Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Eric Johnson

Life and career

Born into a musically-inclined family, Johnson and his three sisters studied piano and his father was a whistling enthusiast. Johnson started learning the guitar at age 11 and rapidly began progressing through the music that would heavily influence his future style, including Eric Clapton, Chet Atkins, Cream, Jimi Hendrix, Wes Montgomery, Jerry Reed, Bob Dylan and Django Reinhardt, among others. At the age of 15, he joined his first professional band—Mariani, a psychedelic rock group. In 1968, Johnson and the group recorded a demo, which saw extremely limited release; years later the recording became a prized collector's item.[1][4][5][6][7]
After graduating from high school, Johnson briefly attended the University of Texas at Austin and traveled with his family to Africa. He eventually returned to Austin, and in 1974 joined a local fusion group called Electromagnets. The group toured and recorded regionally, but did not attract attention from major record labels and as a result disbanded in 1977. However, the strength of Johnson's playing attracted a small cult following to the group's early recordings, and decades later their two albums were given wide release on compact disc.[8][9]
The Electromagnets with Eric Johnson performing at N.C. State University, Raleigh, N.C., on April 11, 1976
Following the Electromagnets' demise, Johnson formed a touring trio, the Eric Johnson Group, with drummer Bill Maddox and bassist Kyle Brock. They played to audiences around Austin and in 1978 recorded a full length album entitled Seven Worlds. Although the album showcased the band's sound, a combination of contract disputes and mismanagement held up the album's release – and Johnson's career – for several years. Seven Worlds was eventually released released in 1998 on Ark21 Records after Johnson secured the rights to the master recordings.[10][11] Unable to secure a new management contract, Johnson began working as a session guitarist for some well-known acts, including Cat Stevens,[12] Carole King and Christopher Cross,[13] among others. While a session musician, Johnson continued to perform locally, developing a flashy but tasteful electric guitar sound. His career rebounded in 1984 when he was signed toWarner Bros. Records. There is some disagreement about exactly how Johnson caught Warner Brothers' attention, with some reports suggesting that pop superstar Prince recommended him after hearing him perform on the public television program Austin City Limits. Others suggest that it was singer Christopher Cross and producer David Tickle who recommended Johnson to the label.[14] In any case, Johnson's major-label debut, Tones, was unveiled in 1986 with Tickle as co-producer.


