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  • Eric Johnson

    October 11, 2018

    Walker Theatre – Chattanooga, TN

     

    ericjohnsonchattanooga2018001Photo by Randy Patterson

    Let me start off by saying that, if you ever have the chance to see Eric Johnson in concert, DO!

    This guy is un-friggin’-believable on the guitar. Of course, I already knew that by being familiar with his recorded work, but this was the first time I caught the guitar virtuoso live in concert. 

    Wow. Just wow!

    Counting the encore (fans wanted a second one but Johnson spent himself completely, pouring out his best during the whole show), Eric gave fans twenty-five song gems to put into their treasure chest of musical memories.

    The first half of the show was comprised of a collection of twelve tunes from past EJ projects as well as from an upcoming acoustic album that he will be releasing in the future.

    The second half of the show featured performing his landmark album, Ah Via Musicom, with the original band (which also performed with him during the first set).  Of course, Johnson’s serving of his signature tune, Cliffs of Dover, brought the house down, leaving the crowd blissfully spent but anxiously awaiting how the rest of the album was going to be performed live.

    We were not disappointed.

    For his encore, Eric and the band performed Zap. 

    Amazing. Absolutley amazing.

    You can catch our interview (our second, actually) with Eric,here, and you can keep up with him at his website, EricJohnson.com.

  • Posted July, 2014

     

    Eric Johnson02aPhoto by Max CraceEric Johnson.  Serious music buffs and guitar aficionados are well aware of this guitar legend.  For those of you who haven’theard of him, I’ll give you the “Reader’s Digest” version of his story:

    Raised in a musical family, Eric began picking up the guitar at the tender age of eleven. By the time he turned fifteen, he was playing professionally in a psychedelic rock band called “Mariani”.  In the following years, Johnson made a name for himself as a solo artist as well as an in-demand session guitarist for such huge names as Carole King, Cat Stevens and Christopher Cross. Aspiring guitarists would kill to just be able to play his mistakes. Others will wind up selling their gear and buy his records.

    The Texas and current Austin-area native and current resident is probably best known for his songs “Cliffs of Dover,” “Manhattan,” and “Trademark”.  A musician’s musician, Eric has commanded the respect of fellow guitar masters from Johnny Winter to Steve Vai.  He has just released his eleventh solo album – a live disc (his third) entitled, “Europe Live” – arguably his best yet.

    I was recently given the golden opportunity to chat with Eric.  When the guitar phenom called me, he was in the middle of ordering a drink from a local smoothie joint near his home.  Warm, friendly, and engaging, I knew that I was in for a great chat with this guitar great.

    I started off with small talk, mentioning that I saw him at the Dallas International Guitar Festival in 2011 or 2012 where he treated an enthusiastic crowd to a show full of Hendrix covers performed to perfection. I then mentioned a mutual friend of ours,Andy Timmons, to which Johnson exclaimed, “Sure! Mike Stern and I are doing a record together and just finished the record. We’re mixing it right now but we played a show in Dallas about three weeks ago and Andy came out and sat in with us.”

    I focused my first questions to Eric around, “Europe Live,” asking him why he chose Europe to record live this time.Eric Johnson01 Photograph by Max Crace 2013 All rights reserved reducedPhoto by Max Crace

    “When we did that tour out there, it was kind of an afterthought to record it. We were already in Europe working with Mascot Records and they said, ‘Hey, do you want to record some of these shows?’ And we thought, ‘Sure! Why not?’ So we just recorded them on the cuff – didn’t really know what we were going to do with tapes. On the live record, I don’t really talk that much. I just kinda go, ‘Thank you! Here’s our next song we’re gonna do . . . ‘ I wasn’t really thinking, ‘Oh! I’m doing a live record!’ That wasn’t even the plan. When I got home and listened to the tapes, I go, ‘You know? We oughta make something of this.’”

    When I asked Johnson how the European crowds compare to fans in other parts of the world, his answer was enthusiastic.

