employed. Which is of course part of what makes Big Walter such a fascinating musician: it feels like we were always only getting teasers of what he was actually capable of.
3705 posts
Jan 17, 2024
8:06 AM
Having met and hung out with him personally, the very first thing 85% of harp players automatically get wrong right off the bat is most players have a tendency to play way too hard to ever get anything he ever did right. Back in the late 70's, I was at a club in Cambridge, MA called The Speakeasy where he was gigging at and he knew me pretty well at the time and I had a harp player friend of mine from NYC who just recently passed away known as Rocky Junior. At the end of the night, he had all of his harps packed up for the night and Rocky asked him how he played the intro to his cover of Little Walter's Can't Hold On Much Longer. Now if he didn't know you, you could count on him either totally BS'ing you or say that he was too tired to bother, but since he was with me, no problem. I let him use my key of A Marine Band that I had on me (BTW, customized diatonic harmonicas were NOT in existence at the time), and then he proceeded to play it note for n ote, dynamic for dynamic, just like the Alligator recording and he played very softly, like a whisper, something that the overwhelming majority of non pro players NEVER do and that couple of minutes of hearing him do that was an eye opener and I found many other things from there and the fact that most of the very best players played largely very softly in terms of breath force. I can guarantee you that 95% of non pro players will automatically get the opening two choruses wrong because right off the bat, they're playing to much too hard to begin with.
Barbeque Bob Maglinte
Boston, MA
CD available at http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/bbmaglinte

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