Three years after her passing, Beverly “Guitar” Watkins’ first live album, In Paris, will be released by Music Maker Foundation on March 18. A rare touring female guitarist on the chitlin circuit – releasing her first solo album at 60 and playing Lincoln Center at 74 – Watkins 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. When she sang, it was often with a growl.”
She nicknamed her guitars Red Mama and Sugar Baby, releasing debut solo album Back In Business at the age of 60, earning a W.C. Handy Blues Award nomination, and opening a 42-date tour for Taj Mahal. Watkins plays harmonica on one track. The recording, made to a rapturous crowd in 2012, also features Albert White (Elvin Bishop, Clarence Carter, Ben E. King, Ray Charles, Joe Tex) on guitar, Eddie Tigner (leader of the Ink Spots) on organ and piano, and Lil Joe Burton (Tex, Bobby Womack, Otis Clay, B.B. King) on trombone. She pays tribute to Ray Charles here with a rendition of “What’d I Say.”
“This lady is a flat-out musician who can duke it out onstage with the best there is — man, woman, or child prodigy.” Mahal said. “I’m still feeling the effects, and have some great memories of touring the country and playing onstage with her.”
Premiering exclusively today is the slow-burning “Red Mama Blues,” named for the guitar with which Watkins dazzled the audience without fail. Of the storied singer-songwriter/guitarist, Tim Duffy of Music Maker Foundation tells ABS:
Beverly Guitar Watkins off stage appeared to be a proper church lady, but when she took the stage Beverly transformed, prowling the stage, chasing fiery blues guitar and stirring the crowd up into a frenzy.