John Watson Jr. was born in Houston, Texas, in February 1935. His father was a pianist and taught his son the instrument but John Jr. was attracted to the sound of the electric guitar as played by T-Bone Walker and Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown.
His parents separated in 1950 when he was 15 and his mother moved to Los Angeles, taking John Jr. with her.
John won several local talent shows in LA, leading to regular gigs with jump blues-style bands such as Chuck Higgins’s Mellotones and Amos Milburn as a vocalist, pianist, and guitarist.
He quickly made a name for himself in the juke joints on the West Coast and he first recorded for Federal Records in 1952, billed as “Young John Watson”. After he saw the Joan Crawford film Johnny Guitar, a new stage name was born.
Watson wrote and recorded a bunch of R&B goodies in the 1950s (including Gangster Of Love and Looking Back) that gave him West Coast recognition without stirring the rest of America – leaving The Steve Miller Band and John Mayall to reap the biggest action with the songs a decade later.
In the 60’s he struck further afield scoring modest national hits with blues – on songs such as Cuttin’ In (1962) – and soul, on tracks including Mercy, Mercy, Mercy and Nobody (both recorded with Larry Williams in 1967).
In between, he visited Britain and recorded many less fortunate sides.
In the mid-70s, he created three successive soul hits and a couple of choice albums that didn’t boost his career the way they should’ve, largely because the record company, Fantasy, didn’t have the facilities and/or inclination to capitalise on their hot property.
Watson passed away on 17 May 1996. He was 61.