Johnny Guitar Watson
|Birth Name||John Watson Jr.|
|Born||February 3, 1935|
|Died||May 17, 1996 (aged 61)|
|Genres||Blues, funk blues, soul, funk|
|Instruments||Vocals, guitar, piano, keyboards, bass guitar, drums|
|Associated acts||Chuck Higgins, Floyd Dixon, Larry Williams, The Mighty Hannibal, Etta James, Frank Zappa|
John Watson Jr. (February 3, 1935 – May 17, 1996), known professionally as Johnny “Guitar” Watson, was an American blues, soul, and funk musician and singer-songwriter. A flamboyant showman and electric guitarist in the style of T-Bone Walker, Watson recorded throughout the 1950s and 1960s with some success. His creative reinvention in the 1970s with funk overtones, saw Watson have hits with “Ain’t That a Bitch” and “Superman Lover”. His successful recording career spanned forty years, with his highest chart appearance being the 1977 song “A Real Mother For Ya”.
Watson was born 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 played by 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”. His parents separated in 1950 when he was 15. His mother moved to Los Angeles and took Watson 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’s 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 first recorded for Federal Records in 1952. He was billed as Young John Watson until 1954. That year, he saw the Joan Crawford film Johnny Guitar, and a new stage name was born.