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JOHNNY GUITAR WATSON JANUARY 1978 INTERVIEW
THE UPS AND DOWNS OF SUCCESS
Johnny has come up with 3 gold albums in little more than a year but it seems that life at the top isn't always one big bowl of cherries….

IT REALLY wasn't the best time to get to Johnny Guitar Watson.

He had just been informed of the cancellation of his weekend in Atlanta and therefore the loss of several thousand dollars. His band had already made the long road trek from Los Angeles to Atlanta — some 1,500 miles — and had arrived tired, only to be told of the cancellation. Apparently, there was some hassle over the promoter of the concerts and a bouncing cheque and Johnny's advisors had done their duty and suggested he stay home.

"The problem is that it always rebounds on the artist," Johnny pointed out — and, of course, he is quite right. We the public never apportion blame on anybody except the artist and so it's important that magazines such as this one should make the public as aware as possible when it isn't a case of an artist simply not showing up for their fans. In Johnny's case, it's never that way because he is one of the most reliable, dependable souls in our business.

"I'm pleased that the radio stations in the area are at least announcing the cancellation. But it does mean that I'll need that extra effort in the Atlanta area in future — and it isn't my fault at all!

"The funny thing is that I've only been getting this kind of a problem since I 'made it' and started to get what I'll call 'big money'. There must be a moral in there somewhere!"

Meanwhile, we managed to guide the effervescent Mr. W. on to safer ground — by way of the release of his third DJM album, "Funk Beyond The Call Of Duty".

"I'm so, so happy with it," he enthused. "Yes, I do feel it's the best I've ever done. I can't even find a track that I like more than any other and so the single is going to be our biggest problem. And that's the way everybody connected with the record feels — so it'll be left to the people to decide."

But although the two DJM predecessors both achieved Gold status in the States, the astute Mr. Watson is well aware that they were not major successes in his record company's home base, Britain.

"Dick James wants me to cut a special album just for Europe," Johnny immediately pointed out. "And so that is what I'll be doing in February. I'll come in for a couple of weeks just to record a special album. I'll do a little promotion but my mind will be on the album project. I think the basic aim is for me to do some Top 40 type things — you know, Elton John tunes and stuff like that.

"Yes, I'd like to do it — not just because of the benefit I'll get from it but also for Dick James and the people in London. I have become much more aware of the overseas market and, if necessary, I'll record an album for each area if that is what it takes to be successful.

"It's been such an asset being with DJM because of their overseas acumen that I'd like to now be able to say thank you in the only way I know how — with a hit album in Britain."

It's funny how, after years of trying and really getting nowhere (Johnny agrees!) Johnny Guitar Watson has suddenly come up with two gold albums in the space of a year — and a third now well on the way.

"Success?", he muses, "who knows? It's a combination of things. In my case, I think that being with a relatively small company has helped. I don't respond to big, major companies and all the high level thing. I get a lot more satisfaction from being with a small, personal company and that's why DJM is again perfect for me and my thinking.

"You see, from a musical viewpoint, I really haven't changed. Sure, because I'm more satisfied with my circumstances, I'm more relaxed. And that could be the major reason why my music has that little extra something these days.

"Yes, it's true — I have been out there all these years. But it helped me more than it hurt me because experience is definitely the best teacher. Until very recently, people really didn't know I was capable of anything beside the Blues. Now, with success, everything I do has been elevated and people are now coming to me to do producing and songwriting — people who didn't really know I existed a couple of years ago.

"Yes, it does take time to get there and I'm glad I took my time — this way, I'm better mentally and physically."

The real truth is that immediately prior to signing with DJM, Johnny was probably at his lowest ebb ever. I recall talking with him at the time and telling him how successful his "Lone Ranger" track had been in England and though he enthused, you could feel the disappointment and slight resentment.

"That's true, too," he is quick to add. "I was feeling particularly discouraged at the time and the company (Fantasy) weren't helping, shall we say! In fact, most of the work on "Lone Ranger" here in the States came from my own people. But it all doesn't matter now because again it was a case of experience teaching me and preparing me for the big one.

"The funny thing is that the music really has never changed, has it? The new album is basically Blues, right? Sure, the structure may have changed a little and there may be a little more melody — but I'm still doing the same old licks, man!

"But I'll tell you something — when I get over there in February those Elton John songs will need a different approach and that's what is foremost in my mind right now."

In passing, I happened to mention that Johnny's old sparring partner, Larry Williams, had coincidentally just signed with Fantasy Records.

"It doesn't surprise me because Larry was always close to the company's President, Ralph Kappel," Johnny said. "In fact, it was only Ralph that kept me there as long as I was there because he has a good rapport with artists generally."

So, meanwhile, we left Johnny with the riddle of how to get a band home from Atlanta and what he could do to a string of Elton John tunes. No doubt it will comfort him to know that his new album is well on the way to making him a Golden Hat-trick album man.


  
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