J. T. Watkins

Daddy B. Nice's #108 ranked Southern Soul Artist



Portrait of J. T. Watkins by Daddy B. Nice
 



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"Watch Over Me"

J. T. Watkins

Composed by McKinley Mitchell


No one wanting to be introduced to Southern Soul in a modest, low-key, "real-thing" kind of way could do better than to check out J. T. Watkins. Like a fine burgandy, the Mississippian's deep but reedy tenor just gets better with age, embodying all of the emotional depth and technical power of the many vocal masters of the form.

Whether it's the gospel schooling that emanates through every stanza of "Watch Over Me" or the Sam Cooke-like delicacy woven through each bar of "Find Yourself Another Girl," Watkins' voice instantly disperses all doubters.

And yet, J. T. Watkins is little known, even within the world of Southern Soul. His albums have spanned the last two decades but have never appeared with the kind of regularity that would give momentum to a career and forge a brand.

One great album, I Can't Get Over You, stands astride the 90's and another great album, quite different-- Why Not Tonight Girl--dominates the 00's. Otherwise, despite a couple of subsidiary albums, Watkins' career has been a muted one.

In Watkins' biography (scroll down) I describe I Can't Get Over You as his "greatest" album, but it's only his best insofar as it fulfills two criteria of that praise. One: it was the album that established his name. Two: it was the album that contained his two finest songs, "Watch Over Me" and "Love To See You Smile."

"Love To See You Smile" brings out all of Watkins' natural charms. He's true blue, the kind of man a woman would love to have around the house.

These days most knowledgeable fans associate "Love To See You Smile" with Artie "Blues Boy" White, who recorded the song in 2004 with such dexterity many assume it originated with him.

But it was J. T. Watkins who first recorded the song in 1997 for the venerable Ace Records. Ace, Ichiban, Suzie Q, Konkord, Mardi Gras--these living-on-a-shoestring labels fed the Southern Soul "brook" that finally turned into a river with the publicity and renewed interest in the genre in the 21st century.

Most of those artists are overlooked to this day, none more so than J. T. Watkins. And it's within that context that, a decade after his first album, producer Harrison Calloway took on the project that stands as Watkins' other great disc, Why Not Tonight Girl.

After its two classics I Can't Get Over You drops off in quality, its blues tracks routine and a little quaint to today's ear. But in Why Not Tonight Girl, Watkins updates his sound.

Many of the songs are derivative (modeled on sixties' and early-seventies' classic soul), but as a whole the album has a more consistent texture than its decade-old predecessor. It's certainly more slick, and yet--thanks to Watkins' transparent and guileless goodness--never superficial.

"Why Not Tonight Girl" commences the album, and it's hard to imagine a more gospel-influenced number. Listening to it, however, makes you realize why most gospel-singing youths graduate to R&B. Broader canvas. There's also a strong strain of country-western in "Why Not Tonight's" Southern Soul.

"Back In Town" is the singer's homage to the King. That would be B. B. J. T.'s vocal weakens, though, on the prolonged notes made famous by Lucille.

"Your Love Is Like A Brick Wall" is a reworking of Jackie Wilson's "Your Love Is Taking Me Higher And Higher," and the more regularly-cadenced words bring J.T. back to his strength, a kind of root-bound lyricism.

"Find Yourself Another Girl" sounds like another vintage R&B knock-off. It's actually a lesser Jerry Butler/Curtis Mayfield song.

"I Need To See You's" tempo picks up substantially, and Watkins does well on what sounds like an uncomfortable framework. Gradually, as the song grows, the arrangement and mixing of Harrison Calloway comes to the fore, making it all work.

Although an imperfect song, "Where Did Our Love Go"--a truncated, stripped-down refashioning of Ronnie Lovejoy's "Sho' Wasn't Me"--is perhaps the most interesting.

Here Southern Soul's most seasoned and renowned producer outdoes himself. Listening to this song and the other tracks from Why Not Tonight, Girl in 2011, they sound even better than when they came out, five years ago.

And one's affection for the Jackson-style soul of the CD feeds off the background singing of Thomisene Anderson, one of those vaunted back-up singers on the Ronnie Lovejoy sessions of the nineties that produced "Sho' Wasn't Me" and so much other classic Southern Soul.

"Where Did Our Love Go" brings J. T. Watkins full-circle, back to the bedrock soul of "Watch Over Me," the 1997 single in which gospel, C-W, and urban soul mingle in classic Southern Soul. The headliner hit from Watkins' fabulous but overlooked debut album rises out of today's speakers like a phoenix--an audacious example of what southern rhythm and blues should sound like at its best.

