Johnny Guitar Watson was one of those artists whose back catalog is very like a very funky box of chocolates for me. If one enjoys chocolate,it’s very difficult to say you just enjoy one. Consequently it took a little time to determine which of the mans songs to chose to discuss on this blog. Watson was almost as enormous figure in the development of funk as James Brown in one important sense. He helped take the 12 bar blues soloing approach and applied it to a soulful rhythmic attitude from the 1950’s onward. His style of aggressively playing guitar without a plectrum was part of what made him one of R&B’s most theatrical performers in the day as a result.
The question of which song of Watson’s to talk abut today came from a talk with my dad about a memory. Almost two decades ago now, my maternal aunt used to visit my family once or twice a year. Since my father always had music going,a compilation of Johnny Guitar Watson was playing on one such visit. One song in particular got my aunts attention. It was called “It’s About The Dollar Bill”. On it’s own,the song came from Watson’s 1977 album entitled Funk Beyond The Call Of Duty. There are reason’s both musical and thematic for choosing this particular song today. So to get things started,best place to start is to get right into the center of the groove’s musicality itself.
A little light guitar ring introduces the opening and descending horn chart-with Watson chanting right along the chord changes in bassy vocalese. The song has a slow,shuffling swing of a rhythm with a bouncy Clavinet on the choruses. Horns continue to play the chords throughout both the refrains and all of the remaining choruses of the song. On the second refrain,Watson’s vocals are replaced by one of his trademark 12 bar blues guitar solos. The shuffling chorus/refrain pattern continues until the song reaches a conclusion of fanfaring horns,percussion and Watson’s multi tracked vocal harmonies-with all of their grunts,coos and groans to the songs’ fade out.
The more I listen to Johnny Guitar Watson’s music,what strikes me is how much jazzy his arrangements were during his 70’s funk period. Many of his rhythms,including this one have as prominent a swinging shuffling from big band and jump blues as they will have the classic funk breaks and rests. The horns follow the same pattern as well. Lyrically the song is very important to today’s bloated American economy based on consumerism. And coming from the idea of a black musician being in a good position to talk about capital due to having ancestrally been capital during slavery. So this funk’s advice to not let ones eyes be bigger than their pockets has the power to change up many a groove in life.