I saw the recent blog about Johnny Guitar Watson and wanted to add my two cents about this brilliant guitarist by reviewing a different compilation from a year ago. Regardless of when you discover “Guitar” – it will always be a scintillating funktastic experience.
Johnny Guitar Watson – The Funk Anthology
Right off the bat I have to say these are the funkiest two CDs I have heard in a long time. CDs so funky I will put up a dare to you: I will wager my unassailable credentials as a hipper-than-hip music journalist, my various lifetime achievement awards for snarky critique-writing, my curmudgeon’s license, and my title as Funk Overlord (yes, Funk Overlord – I won it fair and square from the guys in Black Merda in a card game!) if you can find two CDs funkier then this. Now, James Brown doesn’t count, but anyone else is fair game.
Though Watson originally started his career and gained his first fame as a bluesman, Watson was a master at continually re-inventing himself throughout his career and by the end of his life was known more for being a George Clinton-esque funkmeister than for his blues. He first started in the ’50’s as a piano player and then switched to guitar, which is where he first began getting noticed. In this way he was a lot like Ike Turner, who also first strarted working as a piano player before picking up the guitar. Like Turner, Watson was an inventive bandleader who came up with many innovative arrangements and skillful gimmicks to set himself apart from the pack. While not pursuing the business angles Turner did to get noticed, Watson was able to market himself as a viable solo artist due to his excellent singing voice, which led to many opportunities never open to Turner. Where Turner had to either find his Tina or record instrumentals, Watson was able to take advantage of many styles, though paradoxically, it took Watson many more years to become a household name than it did Turner.
He eventually did get his due, though. Starting with his signing to the Dick James Music Group in the early ’70’s, Watson was set to take his road-tested funk persona to a new level. He had long since went through his early blues phase, a soul phase in the ’60’s, and several other R&B-based experiments which kept him on the verge of breaking through in a big way but had not quite clicked with the public. Luckily for Watson, he was always ahead of the curve in terms of his ability to judge what would be popular next, what the public was looking for. His problem was he had just not been in the right place or situation to capitalize on it. His extraordinary musicianship kept him in the game as well. Capable of playing many instruments, Watson was always an innovator with sound just as much as with vision. One of the first to experiment with synthesizers, Watson was dreaming up funky applications for them years before most of the artists people readily assume as being the leaders of the new technology. For example, Watson was using the talkbox years before Peter Frampton and funkateer Roger made their names with the device.
This 2 CD set covers the best of Watson’s time with the Dick James Music Group and also includes cuts from his last recording, Bow Wow, which was released in 1994. Of course, most of the set leans towards Watson’s work from the mid-70’s to about 1982 – which was the last time he recorded before his comeback Bow Wow so the set pretty much covers his latter and most fertile period right up until his death. There are a healthy four cuts each from the six albums he released – and one can definitely hear the progression as Watson’s funk style became more and more assured and confident with each subsequent release. While Bow Wow is nothing more than a desperate, lackluster attept by Watson to show he could still funk with the best of them, the album does have a few moments on it that a Watson fan (or any stone funk fan for that matter) would like and most of those are included on this CD set.
For those of you who think Sly Stone and George Clinton’s various projects were the only funky things going on in the ’70’s, this set is going to shock the hell out of you. Music just can’t get any funkier than this. Pick this up now!
So that’s it. Get you some Johnny Guitar Watson as soon as you can ’cause you don’t want to live without the funk for very long!
The Music Nerd knows…..about Da Fonk!