Get This!, Gone but not forgotten, Hard-to-find

The Mighty Wah


“Vox’s fabulous new wah-wah pedal opens the door to a variety of great new sounds!”

So says this epoch-defining trade ad from 1967. “Make your guitar grrrrowl! Make it sound like a see-tar! Listen to the funky bass guitar sounds you get!”

wah wah vox 2

Vox Wah-Wah Ad (5 minutes long and worth listening to every minute):

The wah-wah was created by happy accident, when Vox engineers got the circuitry mixed up in a new range of Beatles-inspired amps they were producing. Realising they’d just created an electronic version of the effect jazz trumpeters had pioneered in the 20s by muting their horn with a hat, they seized on the potential and began producing wah-wah pedals.

hendrix wah

Almost immediately, guitar players saw their appeal. Jimi Hendrix was an early adopter of the effect – Up From the Skies on Axis: Bold As Love was one of the first tracks recorded with a wah-wah, and from then on in, it featured heavily in Jimi’s incendiary output. The Burning Of The Midnight Lamp, All Along The Watchtower, Voodoo Chile (of course) – all featured the screamin’ sound of the wah. There he is above, quite literally rockin’ the wah.

Before long, no self-respecting psychedelic act was without a wah-wah, and the the pedal became an integral part of the sound of the era. As a general rule of thumb, the wider the flares, the wilder the wah. The Electric Prunes even went as far as endorsing the effect.

Electric Prunes Vox Wah Wah Ad

george harrison 1970

George Harrison, newly freed from the shackles of The Beatles and with a sackful of songs he was eager to release under his own name employed Vox’s pedal on the self-explanatory Wah-Wah from 1970’s All Things Must Pass.

George HarrisonWah-Wah

It’s a cracking track, almost throwaway pop, although it maybe buckles a wee bit under the pressure of Phil Spector’s over the top production. Sleigh bells? Aye! 35 backing singers? Of course! More brass than a colliery band? Well, it is being produced by Spector. A multitude of guitar tracks?  Well, it is being played by George Harrison. The main riff is suitably Eastern-influenced, a call and response one chord groove that swaggers like Muhammad Ali in the 15th round. It soars with each key change, guitars free-forming over the top while the original riff underpins the whole thing. George even has the cheek to steal the chorus from that Vox ad at the top there. Listen again to the last 30 seconds. Who noticed?!? Kula Shaker certainly did – George’s track practically gives birth to the daft four-piece, but don’t hold that against him.  Om shanti shanti shanti.

wah wah vox

By the 70s, the wah-wah was being employed to great effect by the soul community. Curtis Mayfield….Sly Stone….The Temptations….they all had wah-heavy records out. Rather than solo, (that would be far too ‘rock’), the players created the distinctive wacka-wacka sound that’s now become the ubiquitous sound of the wah-wah. Y’know, Theme From ‘Shaft’ ‘n all that.

Temptation Dennis Edwards, far left, and cast members party at the Gordy Mansion, April 13, 1970. (Motown Record Corp.)
Temptation Dennis Edwards, far left, and cast members party at the Gordy Mansion, April 13, 1970. (Motown Record Corp.)

Here‘s the lesser-known (by Shaft standards at any rate) Psychedelic Shack from The Temptations:

Since then, the wah-wah pedal has featured on all sorts of tracks by all sorts of musicians, from Joni Mitchell and John Martyn to Metallica and The Melvins. It’s reassuring to know that in any given record collection, you’re never more than 30cm from a track featuring a wah-wah.

john squire

Here’s Fools Gold, of course….the full-length version, of course…

Stone RosesFools Gold

fools gold tab


Cover Versions, Hard-to-find

I like it, I like it, I la la la like it.

Watching Glastonbury from the comfort of my armchair, one band stuck out like a sore thumb. But a good sore thumb. A really good sore thumb. Springsteen? Hmmm. Sure, he’s got the knack of making a hundred thousand people feel like he’s serenading them on a one-to-one basis in the dressing room of King Tuts. Neil Young? Hmmm, yeah, but he does go on a wee bit too long. Just a tiny bit, but a wee bit nonetheless. Long may you run and all that, but c’mon Neil. Blur? Punkpoppogoagogo. Damon All Bran shadow boxing and jogging on the spot. Graham Coxon rolling around on the floor whilst soloing. Yeah, it’s all very 1992. I liked them a lot. But nope. The band that really did it for me were Status Quo. Yep. You read that right first time. Status Quo.

If only for their opening 5 minute salvo, I’d have been delighted to stand in a crowded field full of B.O. and pollen. Had I been there, my fingers would’ve been firmly in my belt loops and I’d’ve been heabanging away like some of those hopelessly embarrasing bald-on-top, long at the back tour t-shirt-wearing accountants-by-day oldies. Status Quo’s opening song sounded so good, I thought it was 1973 again. There’s a slow build up of feedback that Kevin Shield’s would’ve been proud of. Parfitt’s fingers are barred and poised to start chugging out the F-Shape at the 13th fret. As he finds the rhythm and locks the groove, Rossi fades himself in with that instantly recognisable counter riff on his green Tele. The rest of the band get on with the no-nonsense heads-down boogie and we’re off. Come on Sweet Caroline! Take my hand, together we can rock and roll! As that other rock ‘n roller who clearly stole Parfitt n’ Rossi’s patented denim-with-white-trainers look might say, Sen. Say. Shee. Oh. Nal. Aye Liam. You’ve been out rocked and out rolled by a couple of old men in waistcoats and bad hair.


Of course, twas not always thus. Sure, they’ve mostly always had bad hair and often had a penchant for sporting the garishly coloured waistcoat, but back in the 60s, Status Quo were fresh from the Butlins holiday camp circuit and had a ‘The’ at the start of their name. If you’ve ever seen Spinal Tap (and of course you have) The Status Quo were a psychedelic beat combo in much the same vein as that film’s The Thamesmen. Paisley shirts? Check! Wah-wah? Oh yes! Multi-coloured guitars? Absolutely man!

status quo thamesmen

The Status Quo                        The Thamesmen

The Status Quo are amazing. They’re probably best known for Pictures of Matchstick Men, covered by many including most recently Kasabian for a Radio 2 session with Dermot O’Leary. Christ. I hate that band. They’d love to be Primal Scream, wouldn’t they? Anyway, back to The Status Quo. Not ‘The Quo’. That means ‘In The Army Now’ and best-forgotten collaborations with Manchester United. The Status Quo. Ice In The Sun. Another slice of 60s psychedelia. A coupla years later and they’d be slaves to the boogie. Here‘s their version of The Doors ‘Roadhouse Blues’. Guilty as charged, m’lud. For years I never knew this was a cover. When I was 10 I got ‘From the Makers Of…‘ a triple LP Status Quo Box Set from Santa. It’s still in my collection, as is  ‘Picturesque Matchstickabale Memories From The Status Quo’. If you only buy one Status Quo album this year, etc etc….You’ll not find it in Tesco but it’s worth seeking out.

status quo matchstick