Thursday, June 13, 2013

Thunderbird Jam: Johnny "Guitar" Watson- Strike On Computers (1984)

Johnny “Guitar” Watson was a Houston, Texas born axe man who pioneered contemporary blues and funk guitar styling. Watson had an illustrious career spanning nearly 50 years, mastering guitar in his early teens by emulating his heroes T-Bone Walker and Gatemouth Brown, and playing alongside contemporaries included fellow Texan Albert Collins and New Orleans own Larry Williams. But what sets Watson apart from them is his late career renaissance as a funk hero. While many other blues rockers from his time faded into obscurity or met a violent end, Watson exploded back into the mainstream in the late 80s with a new spin on his unique guitar playing, releasing a string of successful funk albums heavy on sexy, sweaty jams.

Bottom line… Johnny "Guitar" Watson was a gangster of love, a superman lover, and one baaaaad mama jama.

Or at least he listened to Bad Mama Jama. A lot.

In 1984 (two years after Carl Carlton’s unremittingly spun hit) Watson released an album called Strike On Computers. The title track was a note for note replication of “Bad Mama Jama” except slowed down a bit and with all new lyrics pertaining to the social and economic dangers of the computerized automation of America. If this sounds a little odd, maybe even tipped over into crazytown, it’s because it is. The even crazier thing is that the dude actually pulls it off!

Strike On Computers is arguably a better song than Bad Mama Jama. Instead of extolling the virtues of a well-built woman (which, trust me, Watson manages to do enough of as well), Johnny decided to make a catchy funk tune about a topic that people were largely ignoring. This was 1984… the most groundbreaking and popular advertisement was from Apple computers… a riff on Orwell’s Big Brother with a young woman jogging into a dystopian factory and destroying all we ever thought we knew about computers and technology. “They’re here to help you!” was the overwhelming sentiment. “The ‘PERSONAL’ computer.” was what they were selling. But more and more industrial jobs were automated out of existence, those that were left over were being outsourced to countries with cheap labor. With the popularity of touch-tone phones, when you called a customer service number you began to get the run around of robo-calls and menu systems. And it didn’t stop there, when you turned on the radio or went to the club, you were bound to hear music that required little to no human operation of instruments. This began the era of kids who had no fuckin’ clue how to play a guitar or sing a song, but managed to be hit makers anyhow.

Watson took a stand. Strike On Computers had to be made cheap, his resurgence was still in the making, so he recorded most of the song by himself playing nearly every instrument. The lyrics are pretty amazing...

For the benefit of you who thought I was through

Because you haven’t been hearing Guitar too much.

Something was wrong and that’s why your pal was gone

So just for you I did some research…

As my research will show, the music business (and all the businesses) are slow

And there is one thing I didn’t realize…

All them regular jobs, that you and I do, have ALL BECOME COMPUTERIZED.

Watson continues, utilizing the free form spoken word structure of funk (and computer tweaked vocal effects), to decry the Regan administration’s proposed “Star Wars” missile defense system, automation in American manufacturing, and the de-humanizing of popular music. It all manages to be a hell of a lot of fun, especially the last verse where Watson jokes about his craft, his art, his very namesake becoming obsolete.

Just the other day I had to go down to the music store

Cause I didn’t have any guitar strings left.

The salesman said, “Aw Hey, Guitar! I got just the guitar you need to see.”

PEOPLE! THE DAMN THING PLAYED BY ITSELF!

Johnny “Guitar” Watson would die on-stage, with a good old fashioned guitar in his hands 12 years later. His last words, “Ain’t that a bitch”, are as enduring and pertinent as the rallying cry…

“WE NEED TO STRIKE ON COMPUTERS!”

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