Chancellor of Soul's Chronicles-Journals Dedicated To The
Historical Preservation Of R&B, Pop and It's Artists and Music

Johnny "Guitar" Watson


Johnny "Guitar" Watson

(The Gangster of Love)  



  Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson



The definition of ‘influence’ means the power to produce effects, the condition of being effected. Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson’s influential playing style have produced many musical off springs including two giants, Jimi Hendrix and Steve Miller.


Born February 3, 1935 in Houston, Texas Johnny’s father taught him to play piano and at age 11 he self-taught himself how to play his grandfather’s guitar that was given to him by his grandmother.


In 1950, he located to Los Angeles where he worked as a sideman in various bands. Under the name Young John Watson (before later adding the name ‘guitar’) he signed

with Federal Records (a subsidiary of King Records) in 1954 as a solo artist and released ‘Space Guitar’ making it the first recording to use reverb and feedback.


While recording a demo of ‘Gangster Of Love’ he signed with Modern/ RPM and charted his first R&B top ten hit ‘Those Lonely, Lonely Nights’ in October 1955. His

‘Three Hours Past Midnight’ dissolved into dark obscurity.


In November 1957, Johnny inked a deal with Keen Records and released the first version of ‘Gangster Of Love’. He couldn’t provide the label with any other hits so he left Keen and cut one song for Class Records, ‘One Kiss’. In 1962,

Watson was working with Johnny Otis Orchestra (known for Their 1958 famous hit ‘Willie and the Hand Jive’ on Capitol Records). On the west coast, Otis worked with King Records and brought Johnny along where he resigned with the label.


King released ‘Cuttin In’ (No. 6 R&B 1962) Johnny’s second top ten R&B hit along with an LP entitled, ‘Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson’ in 1963.



Watson recut the influential Bo Diddley uncharted classic ‘Gangster Of Love’ on Tuesday, May 14, 1963.   Singer/ songwriter Steve Miller would record the tune in 1968 and Watson would reprise it during his hot streak in the mid 70’s.  He cut single in 1964 on the Highland label entitled, ‘Oh So Fine’ b/w ‘Wait A Minute Baby’.

Johnny toured with singer/ pianist Larry Williams through the mid 60’s and recorded a live album on Decca, ‘The Larry Williams Show with Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson’ in 1965. They signed with Okeh Records in 1966. Watson released two LP’s   ‘Bad’ and ‘In The Fats Bag’ a tribute to Fats Waller. The late jazz great Julian ‘Cannonball’ Adderley

recorded a masterpiece album on Thursday, October 20, 1966 entitled, ‘Live at the Club’. The LP spurned a top ten jazz / soul instrumental ‘Mercy, Mercy Mercy’ composed by the late keyboardist Josef Zawinul.  Williams and Watson decided to add lyrics to the song and release it as a single.  ‘Mercy, Mercy Mercy’ b/w ‘A Quitter

Never Wins’ hit (No.23 R&B the week ending Sat April 14, 1967). The song was covered weeks after by the Buckingham's as a top five pop hit during the summer of 1967.



Three singles followed, ‘You Asked For A Good Reason’ b/w I Am The One’   ‘Two For The Price Of One’ b/w ‘Too Late’ and ‘Nobody’ (No. 40 Feb 10, 1968).  The two departed in 1968.    Sadly, Larry Williams committed suicide on Jan 7, 1980.



Johnny signed with Fantasy Records and returned to the R&B charts with 3 singles ‘Treat Me Like I’m Your Man’ (No.67 May 1974) ‘I Don’t Want To Be A Lone Ranger’ (No.28 June 1975) and ‘It’s Too Late’ (No.76 November 1975). Two albums ‘Listen’ and ‘I Don’t Want to Be Alone Stranger’ were released to no chart avail.


Next, Johnny signed with Dick James’ Britain label in 1976 and released the ‘Ain’t That A Bitch’ LP.  Two singles, ‘I Need It’ (No.40 R&B August 1976) and ‘Superman Lover’ (No.19 R&B Dec 1976) gained commercial airplay. His sophomore album, ‘Captured Live’ charted unsuccessfully.


His masterpiece recording of ‘A Real Mother For Ya’ made him an international star. The self-titled LP  charted (No. 4 on the R&B LP chart June 4, 1977). ‘A Real Mother For Ya’ b/w ‘Your Love Is My Love’ (single) hit (No. 5 R&B July 2, 1977) and ‘Lover Jones’ b/w ‘Tarzan’ charted (No.34 R&B Nov 12, 1977).


As I reminisce through the hallways of my mind, this wonderful recording takes me back to my family reunion in Virginia on a scorching hot Saturday on the 13th of August 1977, two days after the capture of the Son Of Sam (David Berkowitz) and 3 days before the death of Elvis Presley. What a great time we had finger poppin’ to extraordinary sounds of Johnny’s guitar that late summer, in the outdoor background.


Johnny continue to release other classics LP’s and singles on DJM, ‘Funk Beyond The Call Of Duty’ LP (1977) with its single release of ‘Love That Will Not Die’ (No.59 R&B March 1978). ‘Giant’ LP (1978) single updated release on ‘Gangster Of Love’ (No.32 R&B Nov 1978). ‘What The Hell Is This’ LP, self-titled single hit (No.83 R&B July 1979). ‘Love Jones’ LP self-titled single release (No.28 R&B June 1980) and

                        ‘Telephone Bill’ (No.45 R&B Sept 1980) and his last album on DJM, ‘Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson and the Family Clone’ (1981).


                        Watson parted ways with DJM and signed with A&M Records and released ‘That’s What Time It Is’ LP. One single from the album ‘The Planet Earth’ charted

                        (No. 62 R&B Jan 1982).  ‘Strike On Computers’ L on Valley Vue including his self-titled single release (No.77 R&B Aug 1984) was his last chart appearance.


                        Johnny continued to perform overseas and wouldn't become active in recording until 1994 after a meeting with legendary songwriter and president of Stax/ Volt

                        Records, Al Bell, who persuaded Johnny to sign on his Bellmark label in 1994. Watson recorded an LP entitled ‘Bow Wow’ which in return, earned him a Grammy

                        nomination category for Best Contemporary Blues Album.


                        While experiencing great in-demand resurgence, Johnny entered the gates of soul heaven on May 17, 1996 while on tour in Yokohama, Japan.


                        Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson unappreciated contribution to music will always live through gifted musicians who continue to carry his legacy of eternal pleasure through

                        their musical magic fingers.




                                                                   Soulfully Yours,

                                                                    Mike Boone

                                                               (Chancellor of Soul)


                                                                     Nov 2007



                      Materials should not be used or altered without expressed permission of the author, Mike Boone (Chancellor of Soul)




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