"Papa Was A Rolling Stone" by the Temptations, Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get It On", "Smiling Faces" by The Undisputed Truth, Quincy Jones' "Body Heat", Herbie Hancock's Man-Child album, Off The Wall by Michael Jackson, Rose Royce's Car Wash, Maxwell's Urban Hang Suite, Now....
Aside from being among the greatest soul/funk/pop classics of our time, those and scores more smash hits of the last two decades share another major distinction; all feature the signature riffs, licks and grooves of legendary session guitarist, writer, producer and artist Wah Wah Watson.
A behind-the-scenes pioneer of the '70s soul/funk, Watson was a key player in the era's Motown Sound and has contributed guitar and/or writing and production to literally hundreds of singles and albums between then and now. Together, those recordings have sold an estimated 100 million copies around the world.
His first major record date was with renowned Motown producer Norman Whitfield, who called the 20-year-old axe ace in to play on Edwin Starr's "Stop the War Now", released by Motown in spring of 1971.
Then came sessions with The Four Tops, Martha Reeves, The Supremes and dozens more. Watson, meanwhile, had also begun what turned out to be a lengthy residency with the famed 12-piece Motown band led by Hamilton Bohannon. That's where he really started developing his signature technique, and picked up his nickname.
By then, Watson was knee-deep in just about everything Motown was releasing, recording with The Jackson5, The Supremes, The Temptations, Jr. Walker & The All Stars, The Four Tops, Gladys Knight & The Pips and scores more. Ranging from tough and funky to smooth as silk, Wah Wah's guitar sounds soon became an integral part of the '70s Motown mix, and the sound of '70s soul/funk/R&B in general.
He worked with all the hit producers at Motown, including Holland-Dozier-Holland, Frank Wilson and Johnny Bristol, but the person who had the biggest influence was Norman Whitfield. It was Whitfield, of course, who produced the Temps' "Papa Was A Rolling Stone", the 1972 soul and pop smash which prominently featured Watson's signature chugging, funky, wild wah-wah groove.
After Motown completed its big move West in 1973, Wah Wah, called by Norman Whitfield, was flown from Detroit to the Coast to play guitar on Rare Earth's Ma album. Planning on a four-day stay in L.A., Watson hasn't left yet -- two decades later, and counting. Within weeks Watson had plugged himself completely into L.A. studio scene.
Watson met Herbie Hancock when the two played on Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get It On" session in 1973. Herbie called Wah Wah to work with him on Death Wish, and that was the beginning of their long relationship.
Death Wish thus became and began what's stretched into two decades of collaborations with Hancock. Watson went on to co-write and co-produce several of Hancock's classic albums, including Man-Child (1975), Secrets (1976), V.S.O.P. (1977), Feets Don't Fail Me Now (1979) and Mr. Hands (1980).
Between sessions, he kept his onstage chops razor-sharp by playing major tours with a wide range of pop, soul and jazz superstars. Most memorable was in the summer of 1983, he toured with the late Marvin Gaye. The Midnight Love Tour unfortunately was Marvin's last tour.
Wah Wah's other passion is to teach and pass down his knowledge of music to the younger generation. He, along with Herbie Hancock, Joshua Redmond and Clark Terry performed for the Theoloneus Monk Institute/Jazz in the Classroom Program. He also has performed for the students in the Los Angeles Unified School System sponsored Jazz Mentorship Program.
Watson continues to work on several projects; one, an ambitious studio project of his own, writing and producing an album which so far has involved the talents of more than 30 top musicians, and another, a Wah Wah Funk & Groove project. His latest accomplishment is a project filled with music enjoyable by people of all ages, entitled After the Fact.
In October 2003, he was honored by the Motown Historical Museum's tribute to "THE MAN OF MOTOWN" in Detroit.