JOHNNY GUITAR WATSON / “Johnny Guitar Watson Mixtape”
Imagine, if you can, a so-called ‘hip cat’—yeah, I know, that’s old skool, way before you were born, but we are, after all, talking about Mr. Watson, I presume. And, if we are indeed referring to Mr. Johnny Guitar Watson, then it is most appropriate that you imagine a hip cat. A man of impeccable taste in the nastier things in life, a tongue of unimpeachable authority, able to bullshit his way into or out of any situation, gifted with a glibness slicker than quicksilver. He could dip his hand into water and not get wet. In the fifties his hair was slicked back, or on a couple of hard-times occasions even a bit ragged round the edges. Later in life from the seventies on he sported an afro—when times changed, he made the shift as smooth as a Corvette’s gearbox speeding through small towns on old Route 66. Yeah, again, I know, peoples take the interstate nowadays, but back then wasn’t nothing between Chicago and L.A. but desert and towns discretion dictated it was better to pass through than stop over. Even when he couldn’t make his rent, he made his hog note—oh, I forgot, you not hip to all that hip talk. A ‘hog’ is a Cadillac; if memory serves, Johnny favored powder blue. I once saw him sport a cashmere sky piece, cocked at an ace-duece lean to the side. But it was neither his clothes nor his car that attracted people to Mr. Watson. It was the music he made. He could play like Liberace if that’s what a good paying gig called for. It’s ironic that although his moniker was “Guitar,” the piano was his main instrument, what he learned on, what he loved, what he could do in his sleep. Now don’t get me wrong, he was a hell of a guitar player. Shit, you had to reach up on the top shelf to find something better. So that was one of his secrets: he was an all around musicaneer. He knew music frontwards, backwards, up, down and side-to-side. Johnny came up out of Houston, Texas, born the third day of February back in nineteen-and-thirty-five. His daddy taught him piano but Albert Collins and Johnny Copeland and them kinds of Texas cats hooked him up on guitar. That’s what that “Universal Children” song is all about. Johnny had that country-slick way of shucking and jiving but he would take you to the cleaners if you wasn’t paying attention. He wasn’t no innovator but once he seen which way the wind was blowing, man, he was off to the races. One minute, like in “Universal Children,” he’s stealing from Lionel Richie, the next minute like in “What The Hell Is This,” he’s doing PFunk like he invented using a keyboard bass. You want disco, well here you go, try “Miss Frisco” on for size. But what he was really good at was talking shit. Wrap some slick words in a wicked rhythm, put a funky vamp underneath and was good to go any where-so-evers you might want to go. Or, like Johnny told the ladies, hey, baby, which way you going? Oh, you are, well I’m headed that way too, why don’t we travel together. One on the road is such a lonely number. And from the fifties to the nineties Johnny Guitar Watson was the modern, juke-joint king of the West Coast. After all we are talking about the original “Gangsta Of Love,” which by the way he first recorded around 1954. Whom-so-ever ain’t heard one of Mr. Watson’s songs must of never listened to black radio or drove through the ghetto on a summer day. But if you listen to good music of the funky sort, then even when you didn’t much know who it was singing, for sure you done head some Johnny Guitar Watson. You know, I ain’t one for talking out of school, yaknow, saying something I ain’t studied up on but I do believe that lil Snoopy-Snoopy Doggy boy might be one of Johnny’s side-women’s grand-chile. Could be. You know Johnny was out in La-La Land for damn near the duration of his recording career. Plus, Snoopy sure enough talk that shit like Johnny did, but Doggy-boy couldn’t hold a candle, flashlight, nor laser-beam up next to Johnny when it come to singing. Yeah, I know, I know, Johnny wasn’t no Luther Vandross but he got his point across and kept a smile on your face while he was preaching. Johnny was so funny he once made a rattle-snake crack up. I ain’t lying. Tucscon, Arizona. Nineteen and sixty-seven. They was stranded for a hot section, busted water pipe and… hell, that’s alright, the point is when you do what somebody else do, do it in your own way and then people will remember you instead of thinking about who-so-ever it was you was emulating. From Ray Charles to Charles Brown, Johnny had a way of using everything and making it his own. Put his signature on a song, and the Johnny Watson signature was generally a witty verse, or some kind of memorable rap thrown in, like you might not know what “Ta-Ta” mean but I bet after listening to Johnny you want to Ta-Ta your baby! Bet. You know, ain’t that many other blues cats got as many hit records on the radio as Johnny Guitar Watson. Johnny had more platters and bigger sellers than Muddy and John Lee and even his first hero Mr. T-Bone Walker. Even much had the title song for that black love story movie what was so popular. What was that thing called, yeah, “Love Jones.” That was Johnny’s song too. Oh, man, you ain’t heard huh? Johnny checked out over there in Yokohama, that’s in Japan. He was on stage playing. Had a heart attack, back in ninety-five, no it was ninety-six, May 17, one day before my wife birthday, two days before Malcolm X birthday, you know who that is, huh? Yeah, he went out like a champ, throwing down and make merry for the people, which is what all he loved to do. Loved to see people laughing, dancing and having a good time. Well, I gotta be moving on. It’s been nice but it’s ‘bout over. So I just wanted to lay ten fingers and ten toes on you, drop some Johnny Guitar Watson action for your general satisfaction to get your party started and keep your love light burning. Hope you enjoyed yourself because believe me, we had a ball. On behalf of Mr. Watson and the whole goddamn band, see you the next time you of a mind to study up on bluesy, fifties funk and what not, until then Ta-Ta and we out. —Kalamu ya Salaam Johnny Guitar Watson Mixtape Playlist Superman Lover 01 “Children Of The Universe” 02 “Ain't That A Bitch” 03 “Gangster of Love” Lone Ranger 04 “Lovin' You” Superman Lover 05 “Superman Lover” 06 “I Want to Ta-Ta Ya Baby” 07 “Proud Of You” The Funk Anthology 08 “A Real Mother For Ya” 09 “It's About the Dollar Bill” 10 “What The Hell Is This?” 11 “Tarzan” 12 “You Can Stay But the Noise Must Go” 13 “I Don't Want to Be President” 14 “Miss Frisco (Queen of the Disco)” 15 “Telephone Bill” 16 “Voodoo What You Do” 17 “Cop and Blow” 18 “Strung Out” 19 “Love Jones” Music Hall In Concert 20 “Ta Ta You Baby”
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