Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Style and Influence of Johnny "Guitar" Watson

By Matthew Jorn

Johnny "Guitar" Watson, was born John Watson Jr. in Houston, Texas. His father was a pianist, and taught his son the instrument from an early age. Johnny quickly strayed from his father's path, as he became interested in the electric guitar thanks to the influence of Houston's own T-Bone Walker and Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown. Watson's grandfather was a guitarist for local church groups, and agreed to get the boy a guitar if he agreed to not play any of "the Devil's music," Blues. That was the first thing he played.

His parents separated at age 15, and he and his mother moved to Los Angeles. He won numerous talent shows and eventually found employment while still a teenager with bands playing the Jump Blues-style, like Chuck Higgins' Mellotones and Amos Milburn. He made a name for himself in small western venues playing under the stage name "Young John Watson." That was until he saw the film Johnny Guitar in 1954, and his real moniker was born.

Watson began cultivating a swaggering, raw, and humorous persona while onstage; his playing style was particularly representative of this. He would strum wildly without the help of a pick, and as a result, would have to replace strings several times during a single show. His 1954 album 'Space Guitar' pioneered the techniques of feedback and reverb, which saw widespread emulation with the advent of psychedelic rock a decade later. He began touring with bands frequently, backing artists such as Larry Williams, Little Richard, Don and Dewey, The Olympics, Johnny Otis and David Axelrod.

As the eras of soul and funk came about in the 1960s and 1970s respectively, Watson changed his style to fit the times. He abandoned his blues persona and wore gold teeth, broad-brimmed hats, fly suits, and gaudy jewelry. He released albums with names like 'Ain't That a Bitch', 'Superman Lover', and 'Real Mother For Ya'. The lyrics in "Telephone Bill" on 'Love Jones' had complex, fast lyrics that helped herald the eventual rise of Rap music.

After Watson's friend Larry Williams died from a shooting in 1980, he withdrew from the spotlight for some time, reappearing to tour in France enough to earn recognition there as the "Godfather of Funk." He earned more fame and recognition than ever before with the release of his album 'Bow Wow' in 1994. He received a Grammy nomination for it, and re-releases of his older albums brought him widespread critical acclaim.
He toured around the world extensively and began appearing on numerous artists' albums, as either a guest singer or via sampling, including Redman, Ice Cube, Snoop Dogg, Easy-E, Dr. Dre, Jay-Z, and Mary J. Blige. It was a modified version of Watson's catchphrase "Bow wow wow yippi-yo yippi-yay" that appeared on Snoop Dogg's famous, "What's My Name."

According to eyewitness reports, Watson died in mid guitar solo onstage while uttering his last words, "Ain't that a bitch" in Yokohama, Japan on May 17th, 1996.

This article is part of a series of educational biographies of great Texas music legends written by Matthew Jorn and presented by Russell and Smith Houston Honda Dealers. Texas has always been a crossroads for great musicians, and Russell and Smith Honda dealers Houston proud to share this story of true Texas talent.

Article Source:

No comments:

Post a Comment