Biography

Johnny "Guitar" Watson (February 3, 1935 - May 17, 1996) was an American musician whose long career influenced the development of blues, soul music, rhythm & blues, funk, rock music, and rap music.

John Watson, Jr. was born February 3, 1935 in Houston, Texas. His father John Sr. was a pianist, and taught his son the instrument. But young Watson was immediately attracted to the sound of the guitar, in particular the electric guitar as practiced by the "axe men" of Texas: T-Bone Walker and Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown.

His grandfather, a preacher, was also musical. "My grandfather used to sing while he'd play guitar in church, man," Watson reflected many years later. When Johnny was 11, his grandfather offered to give him a guitar if, and only if, the boy didn't play any of the "devil's music"--blues. Watson agreed, but "that was the first thing I did." A musical prodigy, Watson played with Texas bluesmen Albert Collins and Johnny Copeland.

His parents separated in 1950, when he was 15. His mother moved to Los Angeles, and took Johnny with her.

In his new city, Watson won several local talent shows. This led to his employment, while still a teenager, with Jump blues style bands such as Chuck Higgins' Mellotones and Amos Milburn. He worked as a vocalist, pianist, and guitarist.

He quickly made a name for himself in the African-American juke joints of the West Coast, where he was billed as "Young John Watson" until 1954. That year, he saw the Sterling Hayden film "Johnny Guitar," and a new handle was born.

He affected a swaggering, yet humorous personality, indulging a taste for flashy clothes and wild showmanship on stage. His attack resulted in him often needing to change the strings on his guitar once or twice a show, because he "stressified on them" so much, as he put it.

His seminal blues album "Gangster of Love" was recorded in 1953 or 54, and first released on Keen Records (where Sam Cooke was another artist) in 1957. It was not especially heralded at the time--the title song in particular was too fast, too raw, and too witty, especially compared to the likes of the then-kingpins of blues Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf. Watson's ferocious "Space Guitar" of 1954 pioneered guitar feedback and reverb. (He played it without a pick.) Watson would later influence a subsequent generation of white pop musicians, especially guitarists, who struggled to master the Jimi Hendrix-like complexity of Watson's technique.

Johnny Guitar Watson died of a heart attack on May 17, 1996 while on stage in Japan. Read more on Last.fm. User-contributed text is available under the Creative Commons By-SA License; additional terms may apply.

Johnny "Guitar" Watson Music Catalog


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