In May 1986, Guitar Player magazine ran a cover story about Johnson. The article helped promote the release of Tones and brought Johnson critical praise as well as elevating his profile in the guitar and music community.[15] The album's track "Zap" was nominated for the 1987 Grammy Award for Best Rock Instrumental Performance, but as a whole the album didn't sell well and Warner Brothers let Johnson's contract expire. He signed on with indie label Cinema Records, distributed byCapitol Records.[16]
By the time Johnson released his Capitol Records debut Ah Via Musicom in 1990, he was regularly winning awards for his musicianship in the guitar press. During this period, Johnson also drew recognition for the rich, violin-like tone he coaxed from his vintage Fender Stratocaster.[citation needed] The album's second track, "Cliffs of Dover", exemplified his unique sound and won Johnson a 1991 Grammy Award for Best Rock Instrumental Performance. Ah Via Musicom was a crossover hit, and was certified platinum.
Johnson is an admitted perfectionist, and those traits seemed to work against Ah Via Musicom's follow-up release. Unhappy with his recordings, Johnson mastered, then later scrapped, several completed tracks for the new album and delayed its release for three years, on top of the three years he had spent touring in support of Ah Via Musicom. He also had setbacks involving musical growth and personal issues while recording his next album Venus Isle.[17][18]
Venus Isle was finally released on September 3, 1996. It was a unique album with world influences that demonstrated Johnson's growth as a guitarist, songwriter, producer, musical arranger and vocalist. But the album received mixed reviews and did not match the success of its predecessor. As a result Johnson was dropped from Capitol Records. He rebounded with a successful tour from October to November 1996 with fellow guitarists Joe Satriani and Steve Vai. Named the 'G3' tour, it resulted in a successful platinum-selling compact disc and DVD titled G3: Live in Concert.
In 1998, Eric Johnson was among the judges in Musician magazine's "Best Unsigned Bands" competition, along with Ani DiFranco, Moby, Art Alexakis of Everclear, Keb' Mo' and Joe Perry of Aerosmith.[19]
In 1994, Johnson formed a side project called Alien Love Child and played shows sporadically while recording Venus Isle. The positive fan feedback from the shows made Alien Love Child a permanent gig. A live performance recording, Live And Beyond, was finally released in 2000 on Steve Vai's Favored Nations label, showcasing their new songs. The Alien Love Child project helped Johnson move away from his perfectionistic tendencies and loosen up enough to embrace and release a live album.[20][21][22]
Johnson eventually returned to the recording studio, releasing Souvenir in January 2002 on his own Vortexan Records. The album, released on the Internet, received nearly 65,000 plays in the first seven weeks after it was made available on mp3.com.[23] Johnson promoted Souvenir with an electric tour in 2003 and an acoustic tour in 2004.[24][25]
In 2004, Eric Clapton invited Johnson to perform at his first successful Crossroads Guitar Festival. According to Johnson, he was scheduled to perform onstage with Clapton, but it fell.[26]
Johnson's next studio album Bloom was released in June 2005, again on Vai's Favored Nations label. The album was divided into three sections with different musical styles, intended to showcase Johnson's versatility.[27] His December 1988 Austin City Limits performance was released on both DVD and compact disc on New West Records in November 2005. His instructional guitar DVD, The Art of Guitar (Hal Leonard Corporation), was also released at the end of 2005.
In January 2006, a man named Brian Sparks was arrested for posing as Johnson and in the process defrauding businesses out of about $18,000 worth of guitars and equipment.[28] Also in 2006, some of Johnson's guitars that had been stolen 24 years before were recovered.[29]
In September 2006, Johnson took part in a theatrical production titled "Primal Twang: The Legacy of the Guitar" – the first definitive theatrical journey through the guitar’s colorful and controversial 3,500-year history. In September 2007, Johnson participated in a second theatrical production by the same company titled "Love In: A Musical Celebration" in which he performed a Jimi Hendrix set, a tribute to the year 1967, often called "The Summer of Love".[30] Also in late 2006 Johnson participated in a second G3 tour in South America, with Joe Satriani and John Petrucci.
Johnson had been working on an all-acoustic project[31] and a live video from his 2006 Tour with Satriani.[32] However these were shelved in 2007 in favor of cutting a new studio album.[33]
His hit single "Cliffs of Dover" appears in the game Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock. Johnson has also signed up with "Operation Immortality", a project to create a digital time capsule of their DNA and humanity's achievements in the event of a global calamity.[34]

[edit]Guitar and equipment


Johnson is best known for playing stock Fender Stratocasters and Gibson ES-335 electric guitars through a triple amp setup that consists of Fender amplifiers, Dumble Amplifiers andMarshall amplification. Johnson has also played other guitar brands such as Robin, Rickenbacker, and Jackson Charvel, which appears on the cover of the Ah Via Musicom album. In 2001, Johnson added a Gibson Custom Shop '59 Les Paul Reissue to his guitars of choice.
Johnson has had several models built to his specifications for sale in the mass market. In 2003, C. F. Martin & Company released a limited-edition Eric Johnson Signature MC-40 guitar built to his specifications. Johnson donated 5 percent of the profits of the guitar's sales to his father's alma mater, Jefferson Medical College[35] In 2005, Fender released an Eric Johnson Signature Fender Stratocaster also built to his specifications. Johnson has also released other signature gear such as GHS Eric Johnson Nickel Rockers Electric Guitar Strings, DiMarzio DP211 Eric Johnson Signature Custom Pickups, and a Fullton-Webb amplifier. Jim Dunlop also has released an Eric Johnson signature Jazz III plectrum. In early 2009, Fender released the Eric Johnson Signature Stratocaster Rosewood model, featuring the same specifications as the Eric Johnson Maple Neck guitar, with the addition of an unusual 3-ply, 8-hole white pick guard, hotter treble pickup and a bound rosewood laminate fingerboard with pearloid dot position markers.


