Johnny Guitar Watson – “Funk Beyond the Call of Duty” (1977)

funkbeyondthecall1There’s a sort of mythologization about the concept of dying while doing something you love.  It gets trotted out from time to time, often when someone dies doing something dangerous (or stupid).  In the sporting world we tend to hear it in motor sports when a driver is involved in a fatal crash.  In day-to-day life it’s more likely to come up when as part of a physical hobby – boating, mountain climbing, whatever.

In the world of rock ‘n’ roll this manifests itself by the artist dying on stage during a performance.  Thankfully it doesn’t happen often, because dying sucks and so does seeing someone die.  One performer who actually experienced an on-stage ending was blues and funk guitarist Johnny Guitar Watson, who suffered a heart attack at the start of his set in Yokohama, Japan on May 17, 1996.  He was only 61 at the time.

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I bought Johnny’s 1977 Funk Beyond the Call of Duty the other day simply because of the cover.  I mean, just look at it.  The suit… the swimsuit… the way Watson holds the guitar like a rifle on parade.  And on the reverse the pair are on top of a tank.  Which is pretty unfunky, really.  But the music?  Oh, that’s funk as hell.  “It’s About the Dollar Bill” is pure funky hustler lifestyle, complete with a reference to buying chinchilla (and you need those dollar bills to buy that chinchilla…).  I love the way Watson uses synths, including a Moog bass, throughout the album, adding a touch of new-waviness to songs like “I’m Gonna Get You Baby”, which already has a lot going on with its blend of rock, funk, and soul.

Quite a few tracks from Funk Beyond the Call of Duty have been sampled, perhaps most notably and recently “Give Me My Love,” which was used by Kayne and Kendrick Lamar on their 2016 “No More Parties in L.A.” and is a testament to Watson’s funkiness.

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