johnny 'guitar' watson

born: feb 3, 1935 in houston, tx
died: may 17, 1996 in yokohama, japan

 

 

 

discography

solo albums:

 

 

appears on:

20

frank zappa and the mothers of invention: one size fits all
   (1975, lp, usa, discreet)

 

40

frank zappa: them or us
   (1984, 2lp, usa, barking pumpkin)

41

frank zappa: thing-fish
   (1984, 3lp, usa, barking pumpkin)

44

frank zappa: frank zappa meets the mothers of prevention
   (1985, lp, usa, barking pumpkin) american version
   (1985, lp, eur, emi) european version

     
 

67

frank zappa: have i offended someone?
   (1997, cd, usa, ryko)

 

videography

  johnny "guitar" watson: in concert
     (2005, dvd, ger, ohne filter - inak 6539-2)

 

random notes

"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's 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 (he was two days short of his 17th birthday!) 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 timeframe (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 laidback 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

     from: unknown
i saw an ad for a new johnny guitar watson cd last month(11/94). does anyone know anything about this cd? is it new stuff? is it a compilation? etc.

     from: unknown
i haven't heard it personally but i've seen it at tower and a friend owns it. supposedly one of the songs is dedicated to frank and there's some real interesting new stuff on it. still kind of funkish but good i'm told.

     from: tony burke (tony@bluestb.demon.co.uk)
1992 gonna hit the highway, the complete rpm recordings pvine
japan double cd includes lots of alternate takes, great sound too! hot just like tnt - the best of his early years  ace records issued in 1996. uk release of some of jgw best sides from the mid 50's to late 50's for rpm and modern records as well as sides from johnny otis' dig label. also stuff from keen records including "gangster of love" from 1957 and sides with jgw supporting cordella de milo on a great answer disc to big joe turner's "honey hush" called "ain't gonna hush". also includes unissued material and alternate takes.

     from: unknown
johnny guitar watson collapsed on stage during his  opening number in yokohama, japan on may 18, 1996 and subsequently  died of heart failure. he was 61. his latest record is called "bow wow".

      ken nakatani aka nack (knakatan@fas.harvard.edu) sez:
i'm sure you've already heard about it, but johnny passed away on may 17, 1996, when he was playing on stage at "blues cafe" in yokohama (adjacent to tokyo), japan.

      from: andre lewis (dremandre@uswest.net)
there is a lot to say about him. i was his bandleader for many years and it was because of him i'm sure that frank first took a liking to me or even listened to me.  i'll tell you the story at anither time.

     from: tony burke (tony@bluestb.demon.co.uk)
interesting link here: zappa and the moi's often played the r&b hit pachuco hop, original by?...chuck higgins (who died last year) and his band? yes, the mellotones and who was the pianst in the band? young john watson - yep the same one - johnny guitar watson.

     from: franz fuchs (fr_fuchs@yahoo.de)
a royal trux fan kindly put the wire's "100 records that set the world on fire (when no one was listening)" online: http://homepage.mac.com/rtxarchive/articles/w175a.html (text)

http://homepage.mac.com/rtxarchive/articles/w175b.html (scans)

zappa connection: johnny "guitar" watson is reviewed by his namesake ben.

 (quote) johnny 'guitar' watson - ain't that a bitch (djm 1976) introduced to a state of the art studio (paramount) and engineer (kerry mcnabb) by frank zappa, the gangster of love, johnny 'guitar' watson, cut the best-sounding funk album of all time in 1976. futuristic lyrics ("superman lover") complemented watson's unerring ear for note placement. he alchemized the styles he had dallied with in the last two decades rockin' r&b, sepia sinatra balladry, slick soulman confessional and a new superfrosted funk. bassist steve neil, sacked because he asked for too much money, was replaced by bass overdubs. watson also supplied keyboards, guitar and vocals - each one replete with his unique 'attitude'. drummer emry thomas and a horn section that included england's own free jazz hero paul dunmall completed a killer sound; as steely and urgently urban as edgard varese, as slinky as nat king cole, as sharp and sassy as no one else in recorded history. bwa (quote)
regards
- franz fuchs

 


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