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Eric Johnson (guitarist)
Johnson in 2017
|Birth name||Eric Johnson|
|Born|| (1954-08-17) August 17, 1954
Austin, Texas, U.S.
|Genres||Rock, instrumental rock, jazz fusion, blues|
|Occupation(s)||Musician, singer, songwriter, producer|
|Instruments||Guitar, vocals, piano|
|Labels||Reprise, Capitol, Epic, Warner Bros., Favored Nations, Ark21, EMI, Concord|
|Associated acts||Electromagnets, Alien Love Child, Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Mike Stern|
Eric Johnson (born August 17, 1954) is an American guitarist, vocalist, composer, and multi-instrumentalist. His 1990 album Ah Via Musicom was certified platinum by the RIAA, and the single "Cliffs of Dover" won the Grammy Award for Best Rock Instrumental Performance.
Best known for his electric guitar skills, Johnson is also a highly proficient acoustic, lap steel, resonator, and bass guitarist, as well as an accomplished pianist and vocalist. He plays many musical genres, including rock, blues, jazz fusion, soul, folk, new-age, classical, and country. Guitar Player magazine has called him "one of the most respected guitarists on the planet."
Born into a musically inclined family, Eric Johnson and his three sisters studied piano, while his father was a whistling enthusiast. Johnson started learning the guitar at age 11 and rapidly progressed while listening to the musicians that would heavily influence his future style, including Mike Bloomfield, Chet Atkins, Cream, Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Ric Bailey, 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 1970, Johnson and the group recorded a demo, which saw an extremely limited release. The recording became a prized collector's item years later.
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 disbanded in 1977. The strength of Johnson's playing, however, attracted a small cult following to the group's early recordings and, decades later, their two albums were given wide release on compact disc.
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. From 1976–1978, Johnson recorded Seven Worlds, his debut album, at Odyssey Studios in Austin. Contract disputes followed, and Seven Worlds was not released until 1998 on Ark21 Records.
Unable to secure a new management contract, Johnson began working as a session guitarist for some well-known acts, including Cat Stevens, Carole King, and Christopher Cross. While a session musician, Johnson continued to perform locally in Austin.
Johnson's career rebounded in 1984 when he was signed to Warner Bros. Records. Christopher Cross and producer David Tickle recommended Johnson to the label. His breakthrough appearance at Austin City Limits on July 31, 1984 was recorded and later released on CD/DVD in 2010. The performance of Cliffs Of Dover from the concert was distributed in a flexi-disc soundpage in the May 1986 issue of Guitar Player magazine.
Tones and Ah Via Musicom
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. The album's track "Zap" was nominated for the 1987 Grammy Award for Best Rock Instrumental Performance, but as a whole, the album did not sell well, and Warner Bros. let Johnson's contract expire. He signed on with indie label Cinema Records, distributed by Capitol Records.
By the time Johnson released his 1990 Capitol Records debut album, Ah Via Musicom, he was regularly winning awards for his musicianship in the guitar press. During this period, Johnson also drew recognition for the rich, violin-like lead sound he coaxed from his beloved 1954 Fender Stratocaster, which he named Virginia. 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 the Ah Via Musicom 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.
Venus Isle was released on September 3, 1996. It was an 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 platinum-selling compact disc and DVD titled G3: Live in Concert.
Solo albums in the 2000s
Johnson eventually returned to the recording studio, releasing Souvenir in January 2002 on his own Vortexan Records label. The album, released on the Internet, received nearly 65,000 plays in the first seven weeks after it was made available on mp3.com. Johnson promoted Souvenir with an electric tour in 2003 and an acoustic tour in 2004.
Johnson's album Bloom was released in June 2005, on Vai's Favored Nations label. The album was divided into three sections with different musical styles, intended to showcase Johnson's versatility. 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.
On June 24, 2014, Provogue Records released Europe Live, a retrospective of Johnson's work that features two new compositions. One of the new compositions is entitled "Evinrude Fever" and draws inspiration from water skiing and boating.
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 released in 2000 on Steve Vai's Favored Nations label. Alien Love Child featured the vocal prowess of Malford Milligan, an Austin area musician who fronted the very popular local band Storyville, made up of members of Stevie Ray Vaughn's Double Trouble.
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".
In late 2006, Johnson participated in a second G3 tour in South America, with Joe Satriani and John Petrucci.
Johnson appeared as part of Guitar Player magazine's Ultimate Musician's Fantasy Camp in Las Vegas in February 2014, with guitarists Joe Perry, Steve Vai, Elliot Easton, Michael Anthony, and others. He appeared with Zakk Wylde, Buddy Guy, Jonny Lang, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Dweezil Zappa, and Doyle Bramhall II as part of the eighth edition of the Experience Hendrix Tour highlighting the music of Jimi Hendrix, in March 2014. Johnson returned to the Experience Hendrix Tour in September and October 2014. Johnson and fellow guitarist Mike Stern kicked off their Eclectic Guitar Tour on November 6, 2014, and released an album supporting it on October 27, 2014. In August 2015, he participated in the "Vai Academy" along with guitarists Steve Vai and Sonny Landreth, and also kicked off an acoustic tour of the Southwest.