Listening to "Where Did Our Love Go" and "Watch Over Me" in succession, in fact, is all you need to know about Southern Soul. Songs like "Watch Over Me," the only song Watkins ever recorded that has a killer guitar hook, make most other music sound downright silly.

--Daddy B. Nice


About J. T. Watkins

Mississippian J. T. Watkins recorded his first single, "Baby Let's Get Married," in 1991, but it was his second single, "Love To See You Smile," written by David Ervin and Kenny Pierce and recorded in 1992, that made Watkins' name on the regional chitlin' circuit. The tune was covered by Bobby "Blue" Bland in 1993 and again (most famously) by Artie "Blues Boy" White on his First Thing Tuesday Morning CD in 2004. (Chick Willis also did a cover in 2009.)

J. T. Watkins' first and greatest album, I Can't Get Over You, appeared on the prestigious Ace label in 1997. Along with the durable "Love To See You Smile," the album featured "Watch Over Me," a Southern Soul classic that quickly fell into oblivion just as the renewed interest in Southern Soul was beginning at century's end.

Five years later, A Tribute To Some Of The Greatest (2002), a compendium of mostly obscure blues tunes, appeared on Arrow Heart, a small indie label out of Jackson, Mississippi.

It was quickly followed by Father & Son Sing the Blues in Mississippi, (2003) along with J.T.'s son David. J.T. sang lead vocals on the collection, which included a rare and noteworthy cover of the McKinley Mitchell classic, "End Of The Rainbow." "Where Did Our Love Go," another song from the album, also gained fan interest.

In recognition of his contributions to the Southern Soul genre, Watkins was honored as "King Of R&B Blues" at the Jackson Music Awards in 2003.

Watkins' next album, Why Not Tonight Girl, recorded in 2007 (Arrow Heart), featured a new, contemporary sound.

Produced and arranged by producer Harrison Calloway (and with back-up vocals by Calloway and Thomisene Anderson), the album spawned a number of radio-friendly songs ("Where Did Our Love Go," "Your Love Is Like A Brick Wall," "I Need To See You," "Find Yourself Another Girl") and garnered a Daddy B. Nice citation for Best Airplay Breakthrough By An Aspiring (But Not New) Southern Soul Artist in 2007.

Tramp, a single w/ Tina Diamond, appeared on the Bluesman label in 2009. The song covered an Otis Redding & Carla Thomas original with a sophisticated arrangement, again by Harrison Calloway.

J. T. Watkins was featured in the well-known Robert Mugge documentary, "Last Of The Mississippi Jukes." He still resides in the Jackson, Mississippi area.

J. T. Watkins Discography

I Can't Get Over You (Ace, 1997)

A Tribute To Some Of The Greatest (Arrow Heart, 2002)

Father & Son Sing the Blues in Mississippi (Arrow Heart, 2003)

Why Not Tonight Girl (Arrow Heart, 2007)

Tramp (Single w/ Tina Diamond, Bluesman 2009)


Song's Transcendent Moment

"I want you for myself.
Don't want to share you
With no one else.

That's my ideal,
My love is real.
Watch over me.


Tidbits

1.

June 26, 2011:

Read a blog about J.T. Watkins' and Tina Diamond's 2007 cover of Otis Redding's and Carla Thomas's "Tramp."

2.

June 26, 2011:

J. T. Watkins' "Watch Over Me" was featured in one of the best and increasingly rare Ace compilations.

Gold Tapes From The Ace Vault (only one copy available at posting time)

Gold Tapes From The Ace Vault (with full track-listings)


If You Liked. . . You'll Love

If you liked Arthur Adam's "The Long Haul" (w/ B. B. King), you'll love J. T. Watkins' "Watch Over Me."


EDITOR'S NOTE

Over the last year I've been dropping hints to the younger musicians.

"Be watching because there's going to be something coming on the site that'll be a real blessing for the younger people."

And I've also been telling a lot of deserving new artists to bide their time, that their day to be featured in a Daddy B. Nice Artist Guide was coming, and long overdue.

Now, at last, the day has come.

The great Southern Soul stars are mostly gone. There's a new generation clamoring to be heard.

Rather than waiting years to go online as I did with the original Top 100, this chart will be a work-in-progress.

Each month five new and never-before-featured artists will be showcased, starting at #100 and counting down to #1.

