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Johnny "Guitar" Watson: Blue Masters: The Very Best of Johnny "Guitar" Watson

Ed Kopp By

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Johnny "Guitar" Watson was a vastly underappreciated blues and R&B trendsetter whose adventurous guitar style influenced the likes of Bo Diddley, Jimi Hendrix and Frank Zappa. The Very Best of Johnny "Guitar" Watson focuses on the years 1952 through 1963, the period when Watson made his best music. Many of these tracks were previously unavailable on CD, so this collection is a must-have for anyone interested in the roots of modern blues, R&B or classic rock.

Born in Texas, Johnny Watson moved to L.A. when he was 15. He was just a teenager when he made his recording debut with Chuck Higgins as a boogie-woogie pianist on the single "Motorhead Baby," included in this collection. Watson's debut as a guitarist came on the pioneering instrumental "Space Guitar," also included here, on which he extended the sonic capabilities of the electric guitar to realms never before imagined.

The 18 tracks in this collection are notable not just for Watson's bold guitar playing, but also for his confident vocal style and clever horn charts. Watson was strongly influenced by jazz, and his music sounds highly sophisticated next to most blues and R&B from the '50s and early '60s.

In the CD notes, Etta James calls Watson her main model. "Johnny wasn't just a killer guitarist," says James. "The man was a master musician. He could call out charts; he could write him a beautiful melody or a nasty groove at the drop of a hat; he could lay out the harmonies and he could come up with a whole sound."

Watson was also one of the first popular artists to cop an attitude, acquiring the nickname "Gangster of Love" from his catchy 1963 single of the same title. He later remade himself into a pimp-like funk performer, and though some of his later albums were pleasingly funky, they never quite matched his early output.

The Very Best of Johnny "Guitar" Watson affirms Etta James' assessment of Watson as "the baddest and the best."

Title: Blue Masters: The Very Best of Johnny "Guitar" Watson | Year Released: 1999 | Record Label: Rhino Records

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