“Noise proves nothing.
Often a hen who has merely laid an egg cackles as if she laid an asteroid.”
– Mark Twain
- “In the Presence of the Lord” by Blind Faith
Eric Clapton wrote “In the Presence of the Lord” in 1969 while a member of Blind Faith. He asked keyboardist Steve Winwood to provide the vocals. In Clapton: The Autobiography the guitarist wrote, “Steve had said, when I wanted him to sing my song ‘In the Presence of the Lord,’ ‘Well, you wrote it, so you ought to sing it.’ I had insisted that he should, and while we were recording it I kept interrupting him and suggesting that he sing it in such and such a way, until he finally said, ‘Please don’t tell me how to sing it. If you want it sung that way, sing it yourself!’
“He was quite aggressive about it, and I was a little taken aback and decided to just let him get on with it. Looking back, I know he was right. I had written that song upon moving into Hurtwood Edge, and it was a very personal statement, not necessarily a religious one, but more of a statement of fact: ‘I have finally found a place to live, just like I never could before.’ I should have at least given it a go, but I don’t think I could have ever enjoyed my version as much as I do his.”
“In the Presence of the Lord” by Blind Faith
- “Frankenstein” by the Edgar Winter Group
Edgar Winter‘s instrumental “Frankenstein” topped the charts in 1973. The song was an extension of his innovative use of the synthesizer. “It was such a hard rock song, almost a precursor to heavy metal, and I was the first guy who had the idea to put a strap on a keyboard,” Winter told Jam magazine.”‘Frankenstein’ was a vehicle for the synthesizer.”
Wah-wah was one of many effects Winter used in the song. “I always liked science fiction, soundtracks like the sounds of the Theremin in Forbidden Planet,” said Winter in Vintage Rock. “I wanted to see if I could create some never-before-heard sounds, so that was and remains my approach. Using the infinite flexibility of a synthesizer – modulating, vibrato and pitch bend – I think that all makes it the most human of instruments.”
“Frankenstein” by the Edgar Winter Group
- “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” by the Temptations
Like their 1969 hit “Psychedelic Shack,” the Temptations’ “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” was an example of Motown’s foray into psychedelic soul. “Papa” was originally released in 1972 by The Undisputed Truth to little success. But producer Norman Whitfield, who wrote the song with Barrett Strong, convinced the Temptations to record a 12-minute version – cut to seven minutes for the single – that featured a mix of hi-hat drumming, heavy-stringed bass and the funky guitar work of Melvin “Wah-Wah” Watson.
“The thing about ‘Papa Was A Rolling Stone’ that was so controversial with us is we never thought it would ever get played, because of the length of it,” singer Dennis Edwards told Soul Cellar. “We came out with ‘Papa Was A Rolling Stone,’ with that big sixteen bar intro. The jocks had not really got together on whether or not to play long records. What we did to them was, we were the top group in the world and we came out with it and said, ‘This is our new record.’ So we made them play it. After that, a lot of groups came out with longer playing records. It was that driving beat, that haunting beat for that era.”
When Motown moved from Detroit to Los Angeles in 1973, Watson followed and became an in-demand session musician. Watson worked on several Herbie Hancock albums and mentored budding jazz players in the L.A. school system.
“Papa Was a Rolling Stone” by the Temptations
“Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone” by The Undisputed Truth
- “Up on Cripple Creek” by The Band
One of the best-loved songs of The Band‘s self-titled 1969 LP is “Up on Cripple Creek.” The twangy sound that instantly identifies the tune is often mistaken for a Jew’s harp, an instrument that is placed in the mouth and plucked with a finger. Keyboardist Garth Hudson created the sound by using a on a Hohner clavinet, an electric keyboard that has been called “the funkiest instrument known to man.” Guitarist Robbie Robertson told the BBC show Classic Albums: The Band, “This effect that Garth has, the clavinet and the organ are kind of like the lead instrument. The thing that sticks out isn’t the guitar nor the piano, but this Jew’s harp clavinet thing.”
Rolling Stones producer Don Was credits Hudson as a pioneer in the use of the wah-wah on the clavinet, recorded before Stevie Wonder employed the effect on 1972’s “Superstition.” “If you listen to ‘Up on Cripple Creek,’ I believe Garth was the first guy to use a clavinet as a funk rhythm tune … it was before ‘Superstition.’ I mean listen to it, I always thought it was a Jew’s harp but you listen to it and [Garth’s] playing a funky wah-wah clavinet.”