He uses effects pedals such as the Ibanez Tube Screamer,[36][37] Dallas Arbiter Fuzz Face, BK Butler Tube Driver, TC Electronic Stereo Chorus, Vox Cry Baby wah-wah, Electro-Harmonix Memory Man Delay, a MXR Digital Delay, a Line 6 Echo Pro Studio Modeler, and a Maestro Echoplex tape delay.[38][39] All of these are connected to multiple A/B boxes to create sounds and tones that are both clean and distorted. Although the majority of Johnson's setup is vintage, he has recently started using more modern equipment, including a stereo chorus made by AnalogMan.[citation needed]


In late 2006, Johnson switched from recording in analog[40] to digital format.[41]

[edit]Popular culture

Guitarist Alex Lifeson of Rush gave a thank you in the liner notes in the Counterparts to Johnson for being the inspiration for the guitar solo in the song "Cut To The Chase".
Guitarist Steve Morse recorded a song titled "TruthOla", which is a tribute to Jeff Beck, Alex Lifeson and Eric Johnson. The song is on Morse's album "Major Impacts".

[edit]Solo albums

  • Seven Worlds (1978) (re-issue, 1998)
  • Tones (1986)
  • Ah Via Musicom (1990)
  • Venus Isle (1996)
  • Souvenir (2002)
  • Bloom (2005)
  • Live from Austin, TX (2005)
  • Live From Austin TX '84 (2010)
  • Up Close (2010)

[edit]Early singles played on

  • Mariani (1970) – Tracks "Re-Birth Day" and "Memories Lost and Found" – Sonobeat Records
  • Jay Aaron Podolnick (1975) – Track "Come In Out Of The Rain"
  • Christopher Cross (1976) – Tracks "It's All With You" and "Talkin' About Her" – Starburst ARC
  • Bill Maddox – Project Terror (1977) – Track "Thermal Underwear" – E. G. Records
  • Cat Stevens (1978) – Track "Bad Breaks" – A&M Records
  • Bill Colbert (1982) – Track "That Rider Down" – Texas Re-Cord Co.

[edit]Albums played on

[edit]Group albums

  • Perpetuum Mobile (1970) by Mariani
  • Electromagnets (1975) by Electromagnets
  • Live and Beyond (2000) by Alien Love Child
  • Electromagnets 2 (2006, originally recorded in 1976) by Electromagnets – Vortexan Records


  • The Austin Christmas Collection (1980) – "What Child is This"
  • The Austin Christmas Collection Volume 2 (1983) – "What Child is This" and "Is there a Santa Claus"
  • Guitar Speak (1988) by Various Artists – "Western Flyer"
  • KLBJ's Local Licks Live (1990) – "Camel's Night Out"
  • Instrumental Moods (1991) – "Cliffs of Dover"
  • Guitar's Practicing Musicians Volume 2 (1991) – "Cliffs of Dover" (Live)
  • KLBJ's Local Licks Live (1993) – "Desert Rose"
  • True Voices (1995) – "At the End of the Day" with Susan Cowsill
  • KLBJ's Local Licks Live (1996) – "S.R.V."
  • 13th Millennia Soundtrack (1996) – Texas World Records
  • G3 Live in concert (1997) by Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Eric Johnson
  • Merry Axemas Volume 1 (1997) Various Artists – Track #2 – "The First Nowell"
  • Guitar Gods (1998) Various Artists – Track #1 "Trademark"
  • KGSR 107.1 Broadcasts Vol. 7 (on "Tribute to Jerry Reed" and "The only thing that's Real" – recorded July 8, 1999. Also on KGSR 107.1 Broadcasts Vol. 8 1999
  • The Best of Rockline (1999) – Track 11 – "SRV"
  • Moods Box Set (1999) – "Cliffs of Dover"
  • Rock Guitarist Forever Best (1999) – Track 4 – "Soulful Terrain" (Japanese release)
  • KLBJ Local Licks Live – (2001) – Track "Shape I'm In"
  • Band Together – (2002) – Track "Shape I'm In"
  • Texas Guitar Slingers Vol. 1 (2002) – Track "Enzo Shuffle"
  • Relief Fund Compilation Album Benefiting the World Trade Center – (2002) unreleased
  • Fender Stratocaster 50th Anniversary (2004) – Track #5 "Trademark"
  • Don't Mess With Texas – Vol 2 (2004) – Track "Boogie King"
  • KGSR 107.1 Broadcasts Vol 12 (2004) – Track "Song for George"
  • Austin Music, Vol 6 (2007) – Track "Sunarround You"
  • Keep Punching (2007) – Track 3 – "Forever Yours"
  • Gibson Presents: Hot Tones in High Definition (2008) – Free album fownload – Track #4 "World of Trouble"
  • Various Artists: This is Fusion Guitar (2009) – Track #1 "Beck's Bolero"

