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This Week in Texas Music History: Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson

Art&Seek presents This Week in Texas Music History. Every week, we’ll spotlight a different moment and the musician who made it. This Week in Texas Music History, we’ll meet the original “Gangster of Love.”

You can also hear This Week in Texas Music History on Sunday at precisely 6:04 p.m. on KERA radio. But subscribe to the podcast so you won’t miss an episode. And our thanks to KUT public radio in Austin for helping us bring this segment to you. And if you’re a music lover, be sure to check out Track by Track, the bi-weekly podcast from Paul Slavens, host of KXT’s The Paul Slavens Show, heard Sunday night’s at 8.

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Johnny “Guitar” Watson was born in Houston on Feb. 3, 1935. In the early 1950s he moved to California. Much like T-Bone Walker and other Texas guitarists who had migrated to the West Coast, Watson developed a very theatrical style of performance, which included colorful outfits, wild stage antics and the use of guitar feedback. His early songs, such as “Space Guitar” and “Gangster of Love,” achieved modest success, but Watson gained greater popularity in the 1970s, as he adapted his blues style to funk.

Johnny “Guitar” Watson was a major influence on a variety of younger musicians, including Eric Clapton, Frank Zappa and Snoop Dogg. Watson died of a heart attack in 1998 while on tour in Japan. He was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame in 2008.

Next time on This Week in Texas Music History, we’ll learn about one of the state’s first African-American folklorists.