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Johnny 'Guitar' Watson

"Reinvention" could just as easily have been Johnny "Guitar" Watson's middle name. The multi-talented performer parlayed his stunning guitar skills into a vaunted reputation as one of the hottest blues axemen on the West Coast during the 1950s. But that admirable trait wasn't paying the bills as the 1970s rolled in. So he totally changed his image to that of a pimp-styled funkster, enjoying more popularity than ever before for his down-and-dirty R&B smashes "A Real Mother for Ya" and "Superman Lover."

Watson's roots resided within the fertile blues scene of Houston. As a teen, he played with fellow Texas future greats Albert Collins and Johnny Copeland. But he left Houston for Los Angeles when he was only 15 years old. Back then, Watson's main instrument was piano; that's what he played with Chuck Higgins' band when the saxist cut "Motorhead Baby" for Combo in 1952 (Watson also handled vocal duties).

He was listed as Young John Watson when he signed with Federal in 1953. His first sides for the King subsidiary found him still tinkling the ivories, but by 1954, when he dreamed up the absolutely astonishing instrumental "Space Guitar," the youth had switched over to guitar. "Space Guitar" ranks with the greatest achievements of its era -- Watson's blistering rapid-fire attack, done without the aid of a pick, presages futuristic effects that rock guitarists still hadn't mastered another 15 years down the line.

Watson moved over to the Bihari Brothers' RPM label in 1955 and waxed some of the toughest upbeat blues of their time frame (usually under saxist Maxwell Davis's supervision). "Hot Little Mama," "Too Tired," and "Oh Baby" scorched the strings with their blazing attack; "Someone Cares for Me" was a churchy Ray Charles-styled slow-dragger, and "Three Hours Past Midnight" cut bone-deep with its outrageous guitar work and laid-back vocal (Watson's cool phrasing as a singer was scarcely less distinctive than his playing). He scored his first hit in 1955 for RPM with a note-perfect cover of New Orleanian Earl King's two-chord swamp ballad "Those Lonely Lonely Nights."

Though he cut a demo version of the tune while at RPM, Watson's first released version of "Gangster of Love" emerged in 1957 on Keen. Singles for Class ("One Kiss"), Goth, Arvee (the rocking introduction "Johnny Guitar"), and Escort preceded a hookup with Johnny Otis at King during the early '60s. He recut "Gangster" for King, reaching a few more listeners this time, and dented the R&B charts again in 1962 with his impassioned, violin-enriched blues ballad "Cuttin' In."

Never content to remain in one stylistic bag for long, Watson landed at Chess just long enough to cut a jazz album in 1964 that placed him back behind the 88s. Along with longtime pal Larry Williams, Watson rocked England in 1965 (their dynamic repartee was captured for posterity by British Decca). Their partnership lasted stateside through several singles and an LP for OKeh; among their achievements as a duo was the first vocal hit on "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy" in 1967 (predating the Buckinghams by a few months).

Little had been heard of this musical chameleon before he returned decked out in funk threads during the mid-'70s. He hit with "I Don't Want to Be a Lone Ranger" for Fantasy before putting together an incredible run at DJM Records paced by "A Real Mother for Ya" in 1977 and an updated "Gangster of Love" the next year.

After a typically clever "Strike on Computers" nicked the R&B lists in 1984, Watson again seemed to fall off the planet. But counting this remarkable performer out was always a mistake. Bow Wow, his 1994 album for Al Bell's Bellmark logo, returned him to prominence and earned a Grammy nomination for best contemporary blues album, even though its contents were pure old-school funk. Sadly, in the midst of a truly heartwarming comeback campaign, Watson passed away while touring Japan in 1996. ~ Bill Dahl
full bio

