Johnny [YouTube] 'Guitar' Watson
November 10, 2006 2:16 PM   Subscribe

His first recording was as sideman and vocalist (on Motorhead Baby) on Chuck Higgins and His Mellotones's Pachuko Hop/Motorhead Baby.

Here is the Soulful Kinda Music - Johnny Guitar Watson discography.

Note that his recording career spanned forty years. In the beginning, with songs like Three Hours Past MIdnight, he inspired a teen aged Frank Zappa to take up the guitar. His reverb and feedback laden 1957 intrumental Space Guitar is considered by some to be the fountainhead of surf guitar. And, unlike any other bluesman, he stayed black--rather than endlessly recycling his 50s repertoire on the college and European circuit, he kept up, kept his core audience and kept re-inventing himself. In the 70s, he re-tooled as a funkateer and put out some some talky, ad lib laden hits that pre-figured rap and then revived his career again in the 90s and kept on going until he died on stage in Yokohama in 1996.

ID magazine once did an issue on what they called Funky Chic that came with a sidebar listing funk essentials. It began with Any Johnny 'Guitar' Watson album. No wonder : the covers of his 70s DJM albums--Ain't That A Bitch, A Real Mother For You, Giant, Funk Beyond The Call Of Duty, What The Hell Is This? and Johnny 'Guitar' Watson & The Family Clone--are funk era classics. He was the mack daddy's mack daddy.

See also
The O.G. of Love

See also
...'San Ber'dino' introduces us to Potato-head Bobby, later to feature in 'Advance Romance' and Thing-Fish. He is a symbol of the non-intellectual, lower-class individual, source of everything Zappa likes about the blues and rock - its physical directness and its lack of hypocrisy, even its ugliness (as opposed to the standardisation implied by 'beauty'). The riff Zappa uses is a classic driving riff - completely suited to the subject matter, which is a trailer-trash couple whose life revolves around driving their car on the freeway. Using Johnny "'Guitar' Watson for what Zappa calls the 'flambé' vocals was a stroke of genius. Johnny 'Guitar' Watson's first single for King Records - under the name Young John Watson - was 'Motorhead Baby', an automobile anthem he wrote with Mario Delagarde, the Puerto Rican bass player from the Johnny Otis Orchestra who held seminars on Marxism-Leninism and dialectics on the band bus and died fighting Batista in Cuba in the mid-50s. Johnny 'Guitar' Watson's saxophone-like, urgent voice expresses the sheer excitement of freeway California as a land of opportunity for the deprived.
Phenomenology of One Size Fits All: Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel and Frank Zappa

Rockabilly Hall of Fame - Johnny 'Guitar' Watson


The official Johnny 'Guitar' Watson homepage

And a flashy Dutch Johnny 'Guitar' Watson fan page

See also LivinBlues- Johnny 'Guitar' Watson

See also Never Expect Modesty from a Man Named 'Guitar'

The Funk Anthology review

And one more Johnny 'Guitar' Watson

In concert, he would play some blues, for sure, but his was not a fly caught in amber oldies show. But it was was a show. I saw him three times and his were the greatest live shows I have ever seen. The man had beau coup charisma.
posted by y2karl at 2:22 PM on November 10, 2006

He's great.
posted by caddis at 3:16 PM on November 10, 2006

sweet! great stuff.
posted by gnutron at 3:44 PM on November 10, 2006

Larry Williams/Johnny Guitar Watson's 'Two for the price of one' is one of my all-time favorite albums.

Too Late was just three minutes of psychedelic soul perfection.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 4:02 PM on November 10, 2006

I ran across a Johnny 'Guitar' Watson album in the bargain bin at Streetlight Records in Santa Cruz several years ago. I had no idea who he was, but bought the album because the cover and title (Funk Beyond the Call of Duty) was so good. Little did I know how awesome he was.

I've since found Love Jones and Strike on Computers (which is hillarious). He's definately a gem. Anyone who dies on stage is awesome too!
posted by twjordan at 4:03 PM on November 10, 2006

JGW has always been a favorite of mine. His style is amazing- especially when you notice most of his picking is with his thumb. (Toy Caldwell from the Marshall Tucker Band is the only other guy I've ever seen play that way.)

Good stuff. Thanks for the post.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 4:04 PM on November 10, 2006

This post was exactly what I needed, thanks and thanks once more.
posted by MetaMonkey at 4:24 PM on November 10, 2006

y2karl, I love it when you hit me with music.
posted by taosbat at 5:17 PM on November 10, 2006

This is so damn funky I think I just lost a filling.

I love you y2karl.
posted by googly at 5:38 PM on November 10, 2006

Man, this is what youtube was built for - I just love having stuff like this dropped on my desktop!

Long live the long tail (and thanks to folks like y2karl that make it worthwhile).
posted by SoFlo1 at 6:56 PM on November 10, 2006

great post, y2kari!!!

if only there was a video for "It's All About You"......
posted by odasaku at 9:40 PM on November 10, 2006

"Special Boogie" ...that piano's pretty sweet. Thanks y2karl.
posted by adamvasco at 6:22 AM on November 11, 2006

That was, indeed, a bitch.
posted by jonmc at 6:45 AM on November 11, 2006

Anyone else here noticed that YouTube is completely worthless since the Google acquisition when heavily accessed? I couldn't watch even one of these video links. Dammit.
posted by AbnerDoon at 6:54 AM on November 11, 2006

Larry Williams/Johnny Guitar Watson's 'Two for the price of one' is one of my all-time favorite albums.
While you were still in Kaleidoscope you did this amazing psychedelic/R&B hybrid record backing Larry Williams and Johnny "Guitar" Watson, "Nobody."

One of the best records I ever played on, because of the people on there. Chester didn't play on that. John played congas, and the drummer on that was Earl Palmer. And I played bass. It was one of the most remarkable situations at the time. Because we had gotten to know Larry Williams, 'cause he was A&R director at the time at OKeh. He and Johnny Guitar Watson were like best friends, and they showed up at the session with matching coupe de villes, matching suits, and matching hats, with chicks on their arm, I don't know who the chicks were, wives and girlfriends or what. One of the cars was chocolate brown, and the other one was like deep burgundy. And the suits were deep burgundy, and the suits were chocolate brown. It was like the coolest. They walked in simultaneously together, they looked like two cool guys coming out. It was a really beautiful session. The guys were really nice to us. They really liked us an awful lot. We were treated with respect. I think it was pretty right-on that they brought in their own drummer, and I was very pleased to be able to be the bass player on it. David and Solomon were the two other--David played the harp guitar, and Solomon played saz. Chester didn't get to play on that one, which was really too bad. They just didn't feel that violin and/or his keyboard thing was what they needed on that, which was really too bad. I think John Vidican ended up playing some percussion. But even the major conga stuff in there, I think, is Larry.

I think the song's a great song, I always loved the song. They wanted to be psychedelic R&B. They thought it was natural. They just said, this is natural, man, this fits great. And I thought it did too. Apparently there was some kind of problem that had to do with--I think both those guys were involved with like dealing coke and all kinds of stuff. There was all kinds of weird kind of undercover stuff that I'd always heard about between those guys. There was a lot of sort of drug use, and they were maybe even pimps too. There was some kind of thing that happened between Larry Williams and the stations on some kind of payola level--it didn't get paid off--and that record just bombed. The radio stations refused to pay it. There was some kind of nefarious goings-on that had to do with those guys that just sunk that record. That was another one I just thought, man, this is a hit, man, what a great, beautiful record this is. And it just never saw the light of day. It came out, I have a copy of the 45, but I think other than what I have, a promotional copy, I don't know if I've ever seen one that had a really yellow label, that had the real OKeh label on it, that wasn't promotional. So I don't know how far it went. But as far as something that was, that really got to what they were doing, I thought it was a brilliant idea. It really didn't have anything to do with failing. I thought we did a beautiful job.

I remember going up to their offices and sitting around talking and, "I think you guys are great, man. What do you think of this?" And they [said], Sure, man, we can do that. We would love it." So we were all--I have a big huge collection of 45s and stuff, I'm a rock and roll guy from the fifties. So both of those guys were meant something to me besides that. It was some kind of weird snare in the record business, and they just ostracized Larry Williams. As I recall, it was some kind of behind-the-scenes stuff that kept that record.
Chris Darrow of Kaleidoscope Interview, Part Two
posted by y2karl at 7:53 AM on November 11, 2006

See also The "Nobody" Session...
posted by y2karl at 7:59 AM on November 11, 2006

Thanks for that, y2k. I've never been able to find anything out about that album. I don't think it sold anything worth a damn, but the singles, Quitter Never Wins, Too for the Price of One, and Too Late were enormous back in the Twisted Wheel.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 11:55 AM on November 11, 2006

Note the last entry in the discography linked above:
Valise ? - It's Better To Cry* / ? - 1998 *also recorded in 1968 by The Appreciations on Sport 111.
Although originally recorded some years earlier, this single was unreleased until the late Nineties when the label owner was persuaded to press copies up for the Northern Soul scene.
You see Watson songs on Beach music collections, too. That whole Northern Soul scene and esthetic is something else. There is some interesting social history there.

Well, I was around when Williams and Watson were a duo and had no clue about them at the time. I remember when Cannonball Adderley's Mercy, Mercy, Mercy was a hit on the radio and was familiar with the lyric version by the Buckinghams but never knew Watson and Willaims wrote and recorded them first. I didn't hear the Watson and Williams original until just a few years ago. I really like that one.

Man, the Buckinghams are still around. That's scary...

I was really into Watson back in the day. I had a radio show entitled Funk Beyond The Call Of Duty with his song as theme. And I was fortunate enough to see him a couple of times. The best was in 1979, when he opened for the Gap band who were the big thing then. Watson had a wireless transmitter duct taped to the back of his guitar and he came on stage, jumped off into the orchestra pit and went right to the rail and just worked that crowd to death. He did this whole talking guitar thing that he was doing on Space Guitar as in guitar as speech ala talking drums--talking jive, talking dirty, saying 'shit, motherfucker, take a look at that!' It was amazing. I don't think I have ever had more fun at a concert than I did there. Man, what a show, what an audience. There were women in their 40s, dressed to the nines, standing on their seats and screaming 'John-nee! John-nee!' It was like a revival.

He dropped off the radar for a while thereafter but came back in the early 90s. I did an album review of Bow Wow for the Rocket, a music magazine here, when it came out and wrote him a gushy fan letter and sent it with the review and then just got on and forgot all about it. And a month or two later, coming home from a dark and depressing day at work around Christmas and hitting the button on the answering machine, I heard that voice : 'Hey, Karl, this is Johnny 'Guitar' Watson! Yeah, Buddy !...'

He was calling me because he'd read the letter and the article. Oh, man, that was espresso and oxygen and walking on air to hear. He left two messages--I've got them burned on a CD by now, you can bet--but no phone number. Such were my two best answering messages ever.

I never did talk to him until a couple of years later when I saw him again at Under The Rail. I met him backstage after the concert and got an autograph--on the cover of Funk Beyond The Call of Duty, yet. And when I mentioned the phone calls, he remembered me, the article and making them. Oh, man, I was so touched--that was my best celebrity encounter ever. He was so great. I so wish he was still around.
posted by y2karl at 2:41 PM on November 11, 2006

« Older Come down now, they'll say   |   Actor Jack Palance dies. Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments