Marla Gibbs accepted the 1st Annual Johnny Guitar Watson Heart for Music Foundation Humanitarian Award at Tuesday night’s celebration of the late musician who died while performing on stage in Yokohama, Japan two decades ago. The long overdue tribute was 20 years to the day of Watson’s passing on May 17, 1996.
Gibbs gave Johnny G. ( as he is affectionately referred to by friends and fellow musicians), an opportunity to perform at her club Marla’s Memory Lane in the 1980s while he was trying for a comeback after cleaning up his life from a bout with drugs and alcohol. Not only did Johnny Guitar Water clean up physically he cleaned up in the music world once again making it records, winning awards and touring the world. He music, his legacy, continues today in movies, commercials and in hip-hop. Most recently Kanye West sampled Watson’s music on his latest release The Life of Pablo. Kanye’s “No More Parties in L.A.” opens with a sample of Watson’s 1977 hit “Give Me My Love.” Watson’s family is thankful for rappers like Snoop Dogg, Redman, Method Man, Dr. Dre and so many others who samples her father’s music. A whole new generation is learning about the late great Johnny Guitar Watson.
Known for his funk sound and provocative song titles had several hits in the 70s and 80s including (Ain’t That A Bitch”), “A Real Mother for Ya” and “Superman Lover” among others. He has played every genre from R&B, funk, soul, pop and rock and has collaborated with many headliners of his day. The tribute brought together members of Watson’s original band including keyboardist/singer Rudy Copeland who had know Watson since he was 13 years old; Jimmy Taylor, who was musical director for not only for this tribute but he was acting in that same capacity when Watson suffered a massive heart attack that took his life. Among other musicians on stage celebrating the Grammy-Award nominee was drummer and long-time Watson band member Emory Taylor, affectionately known as ET. Musicians and entertainers such as Barbara Morrison, Meshell Ndegeocello, Lenny Williams, Doyle Bramhall II, Kim Yarbrough from the Voice, Crystal Penny, Martin Kimbers (Color Me Badd), were in the house singing many of Watson’s hits and keeping the groove funky just the way Johnny G. would have expected.
Watson’s only daughter, Virginia Watson felt the 20th anniversary of her father’s passing was just the right time to celebrate all the great music he left behind and to keep legacy and memory alive for fans as well as his own grandchildren who never knew had the opportunity to meet their grandfather.
“For 20 years we’ve (the family) made money from his catalogue and, his music has been used in movies, commercials and continues to be sampled by a whole new generation of artists especially the hip-hop community many of whom weren’t even around when my father was making hits,” Virginia said. “I want to keep his name out there and to make his grandchildren and other children understand that they can’t forget. We must keep our history and stories alive.”
Watson’s daughter started the foundation not only to keep her father’s memory alive but to give back to the community by way of youth. Funds raised by the foundation will go to acquire musical instruments, mentor and support music and the arts for inner city youth.
“Our goal is to raise $50,000 to help facilitate music studies through after school programs, like ARC, LAUSD and non-profit after school programs like YoYo’s School of Hip Hop,” according to Ms. Watson.
“We have to remember our own, celebrate them and continue their legacy. This is why I’m started the foundation. This is why I planned this tribute to my father. I was waiting for someone else to do it and it didn’t happened. I felt like it was up to me and now was the time,” Virginia added.