Sunday, May 09, 2010

Johnny "Guitar" Watson - Space Guitsr

Wanting more after hearing The Essential Johnny Guitar Watson again, I found this collection of his early 50’s through early 60’s works. The title “Space Guitar” grabbed me right away and when I heard that it was one of the earliest uses of Fender’s spring reverb, I knew that I had to have it, since I have used and abused that effect over the years, myself.

But this comp has plenty of other works, as well, including some of Watson’s piano pieces, such as the minor-key “No, I Can’t” and the relatively obscene “Motor Head Baby”, another early piece comparing fast cars to sex. In “I Got Eyes”, he shows off some fine boogie-woogie key riffs and then in “Half Pint of Whiskey” he highlights his love for alcohol as well as some of the first recordings of his uniquely expressive guitar licks.

“Space Guitar” comes next and is as wild, wacky and vicious enough to be a Lick Wray number, right down to the pop culture references and insane guitar attacks. Watson truly sounds like he is beating on his guitar rather than picking or strumming it. It is almost a relief when the sax comes in for a solo as it takes a little of the aggression out of the tune! If this was all he was ever known for, it would be enough! What a crazed masterpiece!

Back to the drinking and partying in the matter-of-factly titled “Getting’ Drunk”, with its wildly exaggerated (I hope!) lyrics of the amount of alcohol Johnny is going to consume in order to forget his woman. More stabbing guitar lines and neck slips, slides and taps highlight this number.

Watson also has a nice, doo-wop influenced tune in “Cuttin’ In”, with its more traditional blues guitar lines and even a string section! Showing even more versatility, he bounces in with a cool, early r’n’b goover, “Broke and Lonely”, which I could imagine someone like the Detroit Wheels or the Sonics covering in later years. “Sweet Lovin’ Mama” rocks a similar, toe-tapping vein, with nice horn accents.

This collection throws in another version of his theme-song, “Gangster of Love”, his (highly original and personal) take on Muddy Waters’ “Hootchie Kootchie Man” – brash, boastful and excellent! It closes with another version of “Space Guitar”, showing how Watson improvised on these recordings and always came up with something cool and all his own.

While obviously influenced by those who went before him, no one else quite sounds like Watson and this is another superb grouping of his early works.