“Space Guitar has to be heard to be believed. If one track could carve a path up to and beyond Hendrix, this is it”: The life and times of Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson, the true guitar original who inspired Zappa and SRV – plus Ice Cube, Jay-Z and Mary J. Blige

Johnny Watson
Johnny Watson in the mid-70s circa Ain’t That A Bitch (Image credit: Echoes/Redferns/Getty)

John Watson Jr was born in Houston, Texas, on 3 February 1935. As a child he learned piano from his father, John Sr. However, like so many young Black kids coming of age in the mid-to-late 1940s, it was the mighty T-Bone Walker, best known for his iconic composition Stormy Monday, that grabbed his ears and made him want to be a guitarist.

T-Bone Walker’s influence over the subsequent course that blues and rock ’n’ roll took cannot be overestimated. A slew of great recordings from the late ’40s found their way into the hearts of everyone from B.B. King to Chuck Berry to Jimi Hendrix – and young Watson was no exception.

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Denny Ilett

Denny Ilett has been a professional guitarist, bandleader, teacher and writer for nearly 40 years. Specializing in Jazz and Blues, Denny has played all over the world with New Orleans artist Lillian Boutté. Also an experienced teacher, Denny regularly contributes to JTC and Guitarist magazine and is founder of the Electric Lady Big Band, a 16-piece ensemble playing new arrangements of the music of Jimi Hendrix. Denny has also worked with funk maestro Pee Wee Ellis and is the co-founder of Bristol Jazz & Blues festival.