John's first (John Peel supported) Fischer-Z album Word Salad was released in 1979. There were TV appearances on The Old Grey Whistle Test and a ‘Top of the Pops' The second album, Going Deaf for a Living (1980), included ‘So Long', his first chart hit right across Europe and in Australia. The band toured Europe and North America with artists such as Bob Marley and Dire Straits. European success increased exponentially with Red Skies Over Paradise (1981). "an appraisal of Cold War Europe", which established John as a "commentator in song" on world events. Watts split up Fischer-Z in summer 1981.
His first solo album One More Twist was released in 1982. He then surprised EMI by recording the highly experimental The Iceberg Model (1983). He also produced an album for exiled Zulu artist Busi Mhlongo. Then Quick Quick Slow appeared (1984), which was his first album to emphasize crucial groove elements. (Produced by Jimmy Douglass)
The Reveal album (1988) included the big single success, ‘The Perfect Day'. Fish's Head, arrived a year later (1989). This included the ‘Say No' single, with a politically charged black & white Nick Brandt promo clip. During this period Watts performed to 167,000 people at a Peace Festival in East Berlin alongside artists like James Brown.
He produced the Destination Paradise album (1992). He confronted attitudes to fascist politicians Haider and Schoenhuber live on the nationwide Gottschalk chat show in Germany (audience 15 million). Then Kamikaze Shirt spawned the single ‘Human Beings' - an indictment of the low value of human life in the third world. ‘Protection', the first single from his next album Stream (1995), also illuminated dark areas of human exploitation.
Guitar rich Thirteen Stories High (1997). includes tunes like ‘Angel of Gardenia', still very popular live. Watts toured the album solo. This led to a series of interesting new contacts and a collaboration with DJ Alex Gifford of the Propellerheads.
Bigbeatpoetry (1999) and the Spiritual Headcase Remixes (2000) signalled a much more radical approach; combining poetry, prose and song lyrics with trip hop collages. Another track, ‘Walking the Doberman' has become a cult club classic.
With Ether Music & Film (2002), adding a filmic dimension, he travelled Europe and post 9/11 NYC ‘finding' random musicians and recording them on his laptop in their homes or even in the street. Sarah Vermeersch filmed the process and edited the footage into a road movie. Real Life Is Good Enough (2004), was accompanied by a 60-page book of related poetry and short stories. It Has to Be (2006) followed as a sequel.
His new solo release Morethanmusic reinforces his reputation as "an artist in music and words." Instead of releasing singles, Watts made exhibitions of artefacts and wrote customized songs. He also made a short film for each track. He worked with Ray Charles' producer Steve Forward and some remarkable classical musicians. He's just re-recorded an album of his Fischer-Z tunes with his current young band.