Selected Discography

x

Track List: Best Of The Funk Years

1. I Need It

2. Ain't That A B**ch

3. Superman Lover

4. Funk Beyond The Call Of Duty

5. I Want To Ta-Ta You Baby

6. What The Hell Is This?

7. A Real Mother For Ya

8. Love Jones

9. Miss Frisco (Queen Of The Disco)

10. Telephone Bill

11. Gangster Of Love

x

Track List: The Funk Anthology

Disc 1

1. Ain't That A B**ch

2. Superman Lover

3. I Need It

4. A Real Mother For Ya

6. Baby's In Love With The Radio

7. Tarzan

8. Funk Beyond The Call Of Duty

9. It's About The Dollar Bill

10. Love That Will Not Die

11. I'm Gonna Get You Baby

12. ET

13. Miss Frisco (Queen Of The Disco)

14. You Can Stay But The Noise Must Go

15. Feel The Spirit Of My Guitar

16. Gangster Of Love

Disc 2

2. What The Hell Is This?

3. I Don't Want To Be President

4. Strung Out

5. Cop & Blow

6. Booty Ooty

7. Lone Ranger

8. Telephone Bill

9. Love Jones

10. Before I Let You Go

11. Voodoo What You Do

12. Come And Dance With Me

13. Ain't Nobody's Business

14. Bow Wow

15. Johnny G. Is Back

x

Track List: Johnny "Guitar" Watson & The Family Clone

1. Clone Information

2. Family Clone

3. Forget The Joneses

4. Ain't Movin'

5. Come And Dance With Me

6. Rio Dreamin'

7. What Is Love?

8. Voodoo What You Do

x

Track List: Love Jones

x

Track List: Funk Beyond The Call Of Duty

1. Funk Beyond The Call Of Duty

2. It's About The Dollar Bill

3. Give Me My Love

4. It's A Damn Shame

5. I'm Gonna Get You Baby

6. Barn Door

7. Love That Will Not Die

x

Track List: A Real Mother For Ya

1. A Real Mother For Ya

2. Nothing Left To Be Desired

3. Your Love Is My Love

4. The Real Deal

5. Tarzan

6. I Wanna Thank You

7. Lover Jones

x

Track List: Ain't That A B**ch

1. I Need It

2. I Want To Ta-Ta You Baby

3. Superman Lover

4. Ain't That A B**ch

5. Since I Met You Baby

6. We're No Exception

7. Won't You Forgive Me Baby

Comments

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So good!!!
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Ole Johnny, him was ThA Man...RIP Soujer...... . .
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WONDER WHY FRANK ZAPPA LOVED JOHNNY GUITAR WATSON
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Richmond Ca sure do love Johnny. Sitting hear reminiscing about me being a kid in the back of Cadillac's soaking up everything that was being taught at that moment. #hustlingmus i c
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Im from Richmond, Ca and we love some johnny
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Funk beyond the call of duty R. I. P. I fashion my own style because of this man,
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Johnny! I remember when you song, Ain't That A B**ch", came out - I was to young to listen to it in it full entirely- but I remember it. Yes, you were taking about a system and how things were being ran and the injustices it created. Thanks for waking US UP. MAY PEACE BE UPON TO YOU. !!! ...
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The years when blues n funk emerged...li s t e n to a song by Johnny named "telephone bill"... N you'll see where Rap comes from...
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Got all of his music. Style of his own, amazing
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AWESOME SAUCE!!!!!!
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This reminds me of Louisiana Blue Mondays, lol
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I'm a gangster of love
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remo.rogers2 0 0 0
Yeah he was really a great guitarist but alot of ppl dont even know know who he was lol what a shame
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No one will ever come close to style of music that johnny plays there never be another lole him
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JGW was unique in every facet of his total being and was a true Brother doing it. Legendary Genius.
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This cat brought Blues main stream. Crossed it over to R&B so smooth they didn't know what hit em.... I'm tryin to Ta Tell ya....
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One of the true greats .
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A true legend!!!!!!
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A true legend turned everybody on Johnny at the Marina lounge in San Leandro California now he's a regular on the jukebox
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Old stool at its best, nothing degrading about the lyrics on any of his wax (cuts)...
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I WannaThank U! Lee K
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My husband love him some Johnny we have this DVD in our truck from new Orleans La one of the greatest old school of all time i wanna thank you for your good music
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Higg"ee baby ..........sa y s the Watson is still " the real mother for you!!!!!!!!
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JGW was the Jimmy Hendrix of Blues. A legend of an art lost to many African Americans. Reading, writing, composing scores of music reinventing himself for over 40 decades. When he played the guitar or piano, he played from the Soul. Ta Ta JGW.
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One bad guitar player and singer with real messages. Got all his music. Rip
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In my highest opinion the Greatest not Really an overall blues fan however, johnny made me a blues fan I even Remixed 2 of his songs for a unreleased album of mine may still Release the just for the hell of it.
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Johnny is & was the man, i grew up with this type of music rumbling thru the house. Teach the kids whats real music sounds like!!!!
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Great job gon hed
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The Jazz song so good.
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Oh. Yeah. It. Is!!!!! R.I .p. Johnny!!!
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Great bad boy thanks Jonny
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annvaughn79
Jaaaaaammmmm i n
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Pimpin ain't easy, pop a lick on that there guitar, the man re invented himself, lo and behold, Johnny"Guita r " Watson straight up funk
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Miss and love RlP
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philippepelu s o
Pandora should also list in the bio that JGW also contributed to Frank Zappa's album 'One Size Fits All' in 1975.
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db_rollin64
Was the late Johnny Guitar Watson Deion Sanders father? The resemblence is uncanny!!
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stop it stop it
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My husband love him some johnny we have this cd and its the bomb the songs on are awesome ain't that b**ch:-)
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Johnny guitar Watson was back in the day a pimps music
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He is not Herbert! We reach!
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WALKING DOWN MEMORY LANE AND LOVING IT BAD TOO THE BONE
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He's pimp-styled funkster
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This station has some of the best workout music I listen to it every morning
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helenjafuneh
Don't get no better than some Johnny. You feel me, it really don't matter how old the song is when you hear again it's like , right on right on.
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"I Wanna Thank You"~Bless-Y o u - G i r l ~ G - M a n Stone-Cold Super-Badd Super-Star Soul-Brotha
LOVE'S Disciple*978 * ~ 7 m 1 4 y ~
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Quite.. There's a Master at work. Ta ta.
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jtny786
Thanks to the bio writer for the wonderful summary on Johnny Guitar Watson. He was indeed way ahead of his time and super talented.
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He was ahead of his time
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N
o other like him
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I miss Johnny. A true innovator. Just awesome.
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