Personalities | Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson | Hero of all Genres | Guitar Heroes

Few guitarists have gone through as many career changes as Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson (1935–96). Rock, blues, jazz, funk, disco – Watson excelled at all of them. He wasn’t just a guitarist either. He could, and did, play anything except drums and horns on his records. But it is as a guitarist that he left the most admiration in his wake.

Watson was a pianist when he arrived in Los Angeles at the age of 15. He had played guitar growing up in Houston, where he was born. He sometimes played with other budding blues maestros Albert Collins and Johnny Copeland. But it wasn’t until he saw the flamboyant Guitar Slim perform that he made the guitar his main instrument. In 1954, Watson recorded the instrumental ‘Space Guitar’, a riot of reverb and feedback, producing sounds from his Stratocaster that no one else would emulate for at least a decade.

During the 1950s, Watson switched between blues and rock’n’roll, touring with Little Richard, Johnny Otis, Etta James and B.B. King. He had a rhythm and blues hit with ‘These Lonely Lonely Nights’ in 1955 and recorded the first of several versions of his theme tune, ‘Gangster Of Love’. In the 1960s, he had another rhythm and blues hit with the ballad ‘Cuttin’ In’ and recorded a jazz album, misleadingly titled The Blues Soul Of Johnny Guitar Watson (1964), before hooking up with rhythm and blues star Larry Williams for the live Larry Williams Show With Johnny Guitar Watson (1965) and the soulful Two For The Price Of One (1967).

In the early 1970s, he took his soul in a funkier direction with Listen (1973) and I Don’t Want To Be Alone, Stranger (1975), before finding a flashy disco connection with the highly successful Ain’t That A Bitch (1976), A Real Mother For Ya (1977), Funk Beyond The Call Of Duty (1977) and Giant (1978). He largely disappeared from view in the 1980s, returning with the funk/rap Bow Wow (1994). He was making a live-performance comeback when he suffered a fatal heart attack during a Japanese tour in 1996.

Essential Recordings

with Larry Williams: Two For The Price Of One

Solo: Ain’t That A Bitch

Solo: A Real Mother For Ya

Solo: Bow Wow

Personalities | Paul Weller | The Modfather | Guitar Heroes


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