Beverly "Guitar" Watkins
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About Beverly "Guitar" Watkins
Georgia-based guitarist, singer, and songwriter Beverly "Guitar" Watkins is one part soul singer, one part rockin' roadhouse mama, and one part gifted songwriter. She's also been chronically under-recorded for a woman with her résumé: she spent the early '60s playing rhythm guitar with Piano Red & the Interns. She recorded with Piano Red from 1959 until the mid-'60s, and can be heard on his popular singles "Doctor Feelgood" and "Right String But the Wrong Yo Yo." Watkins learned guitar and got her earliest musical sensibilities from several of her aunts, who had a quartet named the Hayes Family. She also had a banjo playing grandfather, Luke Hayes. On holidays and at family get-togethers, these musicians would assemble and the blues and gospel were passed on in a true folk process to the young Watkins.
Her earliest influences included Rosetta Tharpe, Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, and Memphis Minnie, and she was exposed to the music because of her grandmother, who would play their recordings on the family Gramophone. She began playing guitar as an eight-year-old, learning by listening to the records her mother would play for her. Later, she was exposed to the records of touring bands, including Louis Jordan's and Count Basie's. She began to model her playing after Charlie Byrd and Basie's rhythm guitarist, Freddie Green. Throughout high school, she participated in a variety of talent shows and played trumpet in the school band. Her high school band master helped broaden her knowledge of jazz and blues guitar, and piano. After a succession of bands in high school, she settled in with playing with Piano Red, who later changed their name and found their widest appeal, as Piano Red & the Houserockers, which led to bookings outside Atlanta and northern Florida in cities like Chicago, Detroit, and Washington, D.C.
In 1965, the band broke up, but not before going through several more name changes. Watkins then hooked up with Eddie Tigner and the Ink Spots and toured extensively with that group, playing for nearly a year with him before he was felled by a stroke. Watkins came off the road and took a break from the brutal touring she had done for much of the '60s. She worked a procession of day jobs as a domestic and in car washes before joining Leroy Redding & the Houserockers. Watkins worked on and off with Redding until the late '80s before striking out on her own and creating a residency for herself at Underground Atlanta, an Atlanta nightclub, often accompanied by a drummer and her son on bass. Here she developed her singing and harmonica-playing skills. Back in Business, her solo debut album, was released in 2001 as part of the Music Maker Series distributed by Sire Records Group/ Warner Bros. The album showcases Watkins' flexibility and prowess in a wide range of styles: roadhouse blues, jazz-inflected blues, and rockabilly-blues. Now in her sixties, Watkins continues to perform in Atlanta-area blues clubs and at major festivals around the U.S.. She put in a particularly compelling, energetic performance at the 2000 Chicago Blues Festival. ~ Richard Skelly
- Atlanta, GA
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