SONG PREMIERE: Late Blues Guitarist Beverly “Guitar” Watkins Gives a Funk Workout on “Do The Breakdown”

Few people outside Atlanta, Georgia, remember a rhythm and blues artist named Piano Red. But those who do know of him believe that Red’s barrelhouse piano style paved the way for the success of artists like Ray Charles. Red was the first blues musician ever to hit the pop charts with his 1950 recording, “Rocking With Red.”

Beverly “Guitar” Watkins was Red’s guitar player beginning in 1959. “I was a senior in high school when I started playin’ with Piano Red,” Watkins once said. “I started travelin’ before I graduated. Piano Red would go to the principal and get permission so I could take my lessons on the road.” Beverly played with Red until 1965, when Red’s band, which had gone by several different names as they toured nationally, broke up. In the years that followed, she played with a host of different musicians, including greats such as James Brown, B.B. King, and Ray Charles.

It was in 1995 when Music Maker first crossed paths with Beverly. She was playing one of her regular gigs in Underground Atlanta, an entertainment district built in the viaducts beneath the center of downtown. Beverly’s style was extraordinarily flashy, and one of her trademarks was playing her guitar behind her head. Soon after, Music Maker began working with this fierce Southern grandma, and got her touring and playing package shows, including a 1998 revue called Women of the Blues: “Hot Mamas.” A year later, we released her first solo album, “Back in Business.” When the great Taj Mahal heard Beverly he fell in love with her playing and took her on a 42-city tour with him. We’ll always remember Beverly “Guitar” Watkins’ flash, her sass, and her extraordinary guitar playing.

The late Beverly “Guitar” Watkins’ first live album, In Paris, will be released by Music Maker Foundation on March 18th. Atlanta’s Watkins, born in 1939, played with James Brown, B.B. King, and Ray Charles. The New York Times noted that she captivated crowds by “playing her electric guitar on her back and behind her head, sliding across the stage.

Ahead of that release, Glide is excited to premiere the funk workout “Do The Breakdown.” Watkins passed away in 2019 at the age of 80, but she stayed active into her later years. The tracks that make up In Paris were originally recorded in 2012 and capture Watkins in fine form as she lays down a supremely funky track. Ferocious vocals are matched by even more ferocious guitar playing, which exudes the kind of energy that would make Jame Brown smile. Backed by a horn section and a barrelhouse piano, Watkins jumps in a frenzy of guitar soloing at a couple points throughout the song to give it a certain level of unpredictability. This recording only reaffirms that Watkins was one of the best in the game. 

Tim Duffy of the Music Maker Foundation said, “Beverly grew up playing alongside all of the pioneering R&B acts when she joined Piano Red in 58. When she got on stage, it was no joke, guitar wizardry, crawling the stage, blistering solos, making everyone in the place jump, scream and shout.”


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