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Rhythm and Blues Musician Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson Dies In Japan

May 18, 1996

TOKYO (AP) _ Johnny ``Guitar″ Watson, one of rhythm and blues’ most influential musicians, suffered a fatal heart attack Friday night while performing in a Japanese blues club, police said. He was 61.

Watson was in Yokohama, 18 miles south of Tokyo, when he collapsed during a performance, said Junichi Sawaya of the Yokohama police.

Sawaya said Watson was taken to a local hospital but was pronounced dead of a heart attack.

Some of popular music’s most famous guitarists _ including Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton _ said they were influenced by Watson’s playing. Deceased rock musician Frank Zappa said hearing Watson’s 1957 recording ``Three Hours Past Midnight″ launched his interest in playing guitar.

Watson’s guitar riffs have been used in songs by rap musicians Snoop Doggy Dogg and Ice Cube.

Watson’s often sexually-oriented recordings included ``The Gangster of Love,″ which became his nickname; ``Those Lonely, Lonely Nights;″ and ``Mercy, Mercy, Mercy.″

The guitarist’s comeback album ``Bow Wow″ in 1993, his first album in 13 years, earned a Grammy nomination for contemporary blues album. Near the end of his career, he toured with the O’Jays.

``He had his unique style,″ said Al Bell, president of Bellmark Records in Los Angeles. ``He didn’t over play. But what he played was great. He knew simplicity had power.″

The Texas-born Watson said he was influenced by ``T-Bone″ Walker and Clarence ``Gatemouth″ Brown. He moved to Los Angeles as a teen-ager and began his musical career in small jazz and blues clubs.

In his career he toured with such artists as Sam Cooke, Herb Alpert and George Duke. He began his successful collaboration with pianist and singer Williams in the 1960s.

Survivors include his mother, Wilma, his wife, Susan, and son DeJohn and daughter Virginia.

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