In 2016, Eric released "EJ: Explorations on Guitar and Piano," which was his first entirely Acoustic album. He toured that album in Early 2017.
Guitars and equipment
Johnson is best known for playing the lightly modified Fender Stratocasters and Gibson ES-335 electric guitars through a triple amp setup that consists of Fender, Dumble and Marshall amplifiers. He tends to swap out the bridge pickups in some of his Stratocasters for DiMarzio HS-2 pickups, because they don't hum as much as standard single-coils. Johnson has also played other guitar brands such as Robin, Rickenbacker, Jackson, and a 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 collection of guitars. It is noteworthy that he no longer uses a Dumble amplifier, as he had to replace a faulty component in his favorite Dumble, the Steel String Singer. It never sounded the same afterwards, and he sold the amplifier to Carlos Santana.
Johnson has had several models built by 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 for him. Johnson donated 5% of the guitar's sales profit to his father's college, Jefferson Medical College (Now called the Thomas Jefferson University). Johnson has also been known to use the Martin D-45 before his signature Martin guitar was released.
In 2005, Fender released an Eric Johnson Signature Fender Stratocaster also built to his specifications. This was followed up by the Eric Johnson Signature Stratocaster Rosewood model in 2009. It featured the same specifications as the Eric Johnson Maple Neck guitar, but with the addition of an unusual three-ply, eight-hole white pick guard, hotter treble pickup, and a bound rosewood laminate fingerboard with pearloid dot position markers.
Eric generally doesn't collect guitars as he isn't interested in owning a lot of superfluous items. His collection is small and limited to the best playing examples of the guitar he finds.
1967 Flying V: Traded at a show for a 30s Dobro guitar he purchased just to swap for the Flying V.
1964 SG Maestro Vibrola: an instrument famously played by George Harrison on stage and during the recording of several Beatles albums. Eric Generally avoided SGs for being unable to stay in tune, but traded two Marshall amplifiers for this particular one for its ability to hold a tune extremely well.
1962 Fender Stratocaster: This is the instrument stolen from his apartment in 1982. It had a Mustang pick up that Seymour Duncan had rewound himself. Found at a pawn shop 24 years later, Eric cross referenced with serial numbers he had written down, and found the pawn shop had his stolen collection of guitars. He bought it back. It has 6.5-ohm single-coil pick ups (Similar to the Seymour Duncan five two pick up available for purchase).
1957 Fender Stratocaster: Bought at a show in Florida
Undated early 80s Martin D45: A reissue of a pre-war design purchased for him by his father after the 1982 incident.
1964 Gibson ES-335: Block inlay stop tail-piece with lower output pickups. It has a ding from the photographer dropping equipment on it during the Venus Isle photo shoot.
1966 Fender Bass VI: The replacement for one of the guitars stolen in the 1982 incident. Featured on Bloom "tribute to Jerry Reed" and "On the Way to Love" on Up Close and other tracks.
In March 2018, Fender released an Eric Johnson Signature Thinline Fender Stratocaster built to exactly the same specifications as his first signature Strat, the sole exception being that the guitar is a semi-hollow design, which is a rarity for Fender. The guitar is available in Vintage White and two-color Sunburst, with quarter-sawn maple necks exclusively.
Prototype EJ Signature Fender Stratocasters: Eric tours with the final prototypes sent to him before production began of his signature models including the thinline, and is not using examples from the production line up available in stores.
In January 2006, a man named Brian Sparks was arrested for posing as Johnson and, in the process, defrauding businesses out of about US$18,000 worth of guitars and equipment. Also in 2006, some of Johnson's guitars that had been stolen 24 years earlier were recovered.
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 Fulton-Webb amplifier. Jim Dunlop also has released an Eric Johnson signature Jazz III plectrum and an Eric Johnson signature Fuzz Face. The Eminence Eric Johnson signature 12" alnico guitar speaker was introduced in 2012.
Johnson uses effect pedals such as the Dallas-Arbiter Fuzz Face, BK Butler Tube Driver, MXR KD IV Stereo Chorus, Vox CryBaby wah-wah, ToadWorks Barracuda flanger, Prescription Electronics Experience octave fuzz, Xotic AC Booster, MXR Flanger/Doubler, Electro-Harmonix Deluxe Memory Man delay, Boss Corporation DD-2 Digital Delay, MXR 1500 Digital Delay, Line 6 Echo Pro Studio Modeler, and up to two Maestro Echoplex tape delays. All of these are connected to multiple A/B boxes to create sounds and tones that are both clean and distorted. Dunlop has also begun selling Johnson's signature Fuzz Face pedal.
