Since the invention of the electric guitar, many accessories have surfaced which alter the sound being produced, though none are arguably as popular as the wah-wah pedal. Used to immense effect by some but exploited to mundane length by others, the pedal is nonetheless a popular mainstay in the musical sphere. In 2011, the wah-wah shows no signs of fading away.
Created by Guard House Pictures
and directed by both Joey Tosi
and Max Baloian
, the February 2011 documentary "Cry Baby: The Pedal That Rocks The World
" chronicles the story of the top-selling effects pedal from its 1966 invention through to its evolution into the present day. The effect was an essential ingredient in the creation of classics like Jimi Hendrix
's "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)
's "Enter Sandman
" and Guns N' Roses
' "Sweet Child O' Mine
". The film documents how engineer Brad Plunkett
discovered and developed the wah-wah sound, and how artists subsequently used the pedal to express themselves. Guitar icons discuss how the wah-wah became a part of their signature sounds while rock journalists such as Rolling Stone's Ben Fong-Torres
and Guitar Player's Art Thompson
explore the pedal's cultural significance.
"Cry Baby" features important luminaries in the wah-wah story like Eddie Van Halen, Jerry Cantrell, Slash, Buddy Guy, Kirk Hammett, Zakk Wylde, Dweezil Zappa, Eddie Kramer, Paul Gilbert, Bob Bradshaw, Brad Plunkett, Wah-Wah Watson, Jim Dunlop, Jimmy Dunlop, Jasmin Powell and many others. The documentary can be viewed for free at this location.
On March 18th at 21:00 GMT, Hit The Lights' Robert Gray telephoned "Cry Baby" co-director Joey Tosi to discuss the documentary.
Joey Tosi: Hello? This is Joey.
UG: Hello Joey. This is Robert Gray from Ultimate-Guitar.com.
How are you?
I'm doing well. How are you?
Would it be alright if we began the interview?
Yeah, let's do that.
How did 'Cry Baby: The Pedal That Rocks The World' come about?
It came about because Jimmy Dunlop wanted to celebrate thirty years of Cry Baby being in the hands of the Dunlop family, and wanted to find a way to give back to the guitar community instead of creating a new product or something for somebody to buy. I had a film school background along with Max Baloian, the other director on this project. We pitched him the idea of a documentary, he loved it and he let us do it.
Once the project was greenlighted, how did you and Max approach finding suitable interviewees?
"Jimmy Dunlop wanted to celebrate thirty years of Cry Baby being in the hands of the Dunlop family, and wanted to find a way to give back to the guitar community."
We have a very good artist relations team here. There are two guys on our artist relations team named Scott Uchida and Bryan Kehoe, and they had a really great relationship with a lot of the artists that were in the movie. Both of those guys worked really hard to firstly decide who the people were that we should be talking to and inform us of that, and then to contact them, tell them what we were doing and set up interviews with them. Usually, once the guitar player heard about what we were trying to do... Guitar players love Cry Baby, so they were just very enthusiastic about it from the beginning. Everybody really jumped in, and gave us their full support right from the very beginning.
Did it take awhile to get the necessary release forms signed, and all that type of thing?
Yes. It took over a year to get all that stuff handled. It was all very legal stuff that had to be run through managers and lawyers, and all that kind of thing. It took a long time, but we got it done.
How long has 'Cry Baby' been in the making?
About a year and a half.
What do you feel is the appeal of the wah-wah pedal? What makes it so special?
What makes the wah-wah pedal special is two things. It gives the ability to make your guitar sound more like the human voice than any other effect pedal, and I think people connect with it that way because it sounds more like human communication than any other effect pedal does for the guitar. The second thing that makes it very popular I think is that for the guitar player playing it is it's up to them, the riffs that they choose and the way that they move their foot to create the sound so that no two people can actually play the exact same thing the exact same way. It's always unique in each individual's hands, or foot for the guitar player that's playing it.
Is there an over-reliance on the wah-wah pedal where some guitarists are concerned?
Maybe, maybe. I think some people use it here and there to make a statement, and other people incorporate it as a signature part of their sound. Much like many guitar players never play without having a delay pedal on, a lot of guitar players never play without using the wah-wah pedal, but that's what their known for some of these people - that's what they do. With or the without the wah-wah pedal, they've managed to carve their name into the legend of rock 'n' roll music and soul music. You have a guy like Wah-Wah Watson, a guy that has "Wah-Wah" in his name because that's what he does and that's what he's known for. He's played on so many great hit songs though so I wouldn't say he over-uses it - it's just his style.
The wah-wah pedal is particularly known in rock music, but what other genres has it affected that some people might not be as aware of?
