Shot Of Rhythm

[ Sunday, May 20, 2007 ]


Gangsta boogie

I've recently realized that Johnny "Guitar" Watson's "Gangster Of Love" is on the short-list of my favorite songs in the world. Funny, brash, assertive, vulnerable, and funky as hell. I thought I might pay tribute to the tune, and I can think of no better way of doing this than following it down its own path...

He first cut it in 1957, as a single for Keen Records. Like much of the blues, R&B and rock-n-roll from the period, the track sounds alive, awake and ready to roar.

"Gangster Of Love" (1957)

He then revisited it in 1978, in the heart of his grossly underappreciated funk period. This time, as befits a song twenty years down the line, "Gangster Of Love" sounds more like the Texas juke joints where Watson trained and made his name. The joy and jokes are still there, but this time Watson seems more willing to slow down the groove, and ride that pony all the way across the borderline.

"Gangster Of Love" (1978)

Of course, the way I first heard "Gangster Of Love" was through another mighty Texas guitar-slinger, Jesse Taylor, who used to do this number as a solo spotlight when he was gigging with any number of his famous employers. I saw him do it with Joe Ely in Austin in 1996, and - even though the entire show was good enough to remain one of the best I've ever seen - Taylor's version of "Gangster Of Love" was particularly smokin'. It was thus an unbelievably pleasant surprise to find a YouTube video of Jesse doing "Gangster Of Love," albeit at a different gig than the one I saw, and - just as I remembered hit - he captures the combination of love-machine boasting and laughin'-to-keep-from-cryin' humor that makes this song, ever more so, a pick to click in my neck of the woods.

Check it out...

ADDENDUM: I wasn't gonna post the Geto Boys' infamous "Gangsta Of Love," not because I don't love the track, but because it's not the same song as Watson's "Gangster Of Love." Of course, as Mr. C points out in a comment below, that's a pretty dumb reason to leave it off, especially since - like Watson - there are two versions of the Boys' raw blues, the first from their indie-label debut, and the second from their first Def American album. I'm not exactly sure why they switched the sample between versions - the first is based around the Steve Miller Band's "The Joker" (and its namesake lyric), the second quite brilliantly founded on Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama" - but the changeover in sound (and in the addition of Bushwick Bill to deliver the tune's second verse) makes the latter my favorite. The collected Geto Boys' "Gangsta Of Love"s are certainly less overtly playful, and more patently offensive, than "Guitar" Watson's, but they share the same trickster-ish sensibility and - most importantly - the blues' vulnerable braggadocio. Gangsta boogie, gangsta boogie!

Geto Boys - "Gangster Of Love"

Geto Boys - "Gangsta Of Love"

On the box right now: Johnny "Guitar" Watson, THE FUNK ANTHOLOGY, Disc 1.


Dove With Claws [2:55 PM]