Like many a journeyman bluesman, Johnny "Guitar" Watson
led something of an itinerant recording life during much of his career, wandering from label to label in the 1950s and 1960s with just a little chart success. Untouchable!
does a great service to collectors by assembling 27 tracks from 1959-1966, many of which, surprisingly, had not only never previously come out on CD, but had never been reissued in any form. While in general these are blues/R&B crossover sides, there's more variety than one might think, and though the hopping between styles makes it a little uneven, it makes for a better listen in one gulp than you might expect. There's some relatively straight blues, particularly in the earlier sides; there are rather more blends of blues/R&B with pop than many blues fans might realize exist, sometimes on covers of pop standards, and sometimes employing strings; and there are cuts, particularly in the mid-'60s selections, that verge on out-and-out soul. It's true that the three songs most likely to be familiar to general blues and rock fans are among the very best material here, those being "Looking Back," which was covered by John Mayall's Bluesbreakers
(with Peter Green
on guitar); "Cuttin' In," a 1962 Top Ten R&B hit and one of Watson
's most effective fusions of blues (with biting guitar) and orchestration; and "Gangster of Love," one of Watson
's signature tunes (though this 1963 King single, fine as it is, is not his original version). But everything here is at least OK, and much of it is above average to excellent, even on some tracks where the influences of others like Clarence "Frogman" Henry
, the Olympics
, the Temptations
, and Ray Charles
are obvious. There might be a little less guitar pyrotechnics than some straight-ahead blues fans would like, and it's unfortunate that a few interesting cuts referred to in the liner notes from this period were not available for licensing. But overall it's a solid overview of a time when Watson
was among the more interesting (and certainly overlooked) artists building bridges between the blues, R&B, and soul.