Blues Giant Johnny "Guitar" Watson Dead

Bluesman Watson will be missed.

Johnny "Guitar" Watson, the L. A.-based bluesman whose influence

stretched from Jimi Hendrix, Frank Zappa and Eric Clapton to Snoop Doggy Dogg

and Ice Cube, (and who is currently known as the godfather of the "Free Soul"

movement in dance music), collapsed on stage at the Blues Cafe in the port city

of Yokohama, southwest of Tokyo last Friday evening (May 17) and later died of

an apparent heart attack after being taken to a nearby hospital. Watson, who

turned 60 this year, had performed in Kyoto, Osaka, Nagoya, and Sapporo earlier

in the week as part of a week long series of concerts collectively known as

"Japan Blues Carnival '96." He was scheduled to perform at the final show

yesterday (Sunday, May 19) in Tokyo, along with the Robert Cray Band and two

Japanese blues acts, "Jirokichi Blues Friends" and "Begin."

Born in

Houston, Texas, in 1935, he started playing modern blues, mainly in Los

Angeles, in the 1950s. His sex-charged recordings included "The Gangster of

Love," "Those Lonely, Lonely Nights," "Hot Little Mama," "I Love to Love You,"

"A Real Mother for Ya," "I Don't Want to Be a Lone Ranger" and "Ain't That a


Back in the '70s, the late Frank Zappa frequently mentioned Watson

as an inspiration during interviews. Zappa told reporters that hearing Watson's

1957 recording "Three Hours Past Midnight" had inspired him to start playing

the guitar.

Watson's most recent album, Bow Wow was released in

1993; it was his first album in 13 years.

At the Hibiya Amphitheater yesterday,

Watson's band took the stage at their designated time, without their

instruments, and without their leader, to speak to the audience about their

loss. It was a touching moment. Saxophonist Charles Green, speaking in both

Japanese and English on behalf of the band, noted that Watson had told him that

if he were to die, he wanted to die on stage. He then proceeded to lead the

audience in calling "Johnny.....Johnny."

Many in the audience had been

looking forward to seeing Watson at yesterday's concert, and were shocked to

learn upon arriving at the Hibiya Park Amphitheater of his death. Blues harp

legend James Cotton and his band, who were also in town with the Blues Carnival

but were not originally scheduled to play yesterday, performed a spirited and

musically impressive 50-minute set in place of Watson.