Guest reviewer Fumo Verde
Are you ready for the funk? I said, “Are you ready for the funk?” How about some Soul? Mix that together with the Blues, and the groove you get is one by the master himself, Johnny “Guitar” Watson. The Funk Anthology follows Johnny through his disco decade, 1974 to 1984 where his grooves were being spun at all the discos around the world, yet Johnny wasn’t some disco flash-in-your-pants, one-hit wonder. He was more than that, to a point where big label rappers are using his riffs and jams.
Young John Watson (as he was known) was born in Houston, TX, on Feb. 3rd, 1935 and by the age of nine he was on his way to mastering the piano. Johnny fell in love with jazz, but by the age of 19, he was one of the deepest of the blues players around. His influences were T-Bone Walker and Clarence “Gatormouth” Brown. He played with such greats like Johnny Copeland and Albert Collins, but the guitar didn’t become his main instrument until he saw “Guitar” Slim in 1954, from that time the guitar became the tool of choice. His career spanned from 1953 until his death in 1996. And get this; the man was a consummate performer until the end, dying while on stage during a tour of Japan.
His amazing talent had an influence on others, such as Jimi Hendrix, Sly Stone, George Clinton, Etta James, and Frank Zappa. Jimmy Vaughn was quoted as saying, “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.”
“Johnny was my main idol, he taught me how to sing the blues,” said Etta James, a legend in her own right. As for his live shows, young artists watched in awe and brought his moves and antics into their own acts, people like Jimi Hendrix and Prince.
Although none of his songs made number one on any of the charts, he did have songs that stayed within the top five. Songs such as “Those Lonely Lonely Nights” and “Three Hours Past Midnight” are still favorites on blues stations across the U.S. In 1961, Johnny went to the King Label where he recorded “The Gangster of Love,” “Cuttin’ In,” and “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy”, which also made the top 10 for a period of time. In 1970, Johnny veered away from the traditional blues and decided to head out on adventure into the realm of funk and disco, and that’s what this two-CD collection is about.
From 1974 to 1984, Johnny made albums, vinyl records for those of you under the age 23, such as A Real Mother For Ya, Johnny “Guitar” Watson and the Family Clone, and Funk Beyond the Call of Duty, and if those don’t sound funky enough for ya, how about Ain’t That a Bitch which is the start-off song on the first disc. These songs actually have meaning to them, unlike some of the disco trash that was being tossed around on the dance floors in the mid ‘70s.
Johnny was a musical genius who could pick up an instrument and have it figured out by the end of the day. On most of the songs that are on this album, he plays all the instruments: drums, keyboards, and especially guitar. His lyrics were a key along with his talent for catchy riffs; what he had to say opened up the doors to the world that he was living in. “Funk is looking at the world and saying, ‘It ain’t what is seems. It ain’t what it should be. It ain’t what I expected. It’s funky.’ Listen to the song What The Hell Is This and you’ll catch my drift.” That’s the way he saw it, and that’s the way he played it.
Soulful love ballads with a blues-groove background such as “Love That Will Not Die” and “I Want To Ta-Ta You Baby” have beautiful lyrics that play around in a sexy way. Others, such as “Funk Above The Call of Duty” and “Tarzan”, are classic comedies wrapped up in funky-blue kind of groove. “ET” doesn’t talk about aliens but describes how his baby looks and dresses; what Johnny is basically saying is that his woman is out of this world. The blues also show through on tracks like “Stung Out” and “Cop And Blow”. “I gave indulgence new meaning,” Johnny said once and these two songs give you a window into what his world was like at that moment in time. “Feel The Spirit Of My Guitar” is a track that also gives insight to the life of this unbelievable musician and man. Some guitarists make it moan or sing; Johnny could do that, but he preferred to let it talk, and, oohh the stories it told.
This two-CD set is definitely worth the money for any music enthusiast; it is stacked and packed with 31 funkadelic tracks taken from the life and mind of one of music’s all-time greats. Like many knowledgeable musicians, it’s about time we pay homage to Mr Watson by getting up off our asses and enlisting for some funk beyond the call of duty.
This is Fumo Verde…keepin’ da funk alive.