Veteran photographer Brian Smith has good reason to remember the night of 3 April 1965 that R&B legend Johnny “Guitar”’ Watson played Manchester’s Twisted Wheel club, with sidekick- Larry Williams, “It was the first time I took out my wife [39 years married, last June] - though I still stuck to the job in hand and buggered off to the ‘Wheel All-Nighter’ after I had put her on the bus home. I got a few decent black and whites on at Twisted Wheel, and then a couple at the Princess Club, same week: on stage, and some posed too.”
Some of Brian’s best shots adorn the booklet of this Ace collection of what might be termed JGW’s ‘missing years’ - those between his first flurry of success as a guitar- crushing mid-50s bluesman, and his reivention as a 60s soul hero. For the first half of the 1960s, Johnny bounced from label to label in an effort to recapture the chart success that he had first found with Modern’s RPM subsidiary. He had few hits along the way, but he made a whole lot of great music and “UNTOUCHABLE!” represents the first time that almost all of it has been gathered together.
Watson’s longest residency of these years was with King Records, for whom he cut the sublime Cuttin’ In – which became his biggest hit of the 1960s, in 1961. He also cut the definitive reading of his anthem Gangster Of Love for King, as well as a bunch of highly-potent sides that have since become cherished items among those who collect New Breed R&B in all its forms. Prior to King, he also made great one-off singles for Class and Arvee that successfully approximated the sound of his peers the Hollywood Flames (who backed him on his Class 45) and the Olympics (who probably did the same on our title track). The original version of his classic, Looking Back, is here, as are a clutch of post King sides that nowadays sell for between £200 (Ain’t Gonna Move) and £400 (Big Bad Wolf) among today’s Northern Soul hardcore. All in all, “Untouchable!” paints a fascinating picture of a man who had the will, and found the way, to bridge two eras of black music, prior to his greatest success.
With another must-have item for blues and soul collectors, young, cool and in his prime, here is the late, great Johnny “Guitar” Watson.
By Tony Rounce