The definition of ‘influence’ means the power to produce
effects, the condition of being effected. Johnny ‘Guitar’
Watson’s influential playing style have produced many musical
off springs including two giants, Jimi Hendrix and Steve Miller.
Born February 3, 1935 in Houston, Texas Johnny’s father taught
him to play piano and at age 11 he self-taught himself how to
play his grandfather’s guitar that was given to him by his
In 1950, he located to Los Angeles where he worked as a sideman
in various bands. Under the name Young John Watson (before later
adding the name ‘guitar’) he signed
with Federal Records (a subsidiary of King Records) in 1954 as a
solo artist and released ‘Space Guitar’ making it the first
recording to use reverb and feedback.
While recording a demo of ‘Gangster Of Love’ he signed with
Modern/ RPM and charted his first R&B top ten hit ‘Those Lonely,
Lonely Nights’ in October 1955. His
‘Three Hours Past Midnight’ dissolved into dark obscurity.
In November 1957, Johnny inked a deal with Keen Records and
released the first version of ‘Gangster Of Love’. He couldn’t
provide the label with any other hits so he left Keen and cut
one song for Class Records, ‘One Kiss’. In 1962,
Watson was working with Johnny Otis Orchestra (known for Their
1958 famous hit ‘Willie and the Hand Jive’ on Capitol Records).
On the west coast, Otis worked with King Records and brought
Johnny along where he resigned with the label.
King released ‘Cuttin In’ (No. 6 R&B 1962) Johnny’s second top
ten R&B hit along with an LP entitled, ‘Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson’
Watson recut the influential Bo Diddley uncharted classic
‘Gangster Of Love’ on Tuesday, May 14, 1963. Singer/
songwriter Steve Miller would record the tune in 1968 and Watson
would reprise it during his hot streak in the mid 70’s. He cut
single in 1964 on the Highland label entitled, ‘Oh So Fine’ b/w
‘Wait A Minute Baby’.
Johnny toured with singer/ pianist Larry Williams through the
mid 60’s and recorded a live album on Decca, ‘The Larry Williams
Show with Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson’ in 1965. They signed with Okeh
Records in 1966. Watson released two LP’s ‘Bad’ and ‘In The
Fats Bag’ a tribute to Fats Waller. The late jazz great Julian
recorded a masterpiece album on Thursday, October 20, 1966
entitled, ‘Live at the Club’. The LP spurned a top ten jazz /
soul instrumental ‘Mercy, Mercy Mercy’ composed by the late
keyboardist Josef Zawinul. Williams and Watson decided to add
lyrics to the song and release it as a single. ‘Mercy, Mercy
Mercy’ b/w ‘A Quitter
Never Wins’ hit (No.23 R&B the week ending Sat April 14, 1967).
The song was covered weeks after by the Buckingham's as a top
five pop hit during the summer of 1967.
Three singles followed, ‘You Asked For A Good Reason’ b/w I Am
The One’ ‘Two For The Price Of One’ b/w ‘Too Late’ and
‘Nobody’ (No. 40 Feb 10, 1968). The two departed in 1968.
Sadly, Larry Williams committed suicide on Jan 7, 1980.
Johnny signed with Fantasy Records and returned to the R&B
charts with 3 singles ‘Treat Me Like I’m Your Man’ (No.67 May
1974) ‘I Don’t Want To Be A Lone Ranger’ (No.28 June 1975) and
‘It’s Too Late’ (No.76 November 1975). Two albums ‘Listen’ and
‘I Don’t Want to Be Alone Stranger’ were released to no chart
Next, Johnny signed with Dick James’ Britain label in 1976 and
released the ‘Ain’t That A Bitch’ LP. Two singles, ‘I Need It’
(No.40 R&B August 1976) and ‘Superman Lover’ (No.19 R&B Dec
1976) gained commercial airplay. His sophomore album, ‘Captured
Live’ charted unsuccessfully.
His masterpiece recording of ‘A Real Mother For Ya’ made him an
international star. The self-titled LP charted (No. 4 on
the R&B LP chart June 4, 1977). ‘A Real Mother For Ya’ b/w ‘Your
Love Is My Love’ (single) hit (No. 5 R&B July 2, 1977) and
‘Lover Jones’ b/w ‘Tarzan’ charted (No.34 R&B Nov 12, 1977).
As I reminisce through the hallways of my mind, this wonderful
recording takes me back to my family reunion in Virginia on a
scorching hot Saturday on the 13th of August 1977,
two days after the capture of the Son Of Sam (David Berkowitz)
and 3 days before the death of Elvis Presley. What a great time
we had finger poppin’ to extraordinary sounds of Johnny’s guitar
that late summer, in the outdoor background.
Johnny continue to release other classics LP’s and singles on
DJM, ‘Funk Beyond The Call Of Duty’ LP (1977) with its single
release of ‘Love That Will Not Die’ (No.59 R&B March 1978).
‘Giant’ LP (1978) single updated release on ‘Gangster Of Love’
(No.32 R&B Nov 1978). ‘What The Hell Is This’ LP, self-titled
single hit (No.83 R&B July 1979). ‘Love Jones’ LP self-titled
single release (No.28 R&B June 1980) and
‘Telephone Bill’ (No.45 R&B Sept 1980)
and his last album on DJM, ‘Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson and the
Family Clone’ (1981).
Watson parted ways with DJM and signed
with A&M Records and released ‘That’s What Time It Is’ LP. One
single from the album ‘The Planet Earth’ charted
(No. 62 R&B Jan 1982). ‘Strike On
Computers’ L on Valley Vue including his self-titled single
release (No.77 R&B Aug 1984) was his last chart appearance.
Johnny continued to perform overseas and
wouldn't become active in recording until 1994 after a meeting
with legendary songwriter and president of Stax/ Volt
Records, Al Bell, who persuaded Johnny
to sign on his Bellmark label in 1994. Watson recorded an LP
entitled ‘Bow Wow’ which in return, earned him a Grammy
nomination category for Best
Contemporary Blues Album.
While experiencing great in-demand
resurgence, Johnny entered the gates of soul heaven on May 17,
1996 while on tour in Yokohama, Japan.
Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson unappreciated
contribution to music will always live through gifted musicians
who continue to carry his legacy of eternal pleasure through
their musical magic fingers.
(Chancellor of Soul)
Materials should not be used or altered
without expressed permission of the author, Mike Boone
(Chancellor of Soul)