“Up on Cripple Creek” by The Band
“Superstition” by Stevie Wonder
- “Wah-Wah” by George Harrison
“Wah-Wah” was the first song George Harrison recorded for his All Things Must Pass triple-LP. Harrison wrote the song after an argument with the other Beatles during the Let It Be sessions. As Harrison explains in I Me Mine, the term “wah-wah” was used to describe the headache the other Beatles gave him that day.
“‘Wah-Wah’ was written during the Let It Be fiasco, which began with the rehearsal of the songs and ended up as the movie Let It Be. We had been away from each other after having had a very difficult time recording the White Album. That double album was so long it went on forever, and there were all kinds of other bullshit things happening in the band; pressures and problems and after that we came back from a holiday, and went straight back into the old routine. It is that concept of how everybody sees and treats everybody else, allowing no consideration for the fact that we are changing all the time.
“I remember Paul and I were trying to have an argument and the crew carried on filming and recording us. Anyway after one of those first mornings – I couldn’t stand it; I decided this is it! – it’s not fun anymore – it’s very unhappy being in this band – it’s a lot of crap – thank you I’m leaving. ‘Wah-Wah’ was a ‘headache’ as well as a foot pedal. It was written during the time in the film where John and Yoko were freaking out screaming – I’d left the band, gone home – and wrote this tune.”
“Wah-Wah” by George Harrison
- “25 or 6 to 4” by Chicago
The meaning of the title of “25 or 6 to 4” has puzzled fans since its release in 1970. The song marked the first time Chicago reached the Top 5. Many speculated that the title was a reference to a quantity of drugs; others thought the song was about spiritual revelation. Organist-singer Robert Lamm, who wrote “25 or 6 to 4,” says it was neither.
“When I wrote ’25 or 6 to 4′ I was sitting in a room above where the Whisky a Go Go is on Sunset Strip,” Lamm told CNN. “I kind of found that riff ‘Waiting for the break of day / Searching for something to say.’ When I had nothing to say I made the song about writing that song. ’25 or 6 to 4′ indicates the time in the morning, 25 minutes to 4 a.m. So I was seeing all that, just really describing the whole setting. I usually mean exactly what I say – except when I don’t.”
Peter Cetera sang the lead vocals and guitarist Terry Kath played the energetic wah-wah solo. One of rock’s underrated guitarists, Kath died at 31 of an accidental self-inflicted gunshot wound.
“25 or 6 to 4” by Chicago
- “Crazy Mama” by J.J. Cale
“Crazy Mama,” released in 1972, was the biggest hit of J.J. Cale‘s career. The singer-songwriter also composed “Call Me the Breeze,” a hit for Lynyrd Skynyrd, and “Cocaine,” covered by Eric Clapton. “‘Crazy Mama’ by J.J. Cale is a record I love,” Neil Young wrote in Waging Heavy Peace. “The song is true, simple, and direct, and the delivery is very natural. J.J.’s guitar playing is a huge influence on me. His touch is unspeakable. I am stunned by it.”
In his early days, Cale would pull together a few musicians and record his songs as a way to market them to others. “Our whole deal was we were actually trying to sell songs to all the other musicians,” Cale revealed in Vintage Guitar. “Instead of going down like the Brill Building days or Nashville days, and knocking on George Jones’ secretary’s door, saying, ‘Here’s a demo; see if you can get George to do it,’ we figured out if you put out records, we didn’t need to sell records if they just got to the musicians. That was our ‘knock’ on the door, and everybody else was going door to door, trying to get in to see the country guys or rock guys or Eric Clapton or whoever. Artists who sell a lot of records have about six people in front of them, so you can’t get to them unless someone on the inside says, ‘This guy’s got a great song.'”
“Crazy Mama” by J.J. Cale
- “Whole Lotta Love” by Led Zeppelin
“Whole Lotta Love” opens the 1970 Led Zeppelin II album and became the band’s first hit single. “I came up with the guitar riff for ‘Whole Lotta Love’ in the summer of 1968, on my houseboat along the Thames in Pangbourne, England,” guitarist Jimmy Page recalled in Anatomy of a Song. “I suppose my early love for big intros by rockabilly guitarists was an inspiration, but as soon as I developed the riff, I knew it was strong enough to drive the entire song, not just open it. When I played the riff for the band in my living room several weeks later during rehearsals for our first album, the excitement was immediate and collective. We felt the riff was addictive, like a forbidden thing.”
