Eric Johnson with Original Band Members Tommy Taylor & Kyle Brock - The Castle Theatre209 E. Washington St. Bloomington,IL
03/17/2018 8:00 PM - 03/17/2018 10:00 PM
The guitar has been very good to Eric Johnson, earning him international renown as a player, composer, recording artist and live entertainer as well as an ever-growing audience of admirers. And Eric Johnson has been very good to the guitar, spotlighting its myriad melodic, sonic and lyrical splendors, paying homage to its heroes and innovators, collaborating and playing with many of its finest contemporary talents, and fostering its continuing vibrancy as a primarily instrumental genre in popular music.
“He's an extraordinary guitar player accessible to ordinary music fans,” notes the Memphis Commercial Appeal. That’s because Eric Johnson plays music and not just the guitar. He is also a gifted player of the piano (his first instrument) as well as songwriter, singer and song interpreter. Or more succinctly, Eric Johnson is a diverse, versatile and fully realized musical creator who plays guitar like no one else
The pivotal event in Johnson's rise to becoming, as Guitar Player says, “one of the most respected guitarists on the planet," was his million-selling, now-classic 1990 album Ah Via Musicom (which loosely translates as "communicating through music"). It was his second release, following Tones, his 1986 major label debut.
Musicom yielded three Top 10 singles – "Cliffs of Dover," which has become Johnson's signature song and won a Best Rock Instrumental Grammy, and "Trademark" and "Righteous." It made him the first artist to ever score three Top 10 instrumentals. Now, 28 years later, he revisits that landmark recording with a 2018 tour on which he will play the album – hailed as a "masterwork" in Amazon.com's review – in its entirety.
The Austin, Texas-based Johnson also closes out 2017 with a new album, Collage, that combines five new original songs with five covers that reflect both his inspirations and range: An acoustic version of Jimi Hendrix's "One Rainy Wish," The Beatles classic "We Can Work It Out" in a Caribbean groove, B.B. King's "Rock Me Baby," the surf rock classic "Pipeline" and Stevie Wonder's 1966 #3 pop hit "Uptight (Everything's Alright)."
The years prior to Ah Via Musicom and since are rich with accomplishments. Over the now five studio albums that have followed it – Venus Isle (1996), Bloom (2005), 2010's Up Close (and its revised European version Up Close – Another Look, now being issued in the US), EJ (2016) and the latest – Eric has broadened and enriched his rock guitar palette and further delved into his love for blues, jazz and country. He's earned six Grammy nominations, has topped or been listed high in countless greatest guitarist lists in music publications, and been featured on the cover of most every guitar magazine, many more than once.
Johnson released an album in 2014 with jazz guitarist Mike Stern, Eclectic, that also landed him on the cover of Downbeat. His catalog further includes a collection of outtakes, demos and live treats, Souvenir (2002). And in 1998 his never-before-issued very first album recording from some 20 years before, Seven Worlds, was finally released by its producer (All Music Guide hailed as a "classy false start to a great career").
As an ardent live performer who regularly tours, "Few rock guitarists can take an audience on an unforgettable journey like Eric Johnson can," observes Brave Words & Bloody Knuckles.
His primary live performance configuration is as a trio, most often with some of Austin's top players, including drummer Tommy Taylor and bassist Kyle Brock, who toured with him following Ah Via Musicom's success and return for the 2018 outing. He's also done acoustic tours both solo and as a trio with noted players Peppino D'Agostino and Andy McKee, and electric guitar tours with his hero B.B. King and pal and peer Sonny Landreth.
His concert performances have been captured on a number of releases. Europe Live (2014) "serves as a fine introduction to this stunning musician," says All Music, as also do the his two Live From Austin TX CDs plus a DVD from his "Austin City Limits" performances and Anaheim Live (2008). Eric's side project Alien Love Child as well released an in-concert disc, Live and Beyond, in 2000. His 1996 tour with Steve Vai and Joe Satriani hit stores the following year as G3: Live in Concert.
Johnson is an avid admirer of fellow guitarists past and present, and has recorded and/or performed with such other notables as Chet Atkins, B.B. King, James Burton, Jerry Reed, Steve Miller, John McLaughlin, Jimmie Vaughan, Jeff "Skunk" Baxter, Dweezil Zappa, Adrian Legg, John Petrucci and others. He has paid homage in song to such players as Jerry Reed (“Tribute to Jerry Reed” on Bloom), fellow Texan Stevie Ray Vaughan (the Grammy- nominated track “SRV”) and Wes Montgomery (who Johnson saluted in his Ah Via Musicom song “East Wes”). He has to date appeared on eight Experience Hendrix tours paying homage to one of his seminal guitar icons.
Eric's artistic journey began in his teens in the Austin clubs, not long after joining the psychedelic rock band Mariani and later touring with the jazz-rock fusion group The Electromagnets. Eric's burgeoning reputation and touts from both Prince and Christopher Cross helped win him a deal with Reprise Records in the mid 1980s. The album that resulted, Tones, failed to chart. But it did earn him his first Grammy nomination for the song "Zap" and landed him on the front of Guitar Player magazine with the cutline: "Who is Eric Johnson & why is he on our cover?"
