Blues Calendar Blues: Beverly "Guitar" Watkins

I gotta hit the Blues Calendar Blues a day early this month because I’m going tomorrow to Arizona. Work stuff that I hope manages to keep me out of the 100-plus degree temperatures I'm seeing there.

This month’s featured artist is Beverly “Guitar” Watkins. Watkins is another of those artists about whom I knew nothing before she turned up on my calendar. I learned, though, not only is she highly regarded within the blues community, she’s considered somewhat unique as an African-American female blues guitarist.

Blues writer Sandra Pointer-Jones: “Beverly Watkins is a pyrotechnic guitar maven whose searing, ballistic attacks on the guitar have become allegorical tales within the blues community.”

From the calendar:
Born in Atlanta, Beverly Watkins (b. 1940) was raised by female relatives who loved swing music. A group of aunts, known professionally as the Hayes Quartet, collaborated with a banjo-playing uncle during holidays to put on a frolic, and she recalls strumming her guitar along with her grandmother’s gramophone at the age of eight. In high school she played bass in a band that gigged in small towns near Atlanta. Later she joined a band that took the name Dr. Feelgood, the Interns, and the Nurse: to her distress this obliged her to don a white cap. After playing guitar in many bands led by men, Watkins now leads her own band, with her son on bass. She describes herself as a versatile musician, but it’s clear she has a special fondness for “real Lightnin’ Hopkins lowdown blues.
The American Blues-Music Maker Relief Foundation has a Beverly Watkins page, with excerpts from a 1999 interview. In addition to talking about her life and career, she sort of summarizes how she got to where she is. “The older I get, the more seasoned I get,” she says. “People [are impressed] to see a black woman, what I'm sayin', handle a guitar. To see a black woman play like a man. But that came from, I had back-ups when I was young. I had older peoples to stay on my butt. My dad taught me you gotta learn how to meet the public. And you got to have patience.”

Watkins is still out there, working steadily. She played the Main Stage at the Ottawa Blues Fest in 2004, and continues to play around Atlanta. She was temporarily sidelined by surgery in 2005, but reportedly is recovered and seeking bookings.

Today’s music comes from Beverly “Guitar” Watkin’s 1999 album Back in Business. This album, considered one of her best, earned her a W.C. Handy Award nomination.

Red Mama Blues.mp3
Too Many Times.mp3
Back in Business.mp3



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