    “I think they’re wonderful! I think they’re very attentive. They might be a little quieter but they’re definitely appreciative! I think, maybe, the German crowds are a little bit more subdued sometimes but, at the end of the night when you finish the set, if you do a decent job, they seem to like it. I think the French people are a little more courteous, I guess. You don’t get a lot of riff raff or as much craziness. They’re a little bit more considerate.”

    “Europe Live” spans Eric Johnson’s entire career as an artist.  Of the fourteen songs on this album, only four have been on the other two live albums.  I asked him what drove the set list and what does he hope fans will derive from this album as compared to the other two live albums.

    “When I did the ‘Alien Love Child’ record, it was all music written for that record live so it was kinda proprietary music for that. This was, essentially, an afterthought. We were just doing a collage of music from over the years. We just picked most of the stuff out of the set. There was a couple of songs that I didn’t play well or there was something wrong with the microphones or something so we didn’t include them. That’s pretty much the whole thing we did. I think it just happened to be what we were playing at the time and so we just put it out.”

    A seasoned artist like Johnson have a deep and rich catalog of music to draw from, with fans often demanding that certain songs to be performed each and every time. It’s often a challenge for artists to keep their earlier work fresh while repeatedly performing them. I asked Eric if the early songs have a different feel and meaning for him now as he performs them today than they did in the beginning.

    “I think it happens naturally because you’ve played it so many times. The one saving grace, though, is that there’s so much room for improvisation in the songs we do – there’s a fast section where we can just kinda make up stuff in the moment so it changes all the time. So that part of it’s gonna be different even though I’ve played it for many years. But, other than that, yeah, I pretty much hafta play it as I have been playin’ it. You have to work at it to make it work for you but it’s doable.”

    I asked Johnson to pick a “calling card” song that he feels would be the best “advertisement” for the album. 

    “Well, you know, I liked the way ‘Manhattan’ turned out on it. That one turned out pretty good. I enjoy that one a whole lot. I like playing ‘Mr. PC’. That one’s fun.”

    I complimented Johnson on how he fuses jazz with rock. He laughed and said, “Yeah, it’s my identity crisis!"

    With so many years of touring under his belt, I wondered how has touring changed for the guitarist these days as compared to the beginning of his career?

    “I love being home but I love touring. I’m good for a month out there before I start getting ready to go home. But I love it! It’s a lot of fun for me. I think having the opportunity to play for people – it’s a blessing to be able to do that, so I enjoy it.”

    As I mentioned at the beginning of this piece, Eric Johnson has worked for or with a wide range of top talent.  I asked if there was anyone he hasn’t worked with that he would like to.

    “I’d love to work with Jeff Beck someday . . . Stevie Wonder. There are a million people I’d love to maybe work with. Yeah! Those two I’d love to work with! I’m getting to work with Mike Stern now. That’s a real dream come true.”

    Eric Johnson03 Photograph by Max Crace 2013 All rights reserved reducedPhoto by Max CraceTo the question as to how many guitars he owns and what he considers to be the “holy grail” of guitars, Johnson responded, “You know, I own about half as many as I used to. I used to have a bunch of guitars. I only have about seventeen or eighteen now.  I’ve kind of thinned it all out and just kept the ones that I enjoy playing. I don’t really collect stuff that I don’t play anymore so I’ve kinda gotten rid of those. I just like the old Strats and the old Gibsons and the old Martins – just like any other person on the planet – the good stuff! Ha! Ha!

    “But, a holy grail?  I have an old ‘50’s Strat - which I like that a lot. That’s kind of one of the nice ones to have today.”

    When he mentioned that Strat, I mentioned that James Burton told me when I interviewed him that he still had the first Fender he ever owned that his mom had bought for him. Dropping that name got us off on a little lovefest about Burton with me concluding that I would love to see Burton and Johnson play together.

    “Well, you know, I’ve played at his festival that he does. In fact, I just got a text from a friend of mine who was talking to him and he wanted me to come out there in August so might be doing that again this August. I’m not sure.”

    What does the next year and five years look like for Eric Johnson?

