Johnny 'Guitar' Watson
When ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons sings "with my New York brim and my gold tooth displayed" on "I'm Bad, I'm Nationwide," he might well be describing the legendary Johnny "Guitar" Watson, whose 14-karat smile and natty, pimped-out image sometimes overshadowed his monstrous musical talent. Watson came up in the fertile Houston, Tex., music scene of the 1950s and was heavily influenced by the swinging sounds of T-Bone Walker and Gatemouth Brown. After starting out as keyboard player, guitar became his primary instrument and he earned his nickname with his dazzlingly mercurial technique. In 1960s Los Angeles, he worked as a leader as well as a sideman, often with singer Larry Williams. When Watson reemerged in the mid-1970s with his "gangster of love" persona, his new sound combined hard Funk and soulful ballads. He became hugely successful on R&B charts in the U.S. and around the world. He died onstage in Japan in 1994.