Posted October 2018
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.
“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 landmark 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."
While 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 people 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.