Johnny "Guitar" Watson's early career has been anthologized many times, but between his short tenures at any given label and tendency to recut the same songs for a new label, it can be difficult to make sense of. Most of these collections focus on one label to the exclusion of others (probably licensing issues), so it's tough to find a single disc that tells the whole story. Classics' 1952-1955 doesn't actually accomplish this, but it's pretty darn close. Watson began as a piano player, and the first three tracks feature him singing and playing piano with Chuck Higgins & His Mellotones in 1952. Then it's on to his Federal sides, which still feature him playing piano as Young John Watson. "Sad Fool" has great vocals and "I Got Eyes" has some hot piano work. He started playing a bit of guitar also in 1953, and by 1954 it was his main instrument. It was in February of 1954 that he recorded the amazing instrumental "Space Guitar," and electric guitar playing entered a new era. He also cuts loose on the solo on "Hot Little Mama," which began his stint at RPM starting in 1955. There has never been a more encompassing overview of Watson's early-'50s material (Rhino's Very Best of Johnny "Guitar" Watson reaches into the 60's). The RPM sessions are usually gathered together, and the Federal material has been paired with King sessions from the '60s (Federal was a subsidiary of King), as on Space Guitar. 1952-1955 collects from both those vital early sessions with the added bonus of his performances with Chuck Higgins. If this album contained "Three Hours Past Midnight" (also recorded in 1955), this collection would be the one to get. As it is, if you don't want to pop for both Space Guitar and one of the RPM comps (The Essential Johnny Guitar Watson, The Best of the Modern Years, or 3 Hours Past Midnight), this is probably the one to get anyway. This is one of the rare compilations that appeals to the completist or the novice. It isn't just an important chapter in '50s blues, it's hot stuff.
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AllMusic Review by Sean Westergaard