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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, Rovi
full bio

Selected Discography

Comments

"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 ~
Quite.. There's a Master at work. Ta ta.
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.
He was ahead of his time
N
o other like him
I miss Johnny. A true innovator. Just awesome.
THIS MAN IS BAD, I HAD NEVER KNEW ABOUT HIM. HE WAS AWSOME, HE INVENTED SOUNDS, BEFORE THEY CAME OUT LIKE,SUPERMA N , E T SIRENS, BOW ,WOW,YIPP,YO , Y I P P YEA.
MAN HE WAS INNOVATIVE IN HOW HE DEVELOPED HIS VOCALS! !!!!IT'S A ABOUT YOU ABOUT You eeeeeeee
It's highway music
True funk soldier!!
remind me of my cuzo funky dayz rip rw
If this ain't no funky razzmatazz then I dunno what is.
When I first heard the owl
I remember listening to him with my brother-in-l a w and enjoy all JGW music
Aww s**t!
I would listen to JGW on my 8-trak! Funk me! Bring him on
One of da funkiest
hankallen1
johnny was truly a great guitarist. hank@1950
steeiers58
he was the best at what he did and did it his way wish he was here
love it..sounds like someone ran into a rose bush.. pulling the thorns out one by one
I'm from Richmond California and, Johnny was the only music that the pimps, hustlers , player's and killer's listen to, I listen to Johnny today cause it brings back good memories. this is pee-shay y'all owe school g ..
I love dis nicca music... my dad n next door neighbor use to funk Johnny all da time when i was a jit... pimp music..... he had to be a pimp wit dat swag he had on.
kevin_lamont _ r e e d
Friend to da end bow wow. Hurricane tornado and high tide miss you brother
yusufaminjr
I remember listening to this cat on my dads eight track.
JGW Didnt just front as a pimp in the seventies , He was a pimp in the seventies , and ninties . Dont asks how I know that though . J
mrwatts50
JGW was an awesome musician that surpassed and scared em all!!
Smoking,,I sing this song for my wife,,she gets the biggest kick out of it and I get the biggest kiss.Bow Wow..I,m your friend to the end,bow wow..
Johnny G W. is the baddest guitar plucken mother I know!
Baddest mother ever
I was blessed to see Johnny G as we called him here in his hometown of Houston the year he passed. Some of my good friends were playing in the band that was his opening act so I had the honor of being there during his soundcheck. Ive seen alot great musicians and artists over the years from all different genres of music. His skill set was great as Prince, his guitar work was as soulful as Buddy Guy. He owned every instrument on stage as if it was the only instrument he played including the drums
Yall got to help me get this man a movie!! He rocked 5 generations and reinvented his self in every one! damn!! James brown had to take his hat off too this real muthafoya!! Im just saying, gansta of love!!! Johnny i just wanna thank you!! With you by my side i could move a Mountain! I mean you make me wanna holla like tarzan!!! Jgw needs to tata a big screen!!! Lol
Great music is hard to be had now days.
JGW is in a league of his own...no one will ever match his talent and style!
Mother in law blues, does any one remember that one. Take me way back please.
ropony
This was my Dad's music passed down.. Music just does not get better than this era!
At 50 years old I have two regrets in life. One of them is not driving from Wertsburg, Germany about 100 miles to see JGW in concert in 1989. (think twice before yoe say your too tired). The other regret is no big deal.
the boy was bad and im still bangin him right now
kvons1
A Real Mother For Ya----great blues / funk artist
Bay Boy's music Hommie Jr. Richmond,Ca.
all day music in the Big R./Ca.
80 East CuttingBlvd. exit
top choice top of the line player mus
you aint in the game , if you don't have no J.G.Watson in your vines Dig That..Huh Man M&M
he was a bad motha for ya
that's my dude
johnny was the best i every heard I COULD PLAY HIM ALL DAY LONG
Johnny was the truth even when he played!!!!!
One of the most underrated talents to speak the truth
His skill and talent are mind blowing! I love this guy!!!
gordonleejon e s
I was in Northern California the first time I heard Johnny's Music, I was immediately impressed, influenced, and infatuated with his style, which I, the lead singer of the legendary California Malibus, incorporated into my song delivery.

Flash Gordon
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