Tight and funky as hell backing band, replete with horns? Check.
Wicked guitar licks and smooth as a baby's butt vocal delivery? Check.
I have chosen this week's clip based on all of the above information and the fact that I am highly enamored of its smooth, deeply funky and, yet still, bluesy sound. I can't help myself, I'm a sucker for such things. Ladies and gentlemen, please allow me to introduce you to the one and only Johnny "Guitar" Watson.
A Houston, Texas native, Watson began his career in R&B after moving to Los Angeles around 1950. By 1952 he was performing professionally as Young John Watson and after seeing the 1954 Joan Crawford film Johnny Guitar he adjusted his moniker accordingly. His '50s and '60s recordings betray his Texas roots and you can plainly hear the influences of Texas greats like T-Bone Walker and Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown. Slick, flamboyant (an enduring quality) and a top-notch guitar slinger, Watson cut many successful singles during this period and several remain landmark classics of the era. His 1954 single "Space Guitar" is a ripping track which moves between a heavily amplified reverb guitar sound and a clean guitar sound, a simple effect in retrospect, which lends to a futuristic, rocking blues feel. This track beats Link Wray's "Rumble" by four years. While not as menacing as Wray's swaggering cut, "Space Guitar" surely sets a precedent for future rock guitar wildness.
During a 40-year career, Watson moved with alacrity and ease from his straight R&B beginnings into soul, funk, and disco. While some may think this to be paper chasing (undoubtedly this was a factor), it also seems to be the natural progression of a musician wishing to remain current and vital; his 1970s output was more successful than anything he had done prior. Johnny "Guitar" Watson has now been immortalized via his own recordings and the fact that he has been sampled by a laundry list of hiphop greats of the last 20 years. When asked if his 1980 track "Telephone Bill" anticipated rap music, Watson told interviewer David Ritz "Anticipated?...I damn well invented it!... And I wasn't the only one. Talking rhyming lyrics to a groove is something you'd hear in the clubs everywhere from Macon to Memphis. Man, talking has always been the name of the game. When I sing, I'm talking in melody. When I play, I'm talking with my guitar. I may be talking trash, baby, but I'm talking."
Such braggadocio aside, at least he admits that he wasn't the only one and he rightly explains that this sort of proto-rap was happening throughout the country. Indeed, these roots can be traced back to the earliest commercial blues recordings of the 1920s. T- Bone Walker had also beat out Watson (and Hendrix) by a good 20 years with crowd-pleasing guitar antics such as playing behind his back or while doing the splits. Watson falls in a long line of blues and R&B entertainers and these stunts are just a part of a grab bag of tricks designed to delight. "I used to play the guitar standing on my hands, I had a 150 foot cord and I could get on top of the auditorium - those things Jimi Hendrix was doing, I started that shit!" Such proclamations in no way diminish Watson's fine output, just remember to take these sorts of statements with a grain of salt and don't forget his warning "I may be talking trash, baby, but I'm talking."
I Want To Ta Ta You, Baby:
Here is the full show to enjoy: Note that during the intro to "Gangster of Love," Watson turns to his keyboard player and asks which city they are in!