Eric Johnson

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"Revolutionary", "multifaceted", "on the edge", "evolving", these words have all been used in attempts to define Eric Johnson. They touch on that part of his talent that makes him so valuable to us as an artist; the consistent self-inventing aspect of his nature that makes each and every one of his albums so eagerly anticipated by musicians and the public alike. Johnson can always be counted on to push the cutting-edge of contemporary musicianship deeper into the cosmos.

It is this challenge that brings him to his most current project, Vortexan Session, which finds Johnson teaming up with world renowned drummer Jerry Marotta and bassist/touch guitarist Trey Gunn. Gunn, who has been a member of King Crimson since 1994, also plays in his own Trey Gunn Band and has recorded with John Paul Jones, California Guitar Trio, and Toni Childs, among others. Marotta, who is also a producer, has recorded and toured with Peter Gabriel, Paul McCartney, Elvis Costello, The Indigo Girls, Tears For Fears, Hall and Oates, and Joan Armatrading, to name only a few. This expansion of Johnson's musical horizon is a consistent pattern in his history: "I like to see the future not from what the past looked like, but from what I see ahead of me."

It was in the 70's, in Austin, Texas, that a young Eric Johnson was revealed. He was guitar player in a band called Mariani and his unusual, ardent talent immediately caught the attention of other musicians. "When I heard Eric," Johnny Winter recalls, "he was only 16, and I remember wishing that I could have played like that at that age." At 21, he was a member of the legendary Electromagnets. Their intense instrumental jams and explosive live shows earned them a rabid cult following and set Johnson's place in the constellation of great guitarists. "Eric Johnson is amazing," recounted Jeff "Skunk" Baxter, "this might sound silly, but if Jimi Hendrix had gone on to study with Howard Roberts for about eight years, you'd have what this kid strikes me as."

Post-Electromagnets, Johnson began to expand on his talents as a songwriter and singer within the Eric Johnson Group and much later, Avenue. It was during this time that he recorded his first album, Seven Worlds, which finally saw the light of day when it was released 1999. He also stretched out on the road with Carole King, and recorded with Cat Stevens and on Christopher Cross' popular debut album.

All the while Johnson's underground reputation as one of the most intuitive and technically brilliant guitarists in the world continued to grow. Austin City Limits showcased his performance in 1985, the first of three appearances. Guitar stores were known to have "EJ" shrines. But being a fan was still like membership in a mystic society, his name a special password among the select few. His peers, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Steve Morse, and Pat Metheny (who, along with Johnson, were all born within the same four-month period), were already realizing world wide exposure through recording contracts. But Johnson remained a darling of the underground, expanding his eclectic style and perfecting that violin tone in tightly packed clubs. His first Guitar Player cover story came out just before his debut album was released. It was appropriately titled "Who Is Eric Johnson And Why Is He On Our Cover?"

When Johnson's first album, the Grammy-nominated Tones, came out in 1986, serious recognition arrived. Then success kicked the door down in 1990, when the certified gold, Grammy-winning Ah Via Musicom was released. "Ah Via Musicom is an artistic triumph," enthused Guitar Player, "as powerful a statement for Eric Johnson as Electric Ladyland was for Jimi Hendrix." This record gave Johnson the unique honor of becoming the first artist to have three instrumentals from the same album chart in the Top 10 in any format. "Cliffs of Dover", Grammy winner for Best Rock Instrumental, also became the first instrumental to break into the Top Five on Radio & Records "AOR Tracks" and Billboard's "Rock Tracks" since those charts were created.

Johnson's promise had arrived. He nabbed the "Best Overall" guitarist award from Guitar Player for four years straight; the fifth year he was inducted into their "Gallery of Greats". Musician Magazine listed him among the "100 Greatest Guitarists of the 20th Century"; and again and again readers of entertainment weekly the Austin Chronicle voted Johnson the city's "Best Electric Guitarist" and "Best Acoustic Guitarist" in the yearly poll. Their year 2000 poll named him "Electric Guitarist of the Decade" and one of the top five "Musicians of the Decade".

Nearly three years of touring followed Ah Via Musicom. Johnson then set to work on his next studio recording, Venus Isle, but also took time off for side projects. He toured with one of his childhood heroes, B.B. King; guested on recordings by Chet Atkins and Dweezil Zappa, and gigged around Austin as a member of Alien Love Child, a blues project that he began with former Electromagnet's drummer Bill Maddox and bassist Chris Maresh. Created as an outlet to blow off steam during the Venus Isle recording sessions, the band is still going strong and expects to release their first album this year.

Johnson's latest studio recording Venus Isle, with the popular single "S.R.V.", a tribute to the late Stevie Ray Vaughan, was released in 1996. Evenly split between vocal and instrumental songs, it demonstrates the refinement of Johnson's vocal style. His developing virtuosity as a keyboardist and producer is also evident in this collection. He described the album as "kind of spiritual, kind of romantic. I was trying to have fewer arrows pointing at me in the performance and more pointing at some intangible emotive feelings."

Not long after the release of Venus Isle, Johnson proved he could shred with the best of them when he went on the road and recorded with guitar gurus Joe Satriani and Steve Vai for the hugely successful G3 Tour. He also contributed the song "The First Nowell" to Steve Vai's project Merry Axemas: A Guitar Christmas Album.

Now, as Johnson moves into the new millenium, the ever-evolving musician is expanding his creative options even more. Not only does this year find him on the road with the Vortexan Session, but he is also on the verge of releasing two new albums. The first will be a live recording compiled from Alien Love Child club dates. The second is a new studio recording he says is "a few songs away" from completion. When the albums are released, you can be sure of one thing: whatever direction the music is coming from, whatever kind of ethereal current Johnson has sent swirling through his songs, they will all be moving forward.

Written by Susan Griswold, courtesy of EricJohnson.com.
CDs
Bloom (2005)
Alien Love Child: Live And Beyond (2000)
Seven Worlds (1998)
Venus Isle (1996)
Ah Via Musicom (1990)
Videos
Total Electric Guitar

Related Eric Johnson Resources

  1. Eric Johnson Guitar School by Jeff Perrin (4.5 Stars · 2 Reviews)
    An exploration of his music, featuring transcriptions and lessons from Tones and Ah Via Musicom
    Books/Tab: Rock/Pop · 5725 Hits · Posted on 6/2/2000 by WholeNote
  2. Eric Johnson Website (3.0 Stars · 1 Review)
    One of several sites devoted to the guitarist Eric Johnson
    URL: http://www.inetport.com/~jdekan/eric/begin.html
    Musicians: Musician Websites · 4603 Hits · Posted on 7/1/1999 by Inactive Member

  3. The Eric Johnson Web Site (5.0 Stars · 1 Review)
    Official Eric Johnson website with articles, interviews, discography, photos, MP3s, and more.
    URL: http://www.ericjohnson.com/
    Musicians: Musician Websites · 4936 Hits · Posted on 6/2/2000 by WholeNote

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Aug 23 2012

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Jul 9 2012

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