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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: Space Guitar Master. The 1952-1960 Recordings

1. Deana Baby

2. Ruben

3. Gangster Of Love

4. Untouchable

5. I Got Eyes

6. Space Guitar

7. Love Me Baby

8. Hot Little Mama

9. Too Tired

10. I Love To Love You

11. Johnny Guitar

12. Honey

13. Ain't Gonna Hush

14. Looking Back

15. One More Kiss

16. Just Won't Treat Me Rite

17. Motor Head Baby

18. Oh Baby

19. Someone Cares For Me

20. Thinking

21. Those Lonely Lonely Nights

22. No I Can't

23. Gettin' Drunk

24. She Moves Me

25. Lonely Girl

26. Give A Little

27. Half Pint Of Whiskey

28. What's Going On

x

Track List: Superman Lover (Single) (Remastered)

1. Superman Lover

x

Track List: 16 Super Hits

1. Cuttin’ In

2. Those Lonely, Lonely Nights

3. Gangster Of Love

4. Broke And Lonely

5. I Just Wants Me Some Love

6. Sweet Lovin’ Mama

7. What You Do To Me

8. In The Evenin’

9. I Say I Love You

10. Getting Drunk

11. Thinking

12. Walkin’ To My Baby

13. What’s Going On

14. You Can’t Take It With You

15. I Got Eyes

16. Cold, Cold Heart

x

Track List: Gangster Of Love

1. Cuttin' In

2. Those Lonely, Lonely Nights

3. Gangster Of Love

4. I Just Wants Me Some Love

5. Broke And Lonely

6. Sweet Lovin' Mama

7. In The Evenin'

8. What You Do To Me

9. Cold, Cold Heart

10. I Say I Love You

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

9. Please Send Me Someone To Love

10. Chill Me Out

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

x

Track List: The Gangster Is Back

1. Too Tired (2013)

2. Don't Touch Me (2013)

3. Hot Little Mama (2013)

4. Blues Side

5. I Love To Love You (2013)

6. Oh Baby (2013)

7. Someone Cares For Me (2013)

8. She Moves Me (2013)

9. Love Me Baby (2013)

10. Gangster Of Love (2013)

11. One Room Country Shack

12. Acoustic Instrumental

13. One More Kiss

14. Johnny Guitar

15. Looking Back

16. The Eagle Is Back

Comments

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What - five LIKES - what the fu-! Are you guys lost - Johnny G - was that guy back in the day - listen to the lyrics - Johnny - gave it to US - straight NO CHASER - thanks Johnny - dig your message and the way you played that guitar.... peace King.

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