Johnny “Guitar” Watson – The Essential

The Essential

A lot of folks first ran into Johnny “Guitar” Watson with a batch of very hip, funky records that came out in the ’70s that had very odd covers with scantily clad women and Johnny dressed like a pimp. Well, way before those great records were killer blues and R&B sides cut in the ’50s. Many of those are contained on this release.

In interviews, Johnny often refers to T-Bone Walker and Gatemouth Brown as huge influences. And it’s not hard to spot. But he took it somewhere entirely different, with his wild-but-very-precise fills and solos. Check out “Three Hours Past Midnight.” What a solo, what a sound!

It’s not hard to see where Robert Cray picked up his penchant for lightening fast jabs that punch you in the gut – this disc is pretty much a training ground for that sound and style. In fact, one of my favorite cuts here is a song Cray covered early in his career, “Don’t Touch Me.” Here it’s highlighted by killer fills and a wild solo.

Some of the 18 cuts here are alternates, and some are piano-based (Watson also played piano for a time). Those could have been lifted, and other stuff added. But that’s a minor quibble. If you’re only familiar with the funky ’70s version of Watson, get this and be introduced to another pioneer of electric blues guitar.

This article originally appeared in VG‘s April ’03 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.

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