I’ve run across three different mentions of Johnny Watson in the past twenty-four hours and I need no further signals to fish out Larry Williams & Johnny Watson’s 1967 album Two For The Price Of One and that absurdly amazing album cover. “Mercy Mercy Mercy” is the one song that most people know (though it’s probably the Buckinghams’ later cover), but the winner is the titanic “Too Late” – two minutes twenty of warp speed LA soul that gave those Wigan kids a kick in the head.
Office Naps posts Williams & Watson’s “Nobody” – one of the early psychedelic soul experiment and/or exploitation tracks that followed in the wake of the Chambers Brothers’ “Time Has Come Today.” Williams & Watson teamed up with none other than David Lindley and his fellow sitar and saz hippies in Kaleidoscope. I had no idea this record existed and my world is significantly better for it. Even odds says that Tarantino is going to mine this (or anything off of the Okeh label) for a future soundtrack. Hell, their story even sounds like a Tarantino movie. Copy/pasting from the Office Naps post:
Larry Williams’s career began in the early ‘50s as a session pianist at Cosimo Matassa’s New Orleans recording studios. He briefly joined Lloyd Price’s band, and thereafter earned a name for himself as an R&B shouter with late ‘50s hits like “Short Fat Fannie,” “Bony Moronie,” “Bad Boy” and “Dizzy Miss Lizzy” on the great Specialty label. In the early ‘60s, Williams relocated to the West Coast, there working as a producer and A&R man for Okeh (Columbia Records’ R&B subsidiary) and a handful of other California labels. Never quite able to revive his early successes as a recording artist, Williams lived out the sort of disreputable life that you expect of the echt R&B musician, succumbing to a gunshot wound in 1980 that, depending on who you ask, was not necessarily self-inflicted.
When Williams’ friend, the multi-instrumentalist Johnny Watson, arrived in early ‘50s Los Angeles, he’d already gigged with Houston bluesmen like Johnny Copeland and Albert Collins. Still in his teens, Watson toiled in Los Angeles as a session guitarist and, a year or two later, he’d begin making – now as Johnny “Guitar” Watson – a string of gutsy R&B singles. These included, amongst many others, the stratospheric 1954 instrumental “Space Guitar,” his autobiographical “Gangster of Love” (re-recorded in 1963 and again in 1978), and his biggest ‘50s hit, the swamp pop-flavored “Those Lonely, Lonely Nights.” Watson would continue recording and performing in the ‘60s in a more uptown, sophisticated soul style. It wouldn’t be until the ‘70s that Watson would finally find his enduring fame, however, with his funky Southern blues persona: the “Gangster of Love.”
In the mid-‘60s Williams and Watson joined briefly together for a few fine duet releases on the Okeh label. There were obvious similarities in their career trajectories up to this point. Both were hardened, Gulf Coast-born R&B musicians. Both maintained ties to the criminal underworld: as a musician, Watson earned money on the side as a pimp (or vice-versa, according to Peter Guralnick), and Williams had a criminal record for dealing drugs and extensive involvement, it was rumored, in prostitution.
While looking for information to post to the recently revived Watson thread on ILX, I ran across a Metafilter post listing some goodies on YouTube – the best being this unreal version of “Gangster Of Love” (the YouTube poster disabled embedding on this, so you might need to go to the page directly)
Do not try to apprehend – simply say “it’s cool.”
Watson died in 1996 while on stage in Japan. Apparently, he said that where he wanted to be when it happened.