I estimate 50-75 new Artist Guides will be created by the time I finish. The other 25-50 Guides will feature artists from the old chart who are holding their own or scaling the peaks in the 21st Century.

Absent will be the masters who have wandered off to Soul Heaven. And missing will be the older artists who for one reason or another have slowed down, become inactive or left the scene.

The older generation's contributions to Southern Soul music, however, will not be forgotten.

That is why it was so important to your Daddy B. Nice to maintain the integrity of the original Top 100 and not continue updating it indefinitely.

(Daddy B. Nice's original Top 100 Southern Soul covered the period from 1990-2010. Daddy B. Nice's new 21st Century Southern Soul will cover the period from 2000-2020.)

When I constructed the first chart, I wanted to preserve a piece of musical history. I heard a cultural phenomenon I was afraid might be lost forever unless I wrote about it.

There will be no more changes to the original chart. Those performers' place in Southern Soul music will stand.

But I see a new scene today, a scene just as starved for publicity and definition, a scene missing only a mirror to reflect back its reality.

The prospect of a grueling schedule of five new artist pages a month will be daunting, and I hope readers will bear with me as I gradually fill out what may seem at first inadequate Artist Guides.

Information from readers will always be welcome. That's how I learn. That's how I add to the data.

I'm excited to get started. I have been thinking about this for a long time. I've already done the bulk of the drawings.

In a funny way, the most rewarding thing has been getting back to doing the drawings, and imagining what recording artists are going to feel like when they see their mugs in a black and white cartoon. Hopefully----high! An artist hasn't really "made it" until he or she's been caricatured by Daddy B. Nice.

In the beginning months, the suspense will be in what new stars make the chart. In the final months, the suspense will be in who amongst the big dogs and the new stars is in the top twenty, the top ten, and finally. . . the top spot.

I'm not tellin'.

Not yet.

--Daddy B. Nice

Go to Top 100 Countdown: 21st Century Southern Soul


Honorary "B" Side

"Love To See You Smile"



5 Stars 5 Stars 5 Stars 5 Stars 5 Stars 
Sample or Buy Watch Over Me by J. T.  Watkins
Watch Over Me


CD: I Can't Get Over You
Label: Ace

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I Can't Get Over You (Track 5)


5 Stars 5 Stars 5 Stars 5 Stars 5 Stars 
Sample or Buy Love To See You Smile by J. T.  Watkins
Love To See You Smile


CD: I Can't Get Over You
Label: Ace

Sample or Buy
I Can't Get Over You (Track 9)


4 Stars 4 Stars 4 Stars 4 Stars 
Sample or Buy I Can't Get Over You by J. T.  Watkins
I Can't Get Over You


CD: I Can't Get Over You
Label: Ace

Sample or Buy
I Can't Get Over You (Track 3)


4 Stars 4 Stars 4 Stars 4 Stars 
Sample or Buy I Need To See You by J. T.  Watkins
I Need To See You


CD: Why Not Tonight Girl
Label: Arrow Heart

Sample or Buy
Why Not Tonight Girl


4 Stars 4 Stars 4 Stars 4 Stars 
Sample or Buy Tramp (w/ Tina Diamond) by J. T.  Watkins
Tramp (w/ Tina Diamond)


CD: Tramp (Single w/ Tina Diamond)
Label: Bluesman

Sample or Buy
Tramp


4 Stars 4 Stars 4 Stars 4 Stars 
Sample or Buy Where Did Our Love Go by J. T.  Watkins
Where Did Our Love Go


CD: Father & Son Sing the Blues in Mississippi
Label: Arrow Heart

Sample or Buy
Father & Son Sing the Blues in Mississippi (Track 1)


3 Stars 3 Stars 3 Stars 
Sample or Buy Back In Town Again by J. T.  Watkins
Back In Town Again


CD: Why Not Tonight Girl
Label: Arrow Heart

Sample or Buy
Why Not Tonight Girl


3 Stars 3 Stars 3 Stars 
Sample or Buy Find Yourself Another Girl by J. T.  Watkins
Find Yourself Another Girl


CD: Why Not Tonight Girl
Label: Arrow Heart

Sample or Buy
Why Not Tonight Girl


3 Stars 3 Stars 3 Stars 
Sample or Buy Your Love Is Like A Brick Wall by J. T.  Watkins
Your Love Is Like A Brick Wall


CD: Why Not Tonight Girl
Label: Arrow Heart

Sample or Buy
Why Not Tonight Girl


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