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Black Music Month Series

Lord, have mercy
I can’t get ahead no way I try
Everything is outta pocket
Somebody do something
The present situation is abstract
Listen, Listen!

– Johnny Guitar Watson

According to the Library of Congress, the term “rhythm and blues,” often called “R&B,” originated in the 1940s when it replaced “race music” as a general marketing term for all African American music, though it usually referred only to secular, not religious music.

Johnny Guitar Watson’s brand of rappin’ R&B was always secular and never considered religious. But he did have a religious following.

Johnny Guitar Watson, the legendary blues artist and groovy griot of the ghetto, has been my passenger of choice over the last few weeks. If anyone could gauge and gravitate to my angst at paying close to four dollars a gallon for gas or a dozen eggs, Watson could.

Quit Playin’; Johnny Guitar was “fa reel!”


Johnny Watson Jr. was born a few miles down the road in Houston, Texas, in 1935 and died a few thousand miles away from home in 1996. Unfortunately, Johnny succumbed to life’s ultimate “bitch” while performing in Yokohama, Japan. But by then, he had obtained legendary status among musicians and music lovers.

He was a producer and writer and played keyboards, drums, and guitar. He did a little singing too and amassed almost 20 albums. He was a respected journeyman who finally hit pay dirt with his 1977 album, “Real Motha Fa’ Ya.”

The “Superman Lover” brought the blues into the disco scene and married a few generations of us together at the same party. He was known for his funky soul guitar, oversized sunshades, and a raspy tenor voice.

You might remember that Johnny used the word “bitch” to describe our circumstances rather than our women. Johnny Guitar could get every equation to its lowest common denominator. He knew how to break it down so that it was eternally and forever broken.

Three barometers indicate how Black folks feel about the economy. We will put up with a lot of mess but finally ask one question. How high are poultry, pork, and petro? If either is out of reach, we believe the whole damn economy has gone awry.


Because for most of us, when chicken, eggs, bacon, or gas gets too high, the time to conserve and contract has arrived. And my friend, the time is now. So, every time I drive away from the gas pump, I sing karaoke with Johnny Guitar… “Ain’t that a Bitch!”

R&B lovers who are inclined to listen to Johnny Guitar Watson are smart enough to realize that when things get tight and inflation is high, our habits must change. We need to go back to counting our pennies, eating out in our restaurants, and supporting one another. Can you afford the gas to drive across town and buy dinner too?

Meanwhile, congressional Republicans are trying to put work restrictions on underpaid or unemployed Americans who don’t have enough money to feed themselves or their families. However, they say nary a word of the trillions in welfare that farmers receive. They don’t mention the rich skirting their share of taxes. Ain’t that a Bitch!

You can bet you that if a certain wealthy Dallas billionaire paid 20% in taxes annually, he wouldn’t spend money renting a Negro on the Supreme Court for his funsies and amusement. “Clearance” Thomas would have been pushed overboard off the luxury yacht!

Johnny Guitar Watson died on stage in Tokyo. He was felled by a massive heart attack at age 61. But if you went to Glendale, California, exhumed his body, drove him to Burger King and bought him an $8 hamburger, no fries, no drink, he would repeat what he sang in 1976.


I’m working forty hours Six long days
And I’m highly embarrassed Every time I get my pay
And they working everybody
Lord, they working poor folks to death
And when you pay your rent and your car note
You ain’t got a damn thing left Ain’t that a Bitch!

Vincent L. Hall is an author, activist, and an award-winning columnist.

Written By

Vincent L. Hall is an author, activist, and award-winning columnist.


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