LINER NOTES- JOHNNY GUITAR WATSON

 

Johnny “Guitar” Watson was born in Houston, Texas in 1935.  His music career started professionally around 1950 when his family moved to California.  He initially played in Jazz and Blues bands around Cali.  Johnny went on to tour with Little Richard and even appeared on Frank Zappa’s 1975 “One Size Fits All” album, performing with George Duke who was in Frank’s band for several years.  He sang lead vocals on a couple of Zappa’s song from that eclectic Rock/Jazz Fusion album.  However, his nickname wasn’t “Guitar” for nothing.  Johnny was one heck of a Blues guitarist and an even better showman.  Johnny was the REAL DEAL (title from one of his songs) and for four short years, from 1976 to 1980, everything he recorded for DJM Records was magical.  He (along with Bobby Womack) made a young guy like me, who thought he didn’t like Blues at the time, realize I loved it when it was fresh in its approach and flat out done well; like this song that no one could deny loving, no matter your age. This is Johnny Guitar Watson in a live performance from Germany in 1977, this is, “I Want To Ta Ta You Baby.”


Johhny Guitar, the consummate professional, was a live performer like very few before him.  No tricks or flash pod explosions, just good ol’ fashioned showmanship… backed up by a whole heap of talent.  His bands were always tight and extremely polished and entertaining.  Don’t take my word for it, judge for yourself with this clip from a concert in 1993; enjoy “Superman Lover.”

posted by jfahr

 Johnny originally recorded this next song in 1957, if you can believe it.  When you think about it, the rhythm is like that of an early Rock & Roll tune from the 50’s; but I didn’t know that was when it was written.  Even so, this song had to be way ahead of its time. The title alone was not the language of the tame 50’sJohnny Guitar Watson was out there on an island all to himself when he wrote and recorded this piece.  What an Innovator!!  His play-on-words titles and observational story-telling preceded the likes of George Clinton’s “One Nation Under A Groove” and others.  No wonder Rock musician, Steve Miller, recorded a cover version of this song in 1968.  It went Gold for the Steve Miller BandJohnny re-recorded it himself in 1978 and had a hit all over again.  Here’s a live performance from the late 70’s or 80’s of, “Gangster of Love.”

posted by BluesBoykings

I couldn’t find a live performance of our next song but the original studio recording will have to do because I couldn’t do a LINER NOTES article about the great Johnny Guitar Watson without including this song.  I lo-o-o-o-o-o-ve this song.  It just does something to my soul.  Johnny had a way of interjecting his personality into his lyrical performance, even on record.  I don’t know that I’ve ever heard anybody else say, “Come here piano,” before playing a solo on keyboard.  I’ve heard, “Come here guitar,” but not, “Come here, piano.”  That’s just funny to me since you have to go to a piano, it’s too stationary to come to you. And the things he says under his breath on record at times… classic!  I know you’ll appreciate hearing this song as much as I do.  This is Johnny Guitar Watson’s original recording of, “I Wanna Thank You.”


posted by appetoppeclub

Johnny Guitar was 45 years old when he laid down a Rap song in 1980.  I said he was an Innovator. He wasn’t scared of any boundaries, he just set out to make great music.  Back in the day, we referred to this as a novelty song, not unlike “Disco Duck;”  I still cringe just saying the title of that song.  But looking back, I wouldn’t dare call this a novelty song because Johnny Guitar Watson broke the rules his whole expansive musical career.  As I mentioned before, he talked under his breath with sidebar comments on most of his records.  I guess he decided with this one to spit all his comments out and tell a story in spoken verse instead of singing it.  Genius!  Johnny Guitar Watson was just that… a musical Genius.  Have fun listening to his whimsical interpretation of a long distance relationship gone awry, this is, “Telephone Bill.”


posted by bwilliams33374

Something went terribly wrong with Johnny Guitar Watson’s career in 1980, after the release of his Love Jones album.  I was just a lowly DJ in Detroit but all I know is that at the peak of his career, we were ordered not to play any Johnny Guitar Watson records.  I was too young and not the least bit interested in getting involved in music business politics so I never found out why Johnny seemed to be Black Listed for a time.  I just know that, after that, he fell off the planet; at least in Detroit and, I suspect, the United States.

Johnny was quoted in the New York Times saying, “I got caught up with the wrong people doing the wrong things.”  This man had accomplished so much early on in his career which started in 1950.  Then he regained his greatest popularity with the record-buying public during his 1976 to 1980 recordings for DJM RecordsJohnny was 41 to 45 years old during this period.  He released an ahead-of-its-time song in 1954 called “Space Guitar.”  Bootsy Collins referred to his Bass Guitar in later years as his Space Bass. A coincidence?  I don’t know but I know real musicians were very aware of Johnny Guitar Watson well before the general public caught on.  Performing with Frank Zappa & the Mothers of Invention and being covered by the Steve Miller Band exposed Rock & Roll audiences to him in the 60’s and 70’s.  He, along with Bobby Womack, introduced a whole new generation of Black kids to Blues music because his hip, up-to-date version of the genre was irresistible to anybody who heard it.  There are so many sad stories in the music business and this is yet another one because when Johnny was finally making another comeback with the release of his Bow Wow album in 1994, it all ended.  As his popularity was surging, he was stricken with a heart attack while performing in Japan in 1996Johhny Guitar Watson and all that wonderful music that was still to come, was dead. Johnny was 61.  His music is, in a lot of ways, still ahead of its time.  It’s fresh and if you never heard it before, you could believe his tracks were newly released recordings.  To further make my point, I’ll leave you with his 1954 recording of “Space Guitar.”  It’s laced with experimental reverb effects.  Tell me if you can believe this song was released in 1954.  I know I can’t.  You are sorely missed Johnny Guitar Watson.


posted by gianluca2687

Yours musically,
Reuben Yabuku