    “Well, we’ve got the tour in August and we’ve got the (Experience) Hendrix tour in September again. That actually starts in Eric Johnson02 Photograph by Max Crace 2013 All rights reserved reducedPhoto by Max CraceFlorida and goes all the way to San Francisco. In November, Mike (Stern) and I are gonna do the Mike Stern/E.J. tour for a few weeks. That’s the East Coast. Then Mike and I are doing the West Coast in January and February. Between now and then, I’m working on an acoustic record. It’s something that I’ve wanted to do for years and have just been busy and never got around to it. I want to try to finish it up.”

    My final question to this guitar great was: After you’ve played your last gig and gone on to the great gig in the sky, what do you hope your legacy is and how do you want to be remembered?

    “Good question! I just hope that I made people smile a little bit – just made people feel good. You know, life’s tough. We all have to get whittled down and go through challenges – ups and downs. I’d like to be in the camp of just trying to make somebody happy for a second or two. That’s my philosophy. That’s why I like to see movies that I can lose myself in and they make me wider or bigger or taller instead of going to a movie that stresses me out or depresses me. I’m like, ‘That can happen in normal life!’”

    Keep up with the latest in Eric Johnson’s career at the following two websites:

    EricJohnson.com        Facebook        Experience Hendrix 

  • Posted October 2018

    Eric Johnson 001b Credit Max GracePhoto by Max Grace

    Guitar aficionados are all too aware of guitar maestro, Eric Johnson. His 1990 release Ah Via Musicom, which was certified platinum plus and launched Eric's signature hit "Cliffs Of Dover," won the Grammy for Best Rock Instrumental Performance and made him a much envied and mimicked guitarist.

    Johnson and his band will be performing at the historic Bijou Theatre on October 10th and promises to be an incredible evening of amazing guitar mastery. 

     I called Eric at his Texas home and asked about what his current tour and show will be like for Knoxville. Since it had been four years since we last spoke I asked him what been going on in his life since then.

    “Just makin’ records and just having fun playing. Just enjoyin’ life!”

    This tour is a bit different for Johnson because he’s pretty much performing all the songs from his landmark album, Ah Via Musicom, from beginning to end. I asked why he’s approaching his music from the album from this angle on the road and why now.

    “This is a retrospective thing with the original members of the Ah Via Musicom record – Tommy Taylor (drums) and Kyle Brock. We did almost a three-month tour about six months ago and it went really well so we decided to do a second leg to try to go to all the places that we didn’t get a chance to go to on the first run.”

    When asked when he last played the Knoxville area, Johnson said, “You know, it’s been years. We’ve played Nashville, Memphis. We haven’t been to Knoxville in quite a while. Probably been ten years.”

    I asked if Eric was going completely acoustic or going full-blown electric for this leg of the tour.EverythingKnoxvilleLogoEdited

    “I might do a few acoustic things but it’s with the bass player and drummer, originally, that I played with on the Ah Via Musicom record. Basically, I’ll do like a short set of just whatever to start the evening and then take a quick break and come back and play the whole Ah Via Musicom record from start to finish for the second set.”

    With many other artists choosing to tour with a full start to finish performance of their legacy albums, I asked Johnson why he thinks that “revisiting” is so popular today.

    “I know, in our case, it was one of our most popular – probably THE most popular record that I ever made. We just polled the fans about a year ago and said, ‘Hey, we’re going to do some more touring. What are some of the different options you would like to see?’ And they said, ‘We’d love to see you come by and play one of your more favorite records start to finish.’ That was an opportunity for Tommy, Kyle, and I – original members – to say, ‘Hey! Why don’t we play together, again, after all these years?’ So, it was responding to what some of the people on the website said they would like to see. I was aware that other bands were doing it and I’d never done that before. It’s just a different theme for a tour. I thought it would be a cool thing to do and people were chiming in that they would like to see that. It kind of got us on that start. It went really well. I think it’s just people identify with certain with whatever you most famous records were.”

