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by Chuck Eddy

February 17, 2014

Greatest Talk Box Hits

by Chuck Eddy  |  February 17, 2014

"With the Talk Box, one doesn't talk but pantomimes, lip-synching like a drunken fish," Dave Tompkins writes in his magical 2010 tome How to Wreck a Nice Beach: The Vocoder from World War II to Hip-Hop. "Its principle is sixth-grade science fair: Bypass amp, pipe sound through tube, replace larynx with guitar or keyboard, turn mouth into speaker, hang on to teeth." Peter Frampton, whose talk-boxing on his bicentennial blockbuster, Frampton Comes Alive, helped make the gadget briefly famous, actually calls the talk box an "extra larynx." But it traps a lot of saliva and bacteria too if you're not careful -- Roger Troutman of the '80s Ohio electro-funk band Zapp, who spent his whole career vocalizing like a cyborg through a giant straw, wound up with more than a few sore throats and stomach viruses.

Tompkins, who relates those stories, says that Frampton first learned about the effects unit from Nashville pedal steel session man Pete Drake, who had played it on a series of "talking steel guitar" albums and on Roger Miller's 1964 country song "Lock, Stock and Teardrops" -- the oldest track on this playlist. By the late '60s, Kustom Electronics was mass-marketing a talk box called "The Bag," which funk innovators (Sly Stone, Stevie Wonder) and hard rock originators (Steppenwolf, Ten Years After) soon put to use. They're in this mix too, along with later archetypal "high powered talk box" hits from Joe Walsh ("Rocky Mountain Way"), Rufus ("Tell Me Something Good"), Aerosmith ("Sweet Emotion") and Bon Jovi ("Livin' on a Prayer"); a couple each by Frampton and Zapp; Zapp-sampling raps from EPMD and 2pac; and a whole bunch of rock songs that you probably never even noticed had talk box parts until now. Then at the end, the Foo Fighters and Chromeo introduce the thing to a whole new generation.

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