Frank Zappa

Jimmie Vaughan, brother of Stevie Ray Vaughan

Jimmie Vaughan, brother of Stevie Ray Vaughan

"Watson's 1956 song 'Three Hours Past Midnight' inspired me to become a guitarist".


Jimmie Vaughan, brother of Stevie Ray Vaughan

Jimmie Vaughan, brother of Stevie Ray Vaughan

Jimmie Vaughan, brother of Stevie Ray Vaughan

"When my brother Stevie and I were growing up in Dallas,  we idolized very few guitarists. We were highly selective and highly  critical. Johnny 'Guitar' Watson was at the top of the list, along with Freddie, Albert and B.B. King. He made magic.


Bobby Womack

Jimmie Vaughan, brother of Stevie Ray Vaughan

Bobby Womack

"Music-wise, he was the most dangerous gunslinger out there. Even when  others made a lot of noise in the charts – I'm thinking of Sly Stone or George Clinton – you know they'd studied Johnny's stage style and listened very carefully to Johnny's grooves.


Etta James

Etta James

Etta James

 in an interview at the 2006 Rochester International Jazz Festival: "Johnny 'Guitar' Watson... Just one of my favorite singers of all time. I first met him when we were both on the road with Johnny Otis  in the '50s, when I was a teenager. We traveled the country in a car  together so I would hear him sing every night. His singing style was the  one I took on when I was 17 – people used to call me the female Johnny  'Guitar' Watson and him the male Etta James... He knew what the blues  was all about..."


Etta James

Etta James

Etta James

"I got everything from Johnny... He was my main model... My whole  ballad style comes from my imitating Johnny's style... He was the  baddest and the best... Johnny Guitar Watson was not just a guitarist:  the man was a master musician. He could call out charts; he could write a  beautiful melody or a nasty groove at the drop of a hat; he could lay  on the harmonies and he could come up with a whole sound. They call Elvis the King; but the sure-enough King was Johnny 'Guitar' Watson."

About The Legend

Johnny "Guitar" Watson


"Reinvention" could just as easily have been Johnny "Guitar" Watson's middle name. The multi-talented performer parlayed his stunning guitar skills into a vaunted reputation as one of the hottest blues axemen for multiple decades. Johnny (Guitar) Watson, music influenced performers like Jimi Hendrix, Frank Zappa and Stevie Ray Vaughan.

While Johnny Guitar Watson is known as a international musical pioneer; his roots sprouted within the fertile blues scene of Texas. Watson was born into a long line of family musicians on February 3,1935 in Houston TX. His father, a pianist, taught young Johnny to play piano while his grandfather, a local preacher, played guitar. "My grandfather used to sing while he'd play guitar in church, man," Watson recalled. 



At the age of eleven, Watson’s grandfather, promised to give the youngster one of his own guitars, as long as he did not play the “devil’s music.” but “that was the first thing I played,” Watson told Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music article. He could hardly help it, for the postwar years might be considered the golden age of blues guitar. Back then, Watson's main instrument was piano but Inspired by the showmanship of T-Bone Walker, and the style of Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown. “Young John Watson”, as he was known at the time, was playing with Texas blues greats,


 Albert Collins, and Johnny Copeland before his 15th birthday. The Watson family relocated to Los Angeles in 1950 and Young John Watson found himself competing and winning local talent shows. It was this exposure that led to his employment, while still a teenager, with Jump blues style bands such as Chuck Higgins' Mellotones and Amos Milburn in 1952. 


Young John Watson recorded for the first time as a pianist and vocalist for the Chuck Higgins Band and landed his own recording contract by the following year with Federal.During this time Watson developed his own flashy "bad-boy" stage act. He wore trademark sunglasses and a hat.  He often played the guitar while standing on his head, or played it with his teeth or feet. 


Watson credits his name change to the Sterling Hayden 1954 Film called "Johnny Guitar”. This reinvention brought about legendary music and he released his instrumental "Space Guitar,” "Space Guitar" has been noted as one of the greatest musical achievements of its era. Watson’s blistering rapid-fire attack, done without the aid of a pick, presages futuristic effects that rock guitarists hadn't mastered during that decade.


He pioneered the use of feedback and reverberation. 

Johnny Guitar Watson set the bar for a new era which influenced subsequent generations of guitarists.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.  


The “Watson Technique” influenced countless future guitarists, including Eric Clapton, Frank Zappa, and Jimi Hendrix. Watson moved over to the Bihari Brothers' RPM label in 1955 and created blues hits such as ”Hot Little Mama," "Too Tired,”, "Oh Baby”, "Someone Cares for Me", and "Three Hours Past Midnight”.  