    As for what it was like for Eric, Tommy, and Kyle to get back together and play again; whether it was different; did it breed a new feeling and interpretation for the album, Eric said:

    “There’s a lot of improvisation with most stuff I do – especially the electric stuff. So, there’s a lot of room for improvisation that will be a little bit different than it originally was. But the main frame of the theme once we got together was, like, immediately, there was a chemistry that we had originally. I think certain people have certain chemistry and they’re able to do certain things. It just kinda fell into place – as if there had been no time in between.”

     Were there any surprises getting ready for the tour?

     “Just how easily it flowed. There was really a continual chemistry there. It just made it fun to do.”

    Describing audience receptivity to the shows on the tour, Eric said:

    “I think they really love it. We have great crowds and it was a really successful tour. I think you get known for a certain eric johnson 002b Credit Max GracePhoto by Max Gracelandmark or milestone that you do and that’s what people sometimes relate to. I think that the idea of completely shunning away from that like it doesn’t exist is not really very realistic. To live in it twenty-four hours a day and never progress is not very healthy, either. I think there’s a happy medium there where you can acknowledge something that people really enjoy while you’re putting energy into going ahead with whatever it is you’re doing in the present.”

    Every tour seems to have a crowd favorite with a particular artist. I asked Johnson if there is a particular tune that draws the biggest reaction.

    “I think everybody likes to hear ‘Cliffs of Dover’. There’s a couple of other ones like ‘Trademark’ and ‘Righteous” and stuff that did well when they came out back in the nineties. I think they enjoy just hearing the vibe of that record. I guess it’s nostalgic, obviously. They’re pretty open to whatever we want to play."

    The tour runs into early November of this year, so I asked Eric what’s on his plate after that and what’s going on for him next year.

    “Well, I’m really well into an acoustic and piano record, right now. I’m about over halfway finished with that. I’ve just been working on that for the last month and a half. Gonna try to get that done and out. Next year I’ll probably do some new touring on the new stuff. I just want to keep recording and got a bunch of new tunes and ideas for a new electric record, as well. Doing a two-volume acoustic record."

    Eric Johnson Credit Max Grace3Photo by Max GrWhile Johnson will likely be entertaining us for many, many years to come, I asked him how he would like to be remembered and what he hopes his legacy will be.

    “Well, I think what we do – regardless what we do – you don’t want to think that it doesn’t mean anything at all. But, similarly, I don’t think you want to put too much extra importance on it because, really, you talk about when you look back on your life, you’re going to be living in a fictitious bubble if you think no matter what the greatest art you do is going to mean any more than somebody that wrote a thank you card to somebody from their heart. It’s really what comes from the heart and what you do; what you say and think. I just think that there’s a middle road there. It’s not that it’s not important, it’s not too important. The more you realize that, the more you start going with that energy behind the curtain and go, ‘Wow! You know, it’s really about me developing myself as a being. That will reflect in whatever you do. I’m trying more and more to reflect that in my music and what I do, which is really just an offering I get for somebody like writing a thank you card or something. 

    “So, I think for being remembered for just trying to make people feel good while we’re here, you know? Standing on that side of the balance system that is making ahviamusicomcoverpeople feel a little more good or more positive or more wholesome. God knows, the world needs it! The more people that stand on that balance, the more energy – you truncate that energy. Hey! We’re here so what are we gonna do while we’re here. Are we gonna use our fantastic talent or art or gift or whatever we gift we have; how do we use it? Do we use it to disperse more pandemonium or negativity or do we want to use it to put smiles on somebody’s face? Nothing more. Nothing less is what I’d like to be remembered for.”

    Then, putting a bit of levity into his final comment to me, Eric adds:

    “Other than that, I want a 200-foot sculpture right in the middle Austin, Texas. JUST KIDDING!”

    Keep up with the latest in Eric Johnson’s career by visiting EricJohson.com.


