Saturday, June 23, 2012

Eric Johnson: An extraordinary and diverse guitarist with rock fusion mastery


By Ray Shasho

Interview with guitarist Eric Johnson
Texan, singer, songwriter, producer and guitar player extraordinaire Eric Johnson will be launching his worldwide tour from Florida. Johnson will be performing at five different Florida venues before traveling to the Netherlands, UK and Italy. The tour returns back to the U.S. in August. The tour kicks off in Pensacola on June 26th with a stopover in Clearwater at the Capitol Theatre on Saturday June 30th. For tickets visit www.rutheckerdhall.com.
Eric Johnson released his sixth studio album in late 2010 entitled Up Close. The 15-track disc features guest performances by Steve Miller, Jimmie Vaughan, Sonny Landreth, Jonny Lang and Malford Milligan. The recording is also available on 12 inch vinyl at www.ericjohnson.com.
 
Eric Johnson began playing guitar at the age of 11. He played with his first touring band in 1968, a psychedelic group called Mariani. The band shared the bill with ZZ Top and Bloodrock in their home state of Texas. Johnson was trained in classical music but was heavily influence by the guitar styles of Jimi Hendrix and hard rock rhythms of Led Zeppelin. In 1974, he joined a rock/jazz fusion group called The Electromagnets. The Magnets shared the stage with bands like Kiss and Mahogany Rush.

Eric Johnson recorded Seven Worlds his first solo album after the band’s break up.
Johnson later became a highly sought session guitarist working with legendary artists Cat Stevens, Carole King and Christopher Cross to name a few. In 1986, his critically acclaimed album Tones landed him on the front cover of Guitar Player Magazine. The cover story about Johnson heightened his credentials in the music world and brought the virtuoso critical praise. The album’s track “Zap” was also nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Rock Instrumental Performance.

In 1990, Eric Johnson released his platinum selling third album Ah Via Musicom. His illustrious recording of “Cliffs of Dover” won him a 1991 Grammy Award for Best Rock Instrumental Performance. (“Cliffs of Dover” currently has almost 9-million views on You Tube).

In 2005, Eric Johnson’s fifth studio release Bloom generated a fifth Grammy Award Nomination. Johnson was invited to play on Joe Satriani’s G3 Tour, The Crossroads Guitar Festival and the Experience Hendrix Tour. Johnson can please any audience because he enjoys playing any genre. He’s usually spotlighted for his electric performances, but Johnson is an exceptional acoustic player as well. I had the opportunity to chat with Eric this week about the tour and his intensifying career.