[edit]Guest appearance work

  • Once Upon a Rock (1977) by American Peddlers – Track "Circle Song"
  • Back to Earth (1978) by Cat Stevens Track #3 "Bad Brakes"
  • Gene Morris (1979) by Gene Morris – Track "My Friend"
  • Pearls (1980) by Carole King
  • Johnny Dee & The Rocket 88's by Johnny Dee & The Rocket 88's – Track "No More"
  • Christopher Cross (1980) by Christopher Cross Track #9 "Minstrel Gigolo"
  • One to One (1982) by Carole King
  • Long Time Friends (1982) by Alessi – Track #4 "Rise Up"
  • Til You Came Along (1982) by Bobby Giles
  • Shake Russell and Dana Cooper (1982) by Shake Russell and Dana Cooper – Tracks "Waitin' here for you" and "Goin' Down Judah"
  • World Beat (1983) by Dan Del Santo – Track "Ain't that Askin' a Little too Much?"
  • Pressure (1983) by Pressure – Track "Save a Little Time"
  • Peripheral Vision (1984) by McColl & Tracey
  • Marc Anthony Thompson (1984) by Marc Anthony Thompson – Track "Recover Gracefully"
  • Stand Up (1985) by Steve Morse Band – Track #5 "Distant Star"
  • Street Language (1986) by Rodney Crowell Track #2 "Ballad of Fast Eddie"
  • Guitar Speak (1988) by Various Artists – Track #3 "Western Flyer"
  • Willie Jones (1990) by Willie Jones – Tracks "So Long", "Mary Jean"
  • Inside Out (1990) by Jay Aaron – Track #6 "Ronda"
  • The Urge (1991) by Stuart Hamm Track #5 "On our Dreams" and Track #6 "Lone Star"
  • Rush Street (1992) by Richard Marx – Track "Keep Coming Back" (AOR Mix)
  • The Hunter (1992) by Jennifer Warnes – Track #7 "Lights of Louisiana" and Track #10 "I can't Hide"
  • Rendezvous (1992) by Christopher Cross – Track #8 "Nothing will Change"
  • Herman Harris & the Voices of Hope(1993) – by Herman Harris
  • Read My Licks (1994) by Chet Atkins – Track #5 "Somebody Loves me Now"
  • What The Hell Was I Thinking? (unreleased track) (1994) by Dweezil Zappa
  • Wave of the Hand (1995) by Carla Olson – Track #2 "I'm Tryin'"
  • Angelica (1997) by various artists – Track #6 "Ave Maria"
  • Merry Axemas (1997) by Various Artists – Track #2 "The First Nowell"
  • Angels, Horses & Pirates by Little Blue (1997) – Track #1 "Wait until you get Here"
  • Rosebud (1998) by Stephen Doster – Track "There is no Time"
  • Walking in Avalon (1998) by Christopher Cross – Track #4 "When she Smiles"
  • Koko's Hideaway (1999) by Van Wilks – Track #11, "Vanatized"
  • Fingers and Thumbs (1999) by Adrian Legg – Track #1 "Lunchtime at Rosie's"
  • Been a Long Time (2001) by Double Trouble – Track #9 "In the Garden"
  • Last of the Cowboy Vampires (2001) by Lance Keltner – Track #5 "Chain Gang"
  • More to Life than This (2003) by Mike Tramp – Track "On The Good, the Sad and the Ugly"
  • A Guitar Supreme, Giant Steps in Fusion Guitar (2004) by Various Artists Track #1 "Resolution"
  • Fusion for Miles, A Guitar Tribute: A Bitchin' Brew (2005) by Various Artists Track #3 "Jean Pierre"
  • Industrial Zen (2006) by John McLaughlin – Track #2 "New Blues old Bruise"
  • Viva Carlos: A Supernatural Marathon Celebration (2006) by Various Artists – Track #6, "Aqua Marine"
  • Hero Shuffle (2006) by Rex Paul – Tracks #3 "Hero Shuffle" and #8 "Reminds me of Austin"
  • Walk On (2006) by Roscoe Beck – Track #4 "Together all the Time"
  • Grand and Green River (2007) by Kara Grainger
  • The Devil Knows My Name (2007) by John5 – Track #10 "The Washing away of Wrong"
  • Freeway Jam: To Beck and Back Jeff Beck Tribute (2007) – Track #3 "Beck's Bolero"
  • Lovers (2008) by Bobby Whitlock and CoCo Carmel
  • From the Reach (2008) by Sonny Landreth – Track #4 "The Milky Way Home"
  • Bridging the Gap (2008) by Doyle Dykes – Track #5 "Red Clay"
  • Big Neighborhood (2009) by Mike Stern – Track # 2 "6th Street" and # 8 "Long Time Gone"

