The Basement Vapes, Volume Eight: I Found A Love … And It’s Magnatone

When MAGNET’s Mitch Myers falls, he falls hard. Infatuation began with a Wilson Pickett song—then true vibrato took hold.

Have you found a love? Wilson Pickett did. The immortal soul shouter began his secular singing career with a gifted vocal group from Detroit called the Falcons. Originally their lead singer was Joe Stubbs, brother of Levi Stubbs of the Four Tops, but Pickett replaced Stubbs in 1960 when the Falcons still had other sharp young singers like Mack Rice and Eddie Floyd. 

In 1962, Pickett co-wrote and recorded the group’s hit “I Found A Love.” At the time, the Falcons were using a Dayton-based backing band called the Ohio Untouchables, who later morphed into famed funk group the Ohio Players. The Untouchables were on the same record label as the Falcons (Lu Pine) and were led by a flash guitarist named Robert Ward. 

It was Ward who played the bluesy guitar counterpoint on the Falcons’ “I Found A Love.” What made his guitar work so unique was the warbling sound he derived through a Magnatone amplifier. The amp was known for its vibrato-drenched, organ-like resonance, and that signature sound magically enhanced Ward’s simple guitar refrain. 

The Dickerson Musical Instrument Company started making guitars and amplifiers in 1937. A man named Art Duhamell bought the company, changing its name to Magna Electronics; its brand became Magnatone. In 1958, Magna introduced a unique vibrato design into its line of amps—the very sound that would help define “I Found A Love.” 

Engineer Don L. Bonham led the development of Magnatone’s vibrato circuitry, creating a sound that differed from the popular tremolo effect associated with competitors like Fender and Gibson. According to Magna, the company had “F.M. Vibrato,” that is, “frequency modulation vibrato.” Tremolo is achieved by volume going up and down, but Magna had patented a pitch-shifting vibrato with a circuit that canceled parts of the electrical signal instead of modulating the volume.   

Primal guitar slinger Bo Diddley used one early in his career—reveling in its “true vibrato sound.” The great Buddy Holly purchased one just six months before his untimely demise. After that, musicians like Ward and ’60s guitar hero Lonnie Mack carried on the Magnatone tradition. 

The original “I Found A Love” unveiled Pickett’s churchy shout, serving as a street-corner hybrid with the Falcons’ gospel-styled chorus and Ward’s six-string vibrato. Later cover versions featured a similar guitar part or substituted a horn arrangement, while some confident singers delivered the passionate vocal plea with no frills at all. 

Regional acts soon began recording “I Found A Love.” Fresh-faced pop singer and future bubblegum-star Tommy Roe was the first to follow in 1962, and minor soul singers like Maxine Davis and Joe Woods recorded the song in 1964 and 1965, respectively. Pickett reprised the tune in two parts in 1967—backed by the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section at FAME Studios in Alabama—but alas, no Magnatones were used in the making of his recordings.

Guitarist Mack tracked an instrumental version of Pickett’s tune using a Magnatone in 1968. No coincidence, as Mack came up professionally around Cincinnati and was already friendly with Ohio Untouchable Robert Ward. Indeed, it was only after hearing Ward’s watery vibrato that Mack got himself a Magnatone, and from then on, both guitarists were strongly identified with its mesmerizing sound. Mack’s guitar rendering of “I Found A Love” is considered a direct homage to Ohioan buddy Ward. 

There were other strong recordings of “I Found A Love,” even without the virtue of a Magnatone. In the ’70s, persuasive soul singers like Etta James and Percy Sledge made the song their own, and Detroit’s favorite son Mitch Ryder turned the voice/guitar counterpoint into a dynamic hard-rock/soul showcase. The original arrangement remained durable, and in 1987 swamp-guitar kingpin John Fogerty faithfully covered the song on the b-side of a German single. The CCR frontman sings it with great feeling, and his tremolo guitar sound (via Fender amplifiers) is somewhat akin to Magna’s thick vibrato.

There’s a sense that “I Found A Love” had an interdependent relationship with the Magnatone amplifier that spanned decades. Take Mack, who just a year after releasing his instrumental take, felt compelled to try it again in 1969. Mack was going through something of a career crisis and had embraced an Americana with more country/soul vocals and less guitar heroics. This time, he realizes the song’s full potential by singing and playing the counterpoint for all it was worth. Naturally, the patented Magnatone vibrato comes through loud and clear.

Mack kept on playing this tune over the years. It was integral to his stage act, and there’s a live recording from 1990 that makes it clear just how far he had come. Mack’s soulful singing is most assured, and the hotwired vibrato more electrifying than ever. By exaggerating the song’s vintage construct, his live interpretation becomes a concert tour de force, showcasing dramatic vocal/guitar skills and a heartfelt gospel-soul style.  

Clearly, “I Found A Love” has sustained some kind of symbiotic link with the Magnatone—a lifeline in which one entity helps to define and complete the other. It’s always a passionate rapport and just to bring things full circle, consider lost and forgotten guitarist Ward, who made a comeback in the early 1990s. Ward released a few solid blues albums on the Black Top label, including 1993’s Rhythm Of The People, which inevitably featured a reprised performance of “I Found A Love.” That’s 30 years on, replete with that old gospel feeling and, of course, his trademark Magnatone sound.      

Ward, the original conduit, died in 2008, and Lonnie Mack passed away in 2016. Magna Electronics went out of business in the 1970s but remained valued by a myriad of musician gear-heads. Neil Young has used its amp for ages, and famed guitarists like Ry Cooder and Jeff Beck have kept one in their arsenals as well. The Magnatone brand itself was revived in 2014. It’s a small boutique line of modernized amps, and no less than Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top endorsed the comeback, lauding the vintage vibrato circuitry still used today. Like so many others, Billy Gibbons found a love—and it’s Magnatone! 

BONUS TRACK
The years roll on and so does the song. All told, there’s roughly 40 recorded versions of “I Found A Love”—and a lot of them are really good. In 2015, the late, great Gregg Allman sang the song onstage in Macon, Ga. Nearing the end of his life but still an amazing singer, Allman imbues the song with pathos that’s hard to match. The horn section sways, the backing vocals provide that gospel call-and-response, and a good old-fashioned Southern guitar sound fulfills its role as well can be expected without the luxury of a Magnatone.