While recording at RPM Watson decided to pay homage to New Orleans and the time he spent touring there by creating his own rendition of New Orleanian Earl King 's two-chord swamp ballad "Those Lonely, Lonely Nights," which landed him on the rhythm-and-blues Top 10 Charts. Watson went on to release "Gangster of Love," which echoed as a hit throughout the late 1960’s as multiple artists paid homage to him created their own renditions. 


R&B Charts were dented again in 1962 by Watson's impassioned, violin-enriched blues ballad "Cuttin' In" which hit Number 6. Watson’s consistent charted hits and dynamic live shows made him a highly sought after touring partner. He went on to tour with Little Richard, Don and Dewey, The Olympics, Johnny Otis and Frank Zappa. Zappa credited Johnny’s 1956 song,  “Three Hours Past Midnight,” as inspiring him to play guitar. He also had Watson appear on four different recordings. 


Never content to remain in one stylistic bag for long, Watson created a jazz album in 1964 that placed him back behind the 88s. Along with longtime pal Larry Williams, Watson rocked England in 1965. Their partnership lasted stateside through several singles and an LP for OKeh; among their achievements as a duo was the first vocal hit on "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy" in 1967 (predating the Buckinghams by a few months). With R&B and blues music fading behind the glaring disco and funk of the 1970s, Watson re-invented himself, and his music, to fit in



Full-scale chart success finally came Watson's way when he signed with the British-owned DJM label in 1976. Given complete creative control by owner Dick James, Watson rose to the challenge with a series of recordings ,such as Ain’t That a Bitch and A Real Mother for Ya, that merged his blues guitar skills with the emerging funk style, which was rhythmic, laid-back, and bass-heavy. Watson delivered consistently with his single "Telephone Bill", from the 1980 album Love Jones, which featured him rapping. 


A talented composer, producer, and master musician, he also contributed drums, keyboards, bass, and saxophone to several of his own records. Watson was on the cutting edge of the Funk and Rap Movement, influencing artists such as Sly Stone, and George Clinton. It was Watson’s catchphrase, “bow wow wow yippi-yo yippi-yay,” that Clinton used in his final hit with Parliament-Funkadelic, “Atomic Dog.” His stylized version was then used by Snoop Dogg, Bow Wow, and several other rap stars.



Watson’s success and celebration took an unexpected detour with the death of his long time friend Larry Williams in 1980. Watson took a break from recording to get away and reboot. During this time he toured Europe and Japan to sold out audiences. On tour, he traveled with a six-piece band, which included a horn section, known as, The Watsonian Institute. Watson returned to America in 1994 released the album entitled Bow Wow which brought Watson more visibility and chart success than he had ever known. 


The album received a Grammy Award nomination. In a 1994 interview with David Ritz for liner notes to The Funk Anthology, Watson was asked if his 1980 song "Telephone Bill" anticipated rap music. "Anticipated?" Watson replied. "I damn well invented it”. And I wasn't the only one. Talking rhyming lyrics to a groove is something you'd hear in the clubs everywhere from Macon to Memphis. Man, talking has always been the name of the game. When I sing, I'm talking in melody. When I play, I'm talking with my guitar. I may be talking trash, baby, but I'm talking".


In 1995, he was given a Pioneer Award from the Rhythm and Blues Foundation in a presentation and performance ceremony at the Hollywood Palladium. In February 1995, Watson was interviewed by Tomcat Mahoney for his Brooklyn, New York-based blues radio show The Other Half. Watson discussed at length his influences and those he had influenced, referencing Guitar Slim, Jimi Hendrix, Frank Zappa and Stevie Ray Vaughan.


Give customers a reason to do business with you.He made a special guest appearance on Bo Diddley's 1996 album A Man Amongst Men, playing vocoder on the track "I Can't Stand It" and singing on the track "Bo Diddley Is Crazy".

His music was sampled by Redman (who based his "Sooperman Luva" saga on Watson's "Superman Lover" song), Ice Cube, Eazy-E, Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, Jay-Z, and Mary J. Blige. Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre borrowed P-Funk's adaptation of Watson's catchphrase "Bow wow wow yippi-yo yippi-yay" for Snoop's hit Who Am I? (What's My Name?). Johnny also played the guitar on the G-Funk remix of Dr. Dre's Grammy award winning single Let Me Ride in 1993.

Watson died of a heart attack on May 17, 1996, collapsing on stage while on tour in Yokohama, Japan. His remains were brought home for interment at Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California and buried in the Great Mausoleum, Sanctuary of Enduring Honor, Holy Terrace entrance. His music still lives on through a new generation of artists such as Kanye West.