Other than rock music, I think the wah-wah pedal is mainly used in soul music on the guitar, but also on horns and the clavinet, on some Stevie Wonder stuff and Sly And The Family Stone and things. Probably soul music would be the second genre from the sixties and the seventies where I hear a lot of wah-wah pedal, and also in television theme songs for some reason. It adds that certain something special; there's always a track somewhere in an action movie or something like that where you can hear the slight noise of a wah-wah - just a very quiet layer, but it's there in the background.
If a guitarist owns a wah-wah pedal, what can they do to put their own little twist on things? Any guitarist can buy a wah-wah pedal, but certain musicians have put their own little twist on it.
I think the first thing that you've gotta do when you choose a wah-wah pedal.... I mean, it's different now than it was back in the sixties and seventies because back then you really only had one or two types of wah-wah pedals to choose from. Now there's the Cry Baby line with twelve to thirteen different pedals though, and other people make wah-wah pedals that do different things. I think the first thing a guitar player needs to do is choose the right wah-wah pedal because they're all voiced a little bit differently - they're EQ'ed a little bit differently - and I think the first step in making yourself stand out with a wah-wah pedal is figuring out where in the mix of your record or where in the mix of your band you want to live, which frequency, and then find the wah-wah pedal that is EQ'ed to that frequency. You don't wanna be a guitar player with a higher pitched frequency or tone and then pick something that's gonna underscore the low-end. You don't wanna choose a wah-wah pedal that's going to highlight the low-end of your playing if that's not the frequency you're normally playing on. Choosing the right wah-wah pedal is the first thing that you can do, and then I think the thing that you can do is look at the guys who have really made it their own and figure out how to try to make it different. In the way a delay pedal adds atmosphere to a guitar player's tone, the wah-wah pedal can also add that atmosphere but in a different way. It's all about the creativity of the player, and how they choose to incorporate that sound. Try to find a new and unique way to use it - there's still stuff that hasn't been done with it, I think.
Can the same be said for the bass guitar? One bassist particularly mentioned in 'Cry Baby' is Geezer Butler of Black Sabbath fame.
"Slash and his use of the wah-wah pedal is definitely very appealing."
I think it is the same with bass... I mean, obviously Geezer Butler used the wah-wah pedal on a lot of stuff, though I don't think of Black Sabbath as one of my personal favourite bands. The first thing you think of when you think of Black Sabbath isn't the wah-wah, but as you begin to think of some of their biggest and best songs there's a lot of wah-wah playing. They managed to use it in a really fresh way that again created this dark, foreboding atmosphere that mixed with their brand of heavy, driving music, and that's completely different than what a guy like Wah-Wah Watson or Dennis Coffey did with it with The Temptations or with Marvin Gaye. They used it in a more silky, smooth way that maybe created some tension or created some relaxation, but it wasn't what Black Sabbath did with it. It's all about the creativity of the player.
When I think of the wah-wah pedal, the first track I think of is "Burning Of The Midnight Lamp" by Jimi Hendrix. Would you say Hendrix is the man who popularised the use of the wah-wah pedal?
Hendrix? Yeah. Hendrix was the guy who made it popular, for sure. Del Casher was the one who played with a Vox Ampliphonic Orchestra, who really realised the potential of the wah-wah pedal and its specific application to guitar. He showed it to Frank Zappa who did some interesting things with it, and then Frank Zappa showed it to Hendrix as near as we can tell. Hendrix blew it up, man. He was an amazing player; he added that wah-wah pedal to his sound, and it took us all to another dimension.
Are you familiar with Dunlop's line of signature wah-wah pedals?
Yeah. Very familiar with them.
What signature styles do some of these Dunlop wah-wah pedals have? If a guitarist bought a Kirk Hammett pedal or say an Eddie Van Halen one, what individual flavour are they buying?
Everything is based on the standard Cry Baby GCB95 wah-wah, this plain old Cry Baby wah-wah, and that has a very nasally, high-pitched EQ to it. The difference between the other wah-wah pedals that have been made is that that standard Cry Baby is the benchmark, right?
