Larry Williams & Johnny Guitar Watson posing on what
may very well be the greatest soul LP cover of all time…
“Listen – Larry Williams and Johnny Guitar Watson – Two For the Price of One – MP3″
The middle of the week is here, and I’ve decided to drop something explosive on you. I would normally do this on a Friday, but sometimes you need that boost midway through the work week in order to get all the way to Friday.
I first heard Larry Williams and Johnny Guitar Watson’s ‘Two For the Price of One’ back in the mid-80s, when I was doing my first real digging for soul vinyl. One fine day at the Princeton Record Exchange – back when those word really meant something – I happened to turn up an OG copy of the Williams/Watson LP on Okeh, which immediately became a cornerstone of my newly minted soul collection*.
My man Johnny ‘Bluesman’ Rahmer – with whom I trod the boards in the Phantom Five – and I use to take the Guitar Watson and Williams parts in this tune respectively, and “recreate” this record every time we got together in the presence of alcoholic beverages. I won’t yank your chain and tell you that you “had to be there” (you didn’t, really…) but it was a hell of a lot of fun, as is the record itself.
Williams started his career in 1957 as one of the true rock’n’roll OGs (out of New Orleans no less), writing and performing a number of amazing records like ‘Dizzy Miss Lizzy’, ‘Bony Moronie’, ‘Slow Down’ and ‘Bad Boy’. If the names sound familiar it might be because:
a) The tunes are certifiable rock standards
b) A few short years later a young hood from Liverpool named John Lennon did his damndest to recreate Larry’s howl when he recorded these songs with a little garage band known as the Beatles.
He went down with a drug bust in 1960 and all but disappeared from the musical landscape.
Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson had recorded some prescient, raw blues guitar sides in the 50s (including the seminal ‘Gangster of Love’) for a number of labels, and spent a lot of time working as a sideman.
The early 60s come along and Larry and Johnny get a band together, and the magic started to happen*. They recorded a live album in the UK – with a group called the Stormsville Shakers – in 1965 (which was reissued by Edsel in the 80s) which included a tight version of “Mojo Hannah’, and several 45s for labels like Jola, Magnum and Decca before signing with Okeh in 1966.
The duo recorded the ‘Two For the Price of One’ LP in 1967, and it was a killer from start to finish. In addition to the positively storming title track, the LP included the original vocal version (which they wrote the lyrics for) of Cannonball Adderly and Joe Zawinul’s ‘Mercy Mercy Mercy’ (later ripped off by the Buckinghams) and the Northern Soul fave ‘Too Late’.
‘Two For the Price of One’ is – as previously stated – a veritable stick of dynamite with Williams and Watson batting the lead vocal back and forth like a hot potato, dropping all kinds of jive.
The arrangement is fast and furious, but the vocals are the highlight.
If the song wasn’t already a favorite, I’m sure it will be once you check it out.
*In the service of full disclosure, I should mention that my original ‘original’ copy of ‘Two For the Price of One’ was sold back to the Record Exchange (along with a ton of other amazing records) a few years later when I was in the grips of the original compact disc frenzy. I only re-purchased another copy (also OG) last year. As the audience of Funky16Corners is my witness, I promise never to do anything that stupid again.