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.
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 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 almost every guitar magazine, many more than once.
The Austin, Texas-based Johnson closed 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).”
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.”