J. T. Watkins
Daddy B. Nice's #108 ranked Southern Soul Artist
"Watch Over Me"
J. T. Watkins
Composed by McKinley Mitchell
Reprinted from Daddy B. Nice's Mailbag
Correction: J.T. Watkins (Artist Guide) Song, “Love To See You Smile"The Song was originally recorded by Bobby Blue Bland in 1978. Nineteen years before J .T. Watkins made it.
(See) Bobby "Blue" Bland's "Love To See You Smile"
Daddy B. Nice replies:
(I had written...)
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.
I had flat-out forgotten about Bobby "Blue" Bland's original recording. Thank you, Peter, as always, for keeping me honest.
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.)
Song's Transcendent Moment
"I want you for myself.
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."
Honorary "B" Side
"Love To See You Smile"
All material--written or visual--on this website is copyrighted and the exclusive property of SouthernSoulRnB.com, LLC. Any use or reproduction of the material outside the website is strictly forbidden, unless expressly authorized by SouthernSoulRnB.com. (Material up to 300 words may be quoted without permission if "Daddy B. Nice's Southern Soul RnB.com" is listed as the source and a link to http://www.southernsoulrnb.com/ is provided.)