Once Ah Via Musicom hit, the Los Angeles Times noted how he had already "been compared with rock's immortals." But Eric himself modestly demurs. "I don't think I'm a rock god. I just keep playing. It's fun, and I'm glad people enjoy it."
“I didn’t fit in,” says Arielle of the feeling she had growing up and later, trying to find her footing in music. Her self-titled EP (set for release in April, 2014 on Open E Music,) is the sound of the singer-songwriter-guitarist claiming her place – creatively, emotionally, existentially.
“I only wanted to be me/ I had the best intentions/ I was scattered in all directions,” she sings on the pop gem “California,” finally confiding, “I can’t find the sunshine in California.”
Yet the New Jersey native had lived in California most of her life. And she’d been singing since age five (with the prestigious San Francisco Bay Area Peninsula Girls Chorus), followed by playing the piano, trumpet and at 10, guitar. By 16 she’d become a rock-guitar virtuoso (soon thereafter even earning the imprimatur of her childhood idol, Queen guitarist Brian May.)
Still, she hadn’t found her voice as an artist; she’d been shredding onstage in the bands of others (like CeeLo Green) but hadn’t really been able to share her own songs.
That began to change when she graduated early from high school and moved to Hollywood. “It struck me: I want to make music my life,” she remembers. “I can do this. I’m going to music school.” So she enrolled in the guitar program at the Musicians Institute, situated smack-dab on the Hollywood Boulevard Walk of Fame.
She was a 17-year-old student there when she met May, at a book-signing for “BANG! – The Complete History of the Universe” (an astrophysicist as well as a rock god, May is the co
author.) She’d taken her guitar along and when he said essentially, “Show me what ya got,” Arielle complied by busting out a Randy Rhoads solo (Rhoads is perhaps best remembered for his work on Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train.”) She and May then began a conversation that’s continued ever since. “It was like we’d always been friends,” she says.
That friendship inspired Arielle to move to London, where she attended the Institute of Contemporary Music Performance.
But she had a nagging feeling that she wasn’t where she belonged: “I was a supporting player and just couldn’t see the path to becoming an artist in my own right. My intuition told me that if I kept playing in other people’s bands, I’d miss my opportunity. I was trading myself, like I say in ‘California,’ ‘Trading scars for a concrete star’; I was giving away the things that make me me in return for something that felt like it didn’t matter. I finally said, ‘Alright, this is ridiculous – I have to go do this for myself.’”
She returned to Los Angeles and started recording her own material, singing lead as well as playing guitar. “I hadn’t sung seriously for five years,” she says. “On some level I was hiding behind my guitar. By then I was 18, but I still sung like a a soprano. I didn’t know how to express myself with my voice.”
At the same time, Arielle recalls, “Being in bands never worked – I could never find a singer. I was writing music knowing no one could sing it like me. I finally just did it. It started out as this really quiet sound; it took me a while to be, like, ‘OK, I’m not the greatest, but I AM truly expressing myself.’ Just like with the guitar players I love – you don’t necessarily have to be the most technically proficient to connect emotionally.”
After working on various projects, Arielle was “discovered” by guitarist Nuno Bettencourt (Extreme, Rihanna,) who shopped her to managers and labels. Her other supporters include guitarists Steve Vai, Uli Jon Roth (the Scorpions) and Michael Angelo Batio.
In 2013 Arielle landed in the studio of Red Decibel Music Group (Kelly Clarkson, Demi Lovato, Switchfoot), where she clicked with producer/co-writers Adam Watts, Andy Dodd and Gannin Arnold. Their creative chemistry was so electric, in fact, that the songs tumbled out on top of each other and the spark of “California” was struck!
Arielle’s commitment to something she holds as dear as songwriting is The Dolphin Project, a cause she’s championed as long as she’s played guitar. Dolphin Project founder Ric O’Barry appears in Arielle’s video for “California” and his documentation of the yearly dolphin drive hunt at Taiji, Wakayama, Japan, forms the basis of the Oscar-winning 2009 documentary “The Cove.”
On November 18, Arielle joined fellow Dolphin project advocate and drummer Matt Sorum’s band Kings of Chaos (featuring fellow former Guns N’ Roses members Slash and Duff McKagan) for a Hollywood concert benefitting Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project. Also on the bill: Hughes (Deep Purple), Corey Taylor (Slipknot, Stone Sour) and Steve Stevens (Billy Idol). Earth Day 2014 (April 22) will find Arielle onstage at a Freedom for the Orcas benefit, where she’ll share the stage with Heart and Joan Jett, among others.
“I think I’ve connected to the plight of marine mammals partly because of my own story,” Arielle ventures. “It’s heartbreaking to see these sensitive, intelligent animals anywhere but in open ocean, swimming freely. In my life I’ve felt like I wasn’t where I was supposed to be and couldn’t find my way there. But I’m working on it, for me and for them.”