Johnny Guitar Watson
b. 3rd February 1935,
Houston, Texas, U.S.A.
d. 17th May 1996,
Johnny Guitar Watson's
career went back to the early 50's in Houston.
As a teenager, Johnny
played with various artists including Albert Collins and Johnny
His father played piano,
which also became Johnny's first instrument.
Johnny left Houston for
Los Angeles when he was only 15 years old.
He played piano with Chuck Higgins' band when he recorded 'Motorhead
Baby' for the Combo imprint in 1952.
Johnny also performed the
vocal chores on that song. On seeing
Clarence 'Gatemouth' Brown
perform, he convinced himself that he had to play guitar. He
inherited a guitar from his grandfather, a preacher, on the
condition that he did not play the blues on it .Johnny later
admitted that 'that was the first thing I played'.
He was listed as Young
John Watson when he signed with Federal in 1953.
There he recorded 'Space Guitar', utilising reverberation and
feedback, an unusual technique at the time.
Johnny also recorded 'Motorhead Baby' at the time (a song he also
recorded for Federal with the Amos
Milburn Band). He then relocated to the Bihari Brothers' RPM
label in 1955. Under saxist Maxwell Davis's supervision, he released
the songs 'Hot Little Mama', 'Too Tired', and 'Oh Baby'.
'Someone Cares for Me' and
'Three Hours Past Midnight' followed. Johnny had his first hit in
1955 for RPM with a cover of the Earl King song 'Those Lonely Lonely
Nights', which hit the U.S. R & B ' Top 10.
He also recorded
with the Olympics, Don And Dewey and Little
Richard at the time.
In 1957, the song
'Gangster Of Love' gave him a minor hit on the west coast on the
Keen imprint. That tune was later to be adopted by Steve Miller.
Johnny recorded singles for the Class imprint (including 'One
Kiss'), the Goth label, Arvee and the Escort label.
He also worked
Otis at the King label during the
Johnny re-recorded 'Gangster Of Love' for the same label and reached
the charts in 1962 with his blues ballad 'Cuttin' In', a song
recorded with string accompaniment.
In 1963 he recorded 'I Cried For You', an album with his own
renditions of 'Polkadots And Moonbeams' and 'Witchcraft'.
An association with Larry
Williams followed, and in 1965 they toured England and recorded an
album for Decca. This pairing achieved their first vocal hit with
'Mercy, Mercy, Mercy' in 1967. In the Seventies, Johnny recorded two
soulful funk albums for the Fantasy label, (Listen and 'I Don't Want
To Be Alone, Stranger') with keyboardist Andre Lewis (who later
toured with Frank Zappa). He also contributed to Frank Zappa's album
'One Size Fits All' in 1975.
By 1976, Johnny released
'Ain't That A Bitch' on DJM Records, an album that was to change his
recording career. The dancer, 'I Need It', became an enormous Pop
and R & B hit both sides of the Atlantic and paved the way for
further successful album offerings. Johnny produced, played bass,
keyboards and drums on the album and a further six albums appeared
on the DJM imprint. In 1981, he relocated to A & M Records, although
the resulting releases were not critically acclaimed. Johnny
released 'Strike On Computers' at the end of the 80's and had an
appearance at London's Town & Country Club in 1987.
In the 90's his
music was sampled by Snoop Doggy Dogg and Dr Dre, and the album 'Bow
Wow' made the U.S. charts (an association with Toni
Johnny 'Guitar' Watson
died of a heart attack whilst performing at the Yokohama Blues Cafe
in Japan on the 17th May 1996.
An excellent retrospective
was released in 2005, called 'The Funk Anthology'.
Gangster Of Love (King
Johnny Guitar Watson (King
The Blues Soul Of Johnny
Guitar Watson (Chess 1964)
Bad (Chess 1966)
with Larry Williams: Two
For The Price Of One (OKeh 1967)
Johnny Watson Plays Fats Waller In The Fats Bag (OKeh 1968)
Listen (Fantasy 1974)
I Don't Want To Be Alone,
Stranger (Fantasy 1975)
Captured Live (1976)
Ain't That A Bitch (DJM
A Real Mother For Ya (DJM 1977)
Funk Beyond The Call Of
Duty (DJM 1977)
Gangster Of Love (DJM
with the Watsonian Institute: Master
Giant (DJM 1978)
with Papa John Creach: Inphasion
with the Watsonian Institute: Extra
Disco Perception (1979)
What The Hell Is This?
Love Jones (DJM 1980)
Johnny 'Guitar' Watson And
The Family Clone (DJM 1981)
That's What Time It Is (A
& M 1981)
Strike On Computers (Valley Vue 1984)
Bow Wow (M-Head 1994)
The Funk Anthology (Shout
Factory Records 2005)
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