Read the first part of this exlusive interview with Eric Johnson at this location.
Brian D. Holland: What comprises a typical Eric Johnson set these days?
Right now we have one country piece and a half dozen instrumental pieces. And we have the vocal stuff. I'm actually doing several new vocal tunes that aren't even on any records. We do one Hendrix apiece.
Who are the current band members?
Chris Maresh is on bass and Tommy Taylor plays drums.
Where do you feel instrumental rock is at these days?
|"I'm actually doing several new vocal tunes that aren't even on any records."|
Well, there's not too much of it I guess. But I think it's wide open for somebody to do something of quality. I think there's always someone who wants to listen to it. There's quite an overflow of music these days. Your major mediums, like music mags and radio, are overwhelmed. They can't cover it all. They have to choose what they deem or think is the stuff to cover, or what they think people will like. There's a lot of stuff on the fringe that's really great, in all styles of music and all instruments. There are still people who enjoy it.
Does melody and verse get lost in the shredding of scales and technical virtuosity at times?
Oh, yeah. Definitely. Honestly, I think that was kind of the smoking gun in defusing the concentrated quality of the electric guitar, to the point where people got burnt out on it. Then they wanted to hear it as more of an orchestrated instrument in the songs, which is serving a wonderful purpose, a timeless purpose, too. It hasn't changed; it has always been that way. I think there was a period when it was more than that because it was being used in a way that was merited. But if the guitar is being used in a way that isn't merited, the days are numbered before people get saturated with it.
Is finding time to relax a necessity when you're on tour?
Yeah. We usually have time every day where I just kind of chill out, get peaceful, and just kind of take it easy for a couple of hours. I try to exercise and visit with friends. I like to practice a little bit every day.
Do you take the time to listen to the music of others?
I do, yeah. Right now I've been listening to the new Joe Satriani
record. Since I'm touring with him I've been checking it out. It's very nice.
When onstage, as many of your compositions have a tendency to get fairly technical and challenging, do you ever reach a point of uncertainty or concern on the approach to one of those tricky sections?
Oh, yeah. Definitely.
Do you have favorite keys or tunings you play in?
|"Your major mediums, like music mags and radio, are overwhelmed."|
That's an interesting question. I guess I do. I like to think I don't, but I know that F# isn't as much fun for me as F. I have no idea why that is. There's something about playing in F. I don't know if it's a string tension thing right there or what, but it seems like it feels right.
'Bloom' is kind of a concept album, in the way in which the tracks are separated in groups, by tone, vibe, and style. The three groups are labeled with classical dance names. How did that transpire?
When I finished the record it was what it was. I had just started putting it together like a regular record but it just didn't flow very well. Other people suggested to me to try grouping it in order of style. To the best means possible, I tried to group it in the three different styles. The suite names were just used to differentiate them.
What is your personal favorite Eric Johnson album?
I suppose 'Ah Via Musicom' is the most ferocious one I've done guitar wise. But I'm proud of the 'Bloom' record in many respects. I think there's maturation to it that I don't hear on 'Venus Isle', or other albums for that matter. In some ways, as far as more of a musical piece of work, I like where 'Bloom' is going. But I was concentrating more on wild guitar on 'Ah Via Musicom'.
You've been doing XM radio shows lately. Has that been beneficial?
I like the satellite radio concept. When we're in D.C. they usually ask us to come into the studio and do a live set, which is kind of cool.
Can you name your five favorite rock albums of all time?
'Truth', 'Are You Experienced' ... God, it's so hard to nail it down. John McLaughlin's 'Birds Of Fire'. Probably 'Wheels Of Fire' and Led Zeppelin 'II'. Though the first one is awesome, I love the second Zeppelin record. I love the Stones record 'Let It Bleed', too.
What started The Electromagnets.
It was around the period when Chick Corea was doing the electric thing with Bill Connors, 'The Hymn Of The Seventh Galaxy'. John McLaughlin was doing his electric thing. Miles Davis was doing his kind of rock and jazz thing. Bill Maddox and Kyle Brock put their group together. They originally had horn sections and stuff, and at one point they regrouped and decided they wanted guitar. So they asked me to join. It was jazz flavored rock, a high intensity instrumental group. It was pretty crazy. We were also influenced by Frank Zappa a lot, so there was a sense of humor about it. Back in the day I think we would have been described as Mahavishnu with a sense of humor.
Will there be another 'Alien Love Child'?
I hope so. I'd really like to do some more.
Talk a little about the Ten Must Know Musical Concepts you had originally described in your instructional video.
|"I'd like to do another Martin guitar, a different model."|
Yeah. I just tried to keep it simple and down to the most important aspects of playing. It wasn't necessarily pertinent to technique as much as kind of an overview