Here’s my interview with the Grammy Award winning guitar virtuoso, singer, songwriter and producer Eric Johnson.
Ray Shasho: Eric, thank you for being on the call today, how’s everything in Texas?
Eric Johnson: “Hey Ray how are you, everything’s good.”
Ray Shasho: So you’re headed over to Florida pretty soon?
Eric Johnson: “Yea, we are… we’re going to come play a few dates there and then go over to Europe and play there for a few weeks.”
Ray Shasho: It’s a rarity that major tours get launched from Florida, was there a specific reason you chose us … just got good vibes maybe?
Eric Johnson: “We were there a few months ago on the Hendrix Tour and talking to some people about bringing our own show there. So we kind of had that in the back of our minds and we had some time before going over to Europe, and I really hadn’t played in Florida for awhile so I thought we’d better go play some.”
“The Hendrix shows was a fun tour. It’s always nice to play Hendrix’s music and especially for some of the kids who aren’t familiar with his music, so it’s really good for them.”
Ray Shasho: I’d hate to imagine younger generations not wanting to learn about previous music eras, artists and cultures. I knew all about my parent’s generation and actually embraced it. I saw Sinatra and his incredible band five times in concert.
Eric Johnson: “Yea, there were some great musicians that they listened to; I really appreciate it even more now. What’s interesting is how music has evolved and so digitally processed, and you go back and listen to that stuff that was our parent’s music and it’s just amazing. If you take that same spirit and same music but put it into more of a modern rock context … it would smoke anything out there. There wouldn’t be anything that could hold a candle to it. Maybe the only thing that keeps it from being competitive and blowing everything away is just the fact it’s a different style of music that maybe a lot of people don’t relate to. But the musicality, the energy level and spontaneity of it is almost incomparable in this century.”
Ray Shasho: I’m guessing you don’t like to commit to playing a certain genre of music… and prefer it that way?
Eric Johnson: “Yea, kind of … because I just love all styles of music and being open and learning from it.”
Ray Shasho: So Eric … how many guitars do you own?
Eric Johnson: “I only own half as many as I use to, guess somewhere around 17 or 18. What’s interesting is that I get more enjoyment having less guitars and stuff because I like having everything adjusted just right so it works well, and so it drives you nutty. If you’ve got tons of stuff and your trying to keep everything working well you don’t get enough time to do anything but being a custodian. So I just got tired of that and decided I was more interested in making music than collecting guitars.”
Ray Shasho: I was always fascinated by musicians who tinkered with their equipment and experimented to create new sounds. How involved do you get personally in reinventing the wheel?
Eric Johnson: “Probably way too involved. (All laughing) You know there are some happy accidents out there or some interesting combinations that can make some real magic and so you keep chasing it …it’s like a gold mine. And you know when you can hear something and its real special … whenever that happens and experience that, it’s like going to the mountaintop, and it’s hard to live in the valley from then on because you’re always trying to stay on the mountaintop. But it’s kind of a double- edged sword; it can be keeping you away from what you need to be really doing.”
Ray Shasho: Do you have a signature guitar or amplifier developed and out there?
Eric Johnson: “I do … I have my own guitar out now and effects peddle and speaker out and I’ve been thinking about doing amplifiers, got a couple of amps that we’re thinking about maybe doing.”
Ray Shasho: I noticed that “Cliffs of Dover” currently has almost 9-million views on You Tube. Would you say that “Cliffs of Dover” was kind of like your “Stairway to Heaven?
Eric Johnson: “I think so yea, and it was just a tune that came to me really fast. I recorded it and played it for a friend and he said that’s kind of nice. And I said I don’t know what to call it. He said it sounds regal, why don’t you call it “Cliffs of Dover.” So I said … okay.”
Ray Shasho: The Alien Love Child was a very successful side project.
Eric Johnson: “Yea, that was a live thing we did, we recorded two or three nights at Antone’s and chose which of the three nights we liked. That was a fun band and a lot of improvisation.”
Ray Shasho: You were invited to play on the G3 Tour a bunch of times and also invited to play at The Crossroads Guitar Festival. Who were some of the artists that you shared the stage with?
Eric Johnson: “I did the first year… John Mayall, Steve Vai, Sonny Landreth, Billy Gibbons, John McLaughlin and of course Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck.”
Ray Shasho: I knew you were playing guitar professionally at an early age, but wasn’t aware that you toured with so many legendary bands.
Eric Johnson: “I started playing professionally when I was 13, joined Mariani at 15, and got into the Electromagnets when I was 19. But we played with bands like Mahogany Rush, Captain Beefheart and Kiss.”
Ray Shasho: If given the opportunity…what artist would you like to collaborate with?
Eric Johnson: “Stevie Wonder, I’ve always been a big fan of his … yea that would be cool.”
Ray Shasho: Eric, I hope to see you in Clearwater on June 30th and I may just write a review of the show.
Eric Johnson: “I’ll make sure that I tune up that night. And make sure you come on back and say hello.”
Ray Shasho: I sure will …thanks’ Eric see you in Florida.

Visit Eric Johnson’s official website at www.ericjohnson.com
Eric Johnson’s Florida concert dates … June 26- Pensacola, June 27 -Ponte Vedre, June 28- Orlando, June 29- Ft Lauderdale, June 30- Clearwater.
Order Eric Johnson’s latest CD Up Close on his website or at amazon.com
Buy tickets for guitar virtuoso Eric Johnson in concert at the Capitol Theatre in Clearwater Fl at www.rutheckerdhall.com
Special thanks to Chipster PR at www.chipsterpr.com

 Contact columnist Ray Shasho at rockraymond.shasho@gmail.com
 Order author/columnist Ray Shasho’s exciting new memoir ‘Check the Gs’ at amazon.com or barnesandnoble.com Available on Kindle or Nook for ONLY .99 Cents!
 ~Pacific Book Review says… I found Check the Gs to be pure entertainment, fantastic fun and a catalyst to igniting so many memories of my own life, as I too am within a few years of Ray. So to all, I say if you have a bit of grey hair (or no hair), buy this book! It’s a great gift for your “over-the-hill” friends, or for their kids, if they are the history buffs of younger generations trying to figure out why we are the way we are.

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