Players take that and they modify them in some way to accent their own personal frequency, the tones that they play in. An Eddie Van Halen wah-wah came about because Eddie Van Halen played a standard Cry Baby wah-wah, but he was more like Michael Schenker where he left it in one spot and just wiggled it around a little bit in one spot. He actually wore out the potentiometer in the wah-wah pedal because he didn't use the full frequency range of the pedal, but only used one little spot to accent his playing or to give his tone a certain EQ. Eventually, he approached Dunlop and said "Hey, I want you to make a wah-wah pedal with me but I only use this frequency range, so can you make my wah-wah pedal just be in this frequency change and not the entire frequency range that the standard Cry Baby is in?". A guy like Kirk Hammett kind of did the same thing, but he had a different frequency range than Eddie Van Halen. These guys figure out a way to make it their own and change it a little, and then when their signature models come out they reflect the needs of their playing. If you wanna sound like Kirk Hammett and you have that kind of a tone then maybe that wah-wah pedal's good for you, but if you want a Michael Schenker sound then you're not gonna get the Kirk Hammett wah-wah pedal because it's not tuned to that frequency - you're gonna want a standard Cry Baby wah-wah pedal.
Are there plans to release the 'Cry Baby' documentary on DVD?
No, no. We don't have any plans to release the documentary on DVD. We want to keep it free to the world on the internet, and give as many people the chance to watch it as possible for as long as possible. It was never our goal to put it in a theatre, or to make it exclusive in any way. We wanted to celebrate the nature of guitar playing in music, and the freedom of music and expression. To charge people to watch it or to try to make a profit from it would cheapen the overall effect of the movie, and really the gratitude that the Dunlop family has for all the guitar players in the world who've supported this pedal for so long. From the very beginning we just decided that we would never try to make any money from it, that we would just do the best job that we could in telling the story and trying to keep it free, and using the internet as the way to distribute so that everybody could watch it whenever they wanted to watch it.
Are there any other plans, like possibly writing a book to coincide with the 'Cry Baby' documentary?
That's a good question. That's not something that we've talked about, but I don't think we would rule that out. If we come down that road, we may do that. That's a very good question, but I don't know. I don't know the answer to that. It hasn't been talked about, but that doesn't mean we won't write one.
Talking to you about the wah-wah pedal, you definitely seem to know the topic very, very well.
"I think people connect with the pedal because it sounds more like human communication than any other effect pedal does for the guitar."
We had to get really familiar with everything about it to be able to tell the complete story because there are a lot of guys out there who are passionate about this product. They know everything about it; they know all the circuits that were used over the years, when they changed and why they changed. When we tried to tell the story, we knew that we couldn't just talk about guitar players - we had to talk about inductors and capacitors and that kind of thing. The story wouldn't have been complete without talking about that.
Apart from Hendrix, who are your favourite users of the wah-wah pedal?
Apart from Hendrix?
I don't know if Hendrix is one of your favourite users, but...
I definitely like Hendrix and his use of the wah-wah pedal (laughs), but I'd say Jerry Cantrell is probably my favourite user of the wah-wah pedal or Slash. Slash and his use of the wah-wah pedal is definitely very appealing, and Jerry Cantrell not so much in his soloing but in the riffs that he writes that drives Alice In Chains' and Jerry Cantrell's music. When he puts the wah in there like on "Man In The Box" and a lot of songs on the album 'Dirt', the way he does that is great. It makes the sound so much more live and so much more radiant and so much more dynamic. I like the way Jerry Cantrell uses it.
Are there any new musicians coming through who are playing some interesting things through the wah-wah pedal?
I don't know. As I listen to popular music today, I don't hear a lot of guys using the wah-wah pedal right now. I think of the wah-wah pedal as one of those things that comes... For a long time in music, in grunge music nobody played any solos for example. Things change and people's tastes change, but the wah-wah pedal is such an iconic piece of gear and such a dynamic piece of gear that I think it will become popular and I think it will become unpopular over time, and come in and out of fashion. It'll never go way though. If there was one guy, then maybe it's Synyster Gates from Avenged Sevenfold; he uses a wah-wah pedal and sounds pretty good.
In 2011, is use of the wah-wah pedal in or out of fashion?
Right now in 2011 I don't know that it is in fashion, but I think it will come back. I just don't think that people are into that type of sound right now. I don't know. I don't hear it a lot, but I'm also a guy who listens to a lot of bands like The Rolling Stones and Black Sabbath all the time. I don't necessarily listen to a lot of popular music, so I might not be the best judge of that.
Though you feel that the wah-wah pedal will still be around in say twenty years?
I do, and you know what? I think the metal community really embraces the use of the wah-wah pedal. I think metal guys get it, and they understand it. Metal music has changed a lot over the years, but current metal guys seem to still be the ones who are keeping the wah-wah pedal alive.
Thanks for speaking to me Joey.
And thank you for calling me. I really appreciate it.
All the best.
Alright, yeah. Thanks very much - have a great weekend.
And you as well. Bye.
Interview by Robert Gray
Ultimate-Guitar.Com © 2011