In Back To the Future, Marty McFly stuns his mum’s college contemporaries with his guitar work on “Johnny B Goode”. They obviously hadn’t heard Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson.
“Space Guitar” is a two and a half minute proto-rock instrumental from 1954. It features the familar R&B hallmarks of honking sax rhythm and shuffling stand-up bass, but the guitar work is something else entirely. This must have sounded totally alien to contemporary audiences (although Les Paul had introduced multi-tracking and echo to the hit parade with the likes of “How High The Moon” – something for another time). Watson makes his guitar sing, talk (honestly, just over two minutes in!), quotes the theme from Dragnet and generally displays a total command of his instrument. Electric guitar was still pretty much a new-fangled thing in 1954, so folk like Paul and Watson were still gleefully experimenting.
The session engineers don’t seem to have quite grasped what was going on, and the echo seems to come in and out with a clunk, often missing the obvious cue by a second or so, so it sounds like the track is bouncing from trebly clarity to muddiness almost randomly. Aside from that, it’s a brilliant track. Totally ahead of its time.
The video from YouTube is just a collection of stills – most, inappropriately, from Watson’s funky seventies. It’s a pity there’s no extant footage of him playing the tune. that would be something.