- Tones (1986)
- Ah Via Musicom (1990)
- Venus Isle (1996)
- Seven Worlds (1998)
- Souvenir (2002)
- Bloom (2005)
- Up Close (2010)
- Eclectic (2014)
- EJ (2016)
- Collage (2017)
- EJ Vol. II (2020)
Awards and nominations
- Grammy Award nomination for Best Rock Instrumental, "Zap" (1987)
- Grammy Award nomination for Best Rock Instrumental, Ah Via Musicom (1991)
- Grammy Award for Best Rock Instrumental, "Cliffs of Dover" (1992)
- Grammy Award nomination for Best Rock Instrumental, "Pavilion" (1997)
- Grammy Award nomination for Best Rock Instrumental, "S.R.V." (1998)
- Grammy Award nomination for Best Pop Instrumental "Rain" at the Wayback Machine (archived June 19, 2004), Live and Beyond (2002)
- Grammy Award nomination for Best Pop Instrumental, Bloom (2006)
- "Eric Johnson" – at Grammy.com.
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- Pinson, Matt. "Eric Johnson: In Full Bloom" – MusicPlayers.com – August 6, 2006.
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- Simon, Scott. "Eric Johnson's Guitar Gets to Austin's Roots", NPR, August 13, 2005.
- Landers, Rick. "Eric Johnson Interview" Archived October 22, 2007, at the Wayback Machine – Modern Guitars Magazine – August 11, 2005.
- "An Interview with Eric Johnson" – Boston Beats.
- Sonobeats Page."Mariani with Eric Johnson" Archived November 7, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
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- Endres, Cliff. "Electromagnets – Selling Jazz to the Schlock-Rock Hardheads". Electromagnets Bio. Archived from the original on December 9, 2007.
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- Santiago, James. "Eric Johnson On Seven World's" Archived October 27, 2010, at the Wayback Machine – "EricJohnson.com".
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- Blackett, Matt. "Editor's Note" Archived March 10, 2012, at Archive.today – MusicPlayer.
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- Hernandez, Raoul. "Austin Chronicle Interview – Part 1" – The Austin Chronicle.
- Hernandez, Raoul. "Austin Chronicle Interview – Part 2" – The Austin Chronicle.
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- Leslie, Jimmy. ""Obsessive Perfectionist Eric Johnson Is Trying Go With the Flow"". Archived from the original on January 3, 2008. Retrieved January 3, 2008.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link) – Guitar Player Magazine – September 2005.
- Administrator. "EUROPE LIVE - EricJohnson.com". ericjohnson.com. Archived from the original on October 6, 2014.
- GuitarInternational.com "Eric Johnson Conquers Europe, Returns With Live Album"
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- Weeks, Lisa. "Soundbites", Tucson Weekly, November 6, 1997.
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- Kirby, Dave ""The perfectionist Eric Johnson finds artistry in the details"". Archived from the original on January 8, 2008. Retrieved December 30, 2007.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link) – September 27 – October 3, 2007.
- rockcamp.com Archived December 27, 2013, at the Wayback Machine; "Rock 'n' Roll Fantasy Camp" – February 17, 2014
- EricJohnson.com "Tour" – April 7, 2014
- ericjohnson.com "Tour"
- Administrator. "Tour Dates - EricJohnson.com". ericjohnson.com.
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- "Jefferson Medical College Students to Benefit from Generosity of Grammy-Winning Guitarist Eric Johnson" Archived January 30, 2006, at the Wayback Machine – Thomas Jefferson University Hospital.
- RedOrbit Breaking News "Man Poses As Grammy Winner to Get Guitars" Archived January 7, 2008, at the Wayback Machine- January 3, 2006.
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- Prown, Pete; Lisa Sharken (2003). Gear Secrets of the Guitar Legends: How to Sound Like Your Favorite Players. Hal Leonard. p. 20. ISBN 978-0-87930-751-6.
- Fischer, Peter (2006). Masters of Rock Guitar 2: The New Generation, Volume 2. Mel Bay. p. 67. ISBN 978-3-89922-079-7.
- "Dunlop Manufacturing :: Electronics :: :: Eric Johnson Signature Fuzz Face® Distortion".
- Digidesign.com ""Richard Mullen on Recording Eric Johnson"". Archived from the original on January 29, 2013. Retrieved April 22, 2017.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link) .
- Euphonix.com "Guitarist Eric Johnson Adds Euphonix to Studio Arsenal" – December 5, 2006.
- Wood 2016-09-14T18:58:22Z, James. "Eric Johnson Talks 'EJ,' His First All-Acoustic Album". guitarworld.
- "CRR Interview - Eric Johnson sheds perfection, paints tuneful Collage". www.classicrockrevisited.com.
- "Rock on the Net: 29th Annual Grammy Awards – 1987". rockonthenet.com.
- "Grammys—Round 1 : Pop music: Phil Collins' 8 nominations lead the pack and Quincy Jones sets a record with his 74th nod. The winners will be revealed on Feb. 20". latimes.
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