[edit]Instructional DVDs

  • Eric Johnson: Total Electric Guitar (1990) by Hot Licks
  • Eric Johnson: The Fine Art of Guitar (1996) by Hot Licks
  • Eric Johnson: The Art of Guitar (2005) by Hal Leonard Corporation

[edit]Television appearances and videos

  • Austin City Limits appearances – 1984, 1988, 1996, and 2000. 1999 Clint Black with Special Guests
  • Carole King – "One To One" Tour [Video] (1983)
  • Nova (PBS Special) – "Nautilus: 500 Million Years Under the Sea" The Chambered Nautilus (1987)
  • Live at the Bottomline, New York – Japanese TV broadcast (1990)
  • MTV Rock 'n Jock Softball – performing "The Star Spangled Banner" (1991)
  • The Tonight Show – performing "Cliffs of Dover" (1991)
  • Jeff "Skunk" Baxter's "Guitar" – Japanese release – Warner Brothers (VHS and LaserDisc) (1991)
  • BB King and Friends...Live at the Woodlands (1993) (Houston PBS special)
  • Chet Atkins and Friends – "Read My Licks" – TNN special (1994)
  • BASEBALL: Inning 9: Home (1994) The Baseball Film Project
  • G3 Live in concert (1997) by Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Eric Johnson
  • Electromagnets: Live on PBS Playback (1975) re-released on VHS (1998)
  • Double Trouble with Special Guests – Austin City Limits (2001)
  • House Of Blues (Webcast Live) – Alien Love Child Tour (2001)
  • Big Wreck and Friends (Webcast Live) – Roy Thomson Hall – Toronto, Ontario (2001)
  • Guitar Show – Australian Television Broadcast (2002)
  • Jennifer Warnes DVD-A from AIX – unreleased (2003)
  • Crossroads Guitar Festival (2004) Warner Brothers
  • 107.7 The Bone Studios Radio Show (2005)
  • James Burton International Guitar Festival (2005) filmed for a future release.
  • Live in Austin, Tx (2005) NewWest Records
  • Satriani LIVE (2006) Epic Records
  • Primal Twang: The Legacy of the Guitar (2006)
  • Love In: A Musical Celebration (2007)
  • Anaheim (Live) (2008)

[edit]Video Games

  • Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock (2007), "Cliffs of Dover"
  • Guitar Hero: World Tour (2009), "Camel's Night Out"

[edit]Awards and chartings

  • Albums:
    • 1991 – Ah Via Musicom (album) – Grammy – Best Rock Instrumental Nomination
    • 1991 – Ah Via Musicom (album) – Billboard magazine – Billboard 200 – (#67)
    • 2006 – Bloom (album) – Grammy – Best Pop Instrumental Nomination
  • Songs:
    • 1987 – "Zap" – (from Tones) – Grammy – Best Rock Instrumental Nomination
    • 1990 – "Cliffs of Dover" – (from Ah Via Musicom) – Mainstream Rock Tracks – (#5)
    • 1990 – "High Landrons" – (from Ah Via Musicom) – Mainstream Rock Tracks – (#31)
    • 1991 – "Righteous" – (from Ah Via Musicom) – Mainstream Rock Tracks – (#8)
    • 1991 – "Trademark" – (from Ah Via Musicom) – Mainstream Rock Tracks – (#7)
    • 1992 – "Cliffs of Dover" – (from Ah Via Musicom) – Grammy – winner – Best Rock Instrumental Performance[3]
    • 1997 – "Pavilion" – (from Venus Isle) – Grammy - Best Rock Instrumental Nomination
    • 1998 – "S.R.V." – (from Venus Isle) – Grammy – Best Rock Instrumental Nomination
    • 2002 – "Rain" (from Live and Beyond) – Grammy – Best Pop Instrumental Nomination

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