Johnny Guitar Watson - Ain't That A Bitch / A Real Mother For Ya

Before reviewing the above reissued albums by Johnny Guitar Watson, a brief history of the man who was able to reinvent himself musically over several decades according to the changing musical styles of Black America.

Johnny Guitar Watson, from now on referred to as JGW, was born in 1935 in Houston, Texas, influenced by guitar players such as T Bone Walker and Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown who were leading figures in Houston's big band R&B scene of the 1940s and 1950s. He moved to Los Angeles when he was fifteen, also quickly learning to play piano and saxophone. While still at school he entered many talent competitions meeting Chuck Higgins who needed a piano player for his band the Mellotones wo auditioned for the Combo Label. Their first recording "Pachuko Map" became a minor hit. After spending a year with Chuck Higgins, JGW switched to guitar and formed his own band. In this band JGW became a top attraction at clubs and theatres all over LA which some him doing theatrics like playing guitar with his teeth years before Jimi Hendrix, playing hanging from the rafters and using a 30ft guitar lead.

In 1954 his first single was billed as "Young John Watson". It was a futuristic sounding instrumental titled "Space Guitar" pioneering the use of the fender amplifier with reverb which allowed him to sustain notes. He used the moniker JGW from 1955 onwards. In the mid sixties he teamed up with one of the Beatles favourite rock & rollers Lonny Williams to tour and record the "Two For The Price Of One" LP for Okeh Records with some tracks gaining popularity with Britain's Northern Soul crowd.

Fast forward to 1975 and the release of "Ain't That A Bitch", the first of JGW's seven albums for one time Beatles Music Publisher Dick Jones DJM label. JGW now had the appearance of a cartoon blaxploitation pimp. The picture on the sleeve fo the album had the white suited and hatted JGW on a leather sofa, two attractive women at his feet and beside him an Afghan Hound, presumable a bitch, geddit? On the album JGW besides singing and playing guitar plays keyboards and bass. Supported by drums and a beefy brass section. The style of music in some ways harks back to the big band blues music of his earlier career rather than sounding like the disco music that prevalent at the time. "I Need It" which gave him his first UK Top 40 hit is a swinging, finger snapping shuffle. "I Want To Ta Ta You Baby" is slow and bluesy. "Since I Met You Baby" has a jazzy feel to it.

The album "A Real Mother For Ya" with JGW pictured being pushed by his mother in a pram cum Roll Royce style car followed swiftly in 1977. The title track is synthesized funk similar to the Commodores "Brickhouse". "Nothing Left To Be Desired" features some great scat singing. "Your Love Is My Love" has vocals with vocoder effects which should be annoying but isn't. "Lover Jones" features acoustic blues guitar by way of a change.

The coming months will see the reissue of the following five DJM 70s albums. JGW passed away while touring Japan in 1996, he continued recording through the following decades. His 1994 album Bow Wow being nominated for a "Best Contemporary Blues Album" of that year.

Derek McCann

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