“I used distant miking to get that rhythm guitar tone,” Page told Guitar World. “Miking used to be a science, and I’d heard that distance makes depth, which in turn gives you a fatter guitar sound. The amp was turned up very high. It was distorting, just controlled to the point where it had some balls to it. I also used a depressed wah-wah pedal on the solo, as I did on ‘Communication Breakdown.’ It gets you a really raucous sound.”
“Whole Lotta Love” by Led Zeppelin
- “Theme from Shaft” by Issac Hayes
Written and recorded by Stax soul legend Issac Hayes, the theme for the 1971 film Shaft reached No. 1 on the charts and won Hayes an Academy Award for Best Original Song. Charles “Skip” Pitts performed the memorable wah-wah guitar track. Pitts told Guitar Player that the riff came about by accident.
“I had a Maestro Boomerang wah that I was using on the road,” said Pitts. “The ‘Shaft’ part was created because Isaac needed something driving for the beginning of the movie, when Richard Roundtree is coming out of the subway and walking through Times Square. Isaac had drummer Willie Hall lay the sixteenth notes down on the hi-hat. While Willie was doing that, Isaac was searching on the piano for something to put with it.
“I was checking my pedals. I tested my overdrive, my reverb, the Maestro box, and then I started in with the wah. Isaac stopped everything and said, ‘Skip, what is that you are playing?’ I said, ‘I am just tuning up.’ He said, ‘Keep playing that G octave.’
“It was getting repetitious to me. So when he went to the next part I tried to do the rhythm with him. He says, ‘No. Stay with what you are playing. I don’t give a damn what I play.’ He told me how to play it and put it in perspective, but it was my creation.”
“Theme from Shaft” by Issac Hayes
- “Tales of Brave Ulysses” by Cream
Written by Eric Clapton and artist Martin Sharp, “Tales of Brave Ulysses” appeared on Cream’s 1967 album Disraeli Gears, a period when Jimi Hendrix had first experimented with the wah-wah on “Burning of the Midnight Lamp.” When Clapton hit a dry spell while recording the track, he went to a music store and picked up a wah-wah pedal. “I picked it up at Manny’s guitar shop in New York, I think,” Clapton told Uncut. “They said that Jimi had one and so that was enough for me. I had to have one, too.
“‘Tales Of Brave Ulysses’ was very much a part of the 1967 hippie thing, because the words were written by my flatmate, Martin Sharp, who also did the cover designs for the Cream albums. It’s got this guitar line that I thought no one had ever done before, but in fact it’s exactly the same as ‘Summer In The City.’ Maybe I subliminally ripped it off from that, because I adored the Lovin’ Spoonful. But it seemed like it was so easy to write, and with the wah-wah pedal and Martin’s incredible lyrics, I felt like I’d really made some kind of a breakthrough there.”
“Tales of Brave Ulysses” by Cream
“Burning of the Midnight Lamp” by the Jimi Hendrix Experience
- “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” by the Jimi Hendrix Experience
“Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” was the last song recorded by the Jimi Hendrix Experience for the band’s final studio album, 1968’s Electric Ladyland. Ultimate Guitar explains how Hendrix used the wah-wah pedal to create one of his signature effects. “In July of 1967, while playing gigs at the Scene club in New York City, Hendrix met Frank Zappa, whose The Mothers of Invention were playing at the adjacent Garrick Theater. Hendrix was delighted by Zappa’s application of the pedal, and he experimented with one later that evening. He used a wah pedal during the opening to ‘Voodoo Child (Slight Return),’ creating one of the best-known wah-wah riffs of the classic rock era.
“A key component to achieving a Hendrix tone is fuzz distortion. Hendrix used a Fuzz Face pedal to add more dirt and drive to his amp. Fuzz distortion is rather diverse from common distortion or overdrive pedals. If you don’t have a fuzz pedal you’ll find it very hard to reach Jimi Hendrix’s tone. The Dallas Arbiter Fuzz Face pedal Hendrix used has been so popular Dunlop still produces them today and even made a signature JH-F1 Jimi Hendrix Fuzz Face.”
“Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” by the Jimi Hendrix Experience