  • Europe Live
    Eric Johnson
    Label:
    Release Date: June 24, 2014
    Review Date: June 22, 2014

    Eric Johnson fans, take note: The latest live CD offering by the guitar maestro entitled Europe Live, is yet another testament to this man’s remarkable talent and breadth of skill. The fourteen tune audio treasure chest are gleaned from Johnson’s entire career as well as includes two new compositions: the short and dynamic “Intro” and Eric’s ode to his love of boating and water skiing, “Evinrude Fever”.

    Of course, Johnson also includes his Grammy-winning instrumental "Cliffs of Dover" and Grammy nominated "Zap" and are performed with fresh and vigorous energy. Other familiar tunes are “Austin”, an acoustic version of “A Song For Life” and “Fatdaddy”. Especially noteworthy is Johnson’s treatment of Coltrane’s “Mr. P.C.”, which is THE Boomerocity favorite off this album.

    Eric also knocks it out of the park with the hard-driving rocker, "Zenland," and the eleven-and-a-half minute multimodal suite "Last House On The Block." Fan favorite, "Manhattan," brings smiles of familiarity from the git-go.  The album closes out with a jaw dropping performance of "Sun Reprise" from the "When the Sun Meets the Sky” CD.

    Europe Live was recorded in venues across Europe during Johnson's tour of the continent, with the majority of the album capturing his appearance at Amsterdam's Melkweg. Other performances captured were from  two dates in Germany at Die Kantine in Köln  and Bochum Zeche as well as from the Paris show at New Morning.  Each appearance featured a unique set list, offering Johnson the opportunity to cull this track listing from a wealth of repertoire captured.

    Although he may be best known as the masterful studio craftsman behind his
    acclaimed million-plus selling breakout 1990 album Ah Via Musicom and its Top 10 hit "Cliffs of Dover," Johnson first made his musical bones and sparked a potent buzz in live performance from the late 1960s to the mid 1980s long before he ever issued an album and was heard on radio. As guitar legend Johnny Winter recalls of seeing Johnson perform back then, "When I first heard Eric, he was only 16, and I remember wishing that I could have played like that at that age."            

    Over his seven studio albums, Johnson has delivered three Top 10 hits ("Cliffs of Dover," "Trademark" and "Righteous") and two Top 40 singles ("Pavilion" and "High Landrons").  N.A.R.A.S. has celebrated his career with six Grammy nominations, while periodicals in the music space have honored with him for decades.  He is enshrined in Guitar Player magazine’s "Gallery of Greats," while Musician Magazine named him one of the 100 Greatest Guitarists of the 20th Century.  He continues to refine and expand his musical brilliance in his own electric and acoustic tours (playing both guitar and piano), and his recent live collaborations on both electric guitar with jazz player Mike Stern and slide master Sonny Landreth.  Johnson is a frequent featured artist on the Experience Hendrix tours, as well as acoustic excursions with  the likes of Andy McKee and Peppino D’Agostino.

    Johnson offers, "Working on this live record was kind of an epiphany for me because I realized that this is where it's at, no matter where you're playing, it should be a performance.  The more I do that the more I realize, wow, there's something special there. I'm enjoying playing more now because I am so committed to making sure that facet is really up front, one of the number one things. And I've been doing it in the studio when people send me tracks to play on, and I say, okay, hit record, and let's just do this all the way through. And I listen back and go, wow, that's just more interesting and enjoyable to listen to."

    Johnson follows Europe Live with an album with his friend and fellow guitarist Mike Stern and is composing and recording tracks for both a new electric album as well as his first acoustic guitar release. Additionally, Johnson has embraced the digital age, releasing tracks via his site www.ericjohnson.com.  Currently, songs that include "To Whom It May Concern," "Imagination Of You - A Tribute To George Harrison" (featuring Christopher Cross) and his rendition of "The Wind Cries Mary" are available.  Johnson offers, "The Internet is a creative vehicle to get artist's music heard and level the playing field.  There is no barrier between the creative process and those compositions created reaching the fan."   Johnson continues to reach further and higher as a player, songwriter and singer, and considers being rated one of the greatest at his talents as simply a springboard to new levels of artistry and listener appeal.

    Be sure to come back and look for the Boomerocity interview with Eric Johnson!