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  Johnny Guitar Watson 

Click below for a Johnny Guitar Watson sample: 

Give Me My Love

Space Guitar

He rose to international fame as a pimp-styled funk singer, but Johnny Guitar Watson’s true legacy was as one of the one of the most versatile artists and innovative guitarists of his lifetime. His 1954 recording “Space Guitar,” with its futuristic feel, is still cited as one of the greatest instrumentals of all-time. Watson’s flamboyant performance style – one that included playing with his teeth, behind his back, and on his hands – was said to have influenced Jimi Hendrix.

Oddly enough, piano was Watson’s first instrument of choice, having been taught by his father as a child in Houston, where he was born in 1953. Although he played with the likes of Albert Collins in Texas, Watson moved to Los Angeles at the age of 15 to jump-start his musical career. His first recorded appearance is believed to be the 1952 Chuck Higgins single "Motorhead Baby" where he sang and played piano.

His talent and charisma were undeniable, and Federal Records signed him as a solo artist in 1953. It was during this period that he made the guitar is primary instrument, recording the aforementioned “Space Guitar.” 

Watson recorded blues-oriented material for a flurry of different labels for the next twenty years that included King, Chess, Okeh, and smaller labels like Keen and RPM. Songs recorded during this period include “Johnny Guitar,” “Mercy Mercy Mercy” (with his longtime friend Larry Williams), “Three Hours Past Midnight,” “Those Lonely Lonely Nights,” and the much-covered “Gangster Of Love.”

In the early 1970s, Watson signed with Fantasy Records and began incorporating more soul influences into his music while he produced and played on other people’s sessions. Singles like “Lone Ranger” and the Listen album were moderate hits.

But nothing could have prepared listeners for Watson’s mid-70s transformation at the age of 41. Now working with the DJM label, where he had complete control of his output, Watson adopted an updated image of flashy jewelry, gold teeth, and big hats and immersed himself deep in the funk, emerging with Ain’t That A Bitch in 1976. Powered by the single "Superman Lover," Watson reached an entirely new audience that was largely unaware of his extensive history. 

The rest of the 70s was Watson’s time to shine, scoring with wildly popular cuts like “A Real Mother For Ya,” “It’s About The Dollar Bill,” a revamped “Gangster Of Love,” “Telephone Bill,” “I Want To Ta-Ta Ya Baby,” and “You Can Stay But The Noise Must Go.” Playing all the instruments on his albums except drums and horns, Watson was a self-sufficient hit factory whose topical lyrics and down-home delivery (frequently punctuated with a disbelieving “Ain’t that cold?!”) were important, if largely underappreciated, precursors of rap music. 

Watson slowed down in the 1980s due to a combination of shifting tastes and personal problems. But samples of his catalog raised his profile again, and he returned to the studio in 1994 with Bow Wow for Al Bell’s Bellmark label. The album was nominated for a Best Blues Album Grammy, although it was more of a funk record. He died on May 17, 1996 while performing in Japan.

Johnny Guitar Watson's Deepest Grooves

Johnny Guitar Watson (King, 1963)

Larry Williams Show with Johnny Guitar Watson (Okeh, 1965)

Two for the Price of One (Okeh, 1967)

Listen (Fantasy, 1973)

I Don't Want To Be Alone, Stranger (Fantasy, 1975)

Ain't That a Bitch (DJM, 1976) 

A Real Mother for Ya (DJM, 1977)

Funk Beyond the Call of Duty (DJM, 1977)

Giant (DJM, 1978)

What the Hell Is This? (DJM, 1979)

Love Jones (DJM, 1980)

Johnny "Guitar" Watson and the Family Clone (DJM, 1981)

Strike on Computers (Valley Vue, 1984)

Bow Wow (Bellmark, 1994)  

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