Johnny "Guitar" Watson

From Zappa Wiki Jawaka
Jump to: navigation, search

Johnny "Guitar" Watson (Houston Texas, February 3, 1935 -Yokohama Japan, May 17, 1996 (while performing on stage)) was an American blues guitarist and singer.

John Watson was taught music by his pianist father and, at the age of eleven, was given a guitar by his grandfather, a preacher who disapproved of the blues, on condition that he never used it to play the blues. The family moved to Los Angeles around 1950. Winning local talent shows led him to work as a musician (guitar and piano) and vocalist with Jump blues style bands such as Chuck Higgins and Amos Milburn.

He signed to the Federal label in 1954 and released "Space Jam" which featured innovative guitar effects using reverb and feedback. In 1954 he saw the Sterling Hayden film "Johnny Guitar" and decided to adopt the name himself. Throughout the 1950s he continued to record and tour, working with the likes of The Olympics, Don & Dewey and Little Richard. His hits included "Those Lonely, Lonely Nights" (1955), and "Gangster Of Love" (1957) (later covered by Steve Miller)

During the 1960s he recorded with Andre Lewis for the Fantasy label. He had solo success with "Ain't That a Bitch" (1976) and "A Real Mother for Ya" (1977) albums for the DJM label.

By the 1990s his work was being sampled by Hip-Hop artists like Snoop Doggy Dogg and Dr Dre.

His "Bow Wow" (1994) album entered the US charts.


"Watson's 1956 song, 'Three Hours Past Midnight' inspired me to become a guitarist."
— Frank Zappa
"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!"
— Johnny "Guitar" Watson
“They call Elvis The King, but the sure-enough king was Johnny "Guitar" Watson."
— Etta James (lifted from the Rhino Records website)
“Well, my original favorite guitar player was Johnny "Guitar" Watson, not from a technical standpoint but from listening to what his notes meant in the context in which they were played."
— Frank Zappa, The Frank Zappa Interview Picture Disk, pt.2.
"Watson, he's the original minimalist guitar player. The solo on "Lonely Nights," the one-note guitar solo? Says it all! Gets the point across. I can remember guitar players in high school learning that solo and just going, "But how does he get it to sound that way?" It really was one note. If you can play that note against those chord changes and derive the same emotional impact that he got from playing that note, then you're onto something. He can make that one be so nasty. You know, like, "What's behind that note? What is the mode? Why are you continuing to play the tonic when the dominant chord comes around? Are you goin' like this [gestures with his middle finger in the F-you" position] with your playing or what?" You have to learn how to do that. (...)generally the people who write about music don't know music. Anybody can tell whether these four notes are faster than these four notes. But what does it take to listen to Johnny Guitar Watson's one note, and know that he's doin' that? Did you ever point that out to a reader? Did you ever get across that there's something more to it than rilly-rilly-ree?"
— Frank Zappa in Zappa's Inferno, 1987 interview for Guitar World

Zappa and Watson

Johnny "Guitar" Watson was Zappa's main influence as a guitarist. "Three Hours Past Midnight" by Johnny "Guitar" Watson was one of the 10 records FZ selected (in 1989) for the American radio show Castaway's Choice, hosted by John McNally. Zappa also said if he would have to narrow it down to one record his choice would be "Three Hours Past Midnight". He also mentioned this song during Faves, Raves And Composers In Their Graves.

During the KPPC, Pasadena radio show Zappa played three Watson songs: "Three Hours Past Midnight", "It's Hot" and "Guitar Player (Play Those Blues For Me". During Dr. Demento in December 1973 he played Watson's "Those Lonely Lonely Nights".

Watson recorded with FZ on One Size Fits All and provided vocals on Thing-Fish, Them Or Us, Make A Jazz Noise Here and Have I Offended Someone?. Watson performed guitar and vocals on Frank Zappa Meets The Mothers Of Prevention.

Watson is also mentioned in "The Real Frank Zappa Book" (1989): "Don was also an R&B fiend, so I'd bring my 45s over and we'd listen for hours on end to obscure hits by the Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson, Guitar Slim, Johnny "Guitar" Watson, Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, Don & Dewey, the Spaniels, the Nutmegs, the Paragons, the Orchids, the etc., etc., etc."

When Zappa's family heard that Lou Reed would be inducting Zappa in the Rock 'N Roll Hall of Fame in 1994, they suggested Johnny "Guitar" Watson as a better choice.