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Some great live funk from a forgotten master.

Music Review: Johnny “Guitar” Watson – Live In Concert (DVD)

Johnny “Guitar” Watson, (1935-1996), never really received his due as one of the more creative guitarists and vocalists of the past fifty years. He progressed from a jazz and blues artist in the 1950s to a 70’s funkster. He even managed to play some great rock ‘n’ roll along the way. He recorded his first album in 1953 and toured with the likes of Little Richard, Johnny Otis, and Larry Williams. It was, however, as a sharp dressed, jive singing funk artist in the 1970s that finally brought Watson some fame.

The heart of Live In Concert is his appearance at the 1993 North Sea Jazz Festival. This 11 song, 78 minute performance presents a good retrospective of the last 25 years of his career. He has a brass section in support, and while they may flirt with jazz, Watson’s vocals are pure funk throughout the performance.

“Booty Ooty” serves as a warm up for Watson as he just fronts the band as a singer and cheerleader. He creates an energy in the concert hall and forms an intimate relationship with the audience. He finally picks up his guitar, if only for a short time, on “I Need It.” “Superman Love” is one of the strongest tracks on the DVD. It is more melodic than many of the other songs, yet leaves some room for vocal and instrumental improvisation.

“Gangster Of Love” shows what a creative and technically sound guitarist Watson can be when he is so inclined. The lyrics may be funky but the guitar playing is rooted in the blues. At least on this album he does not sing and play at the same time. He also shows a knack for letting the members of his backing band step forward and shine without interfering.

The DVD extras include three live tracks from the 1996 Blues Fest Leverkusen concert just before his death. It shows the high quality of his live act at the end of his life. Also included is an interview from 1987 and vintage footage from 1980.

If you are a jazz/blues Johnny “Guitar” Watson fan then this DVD is not for you. If, however, you would like a little funk from a deceased master, then Live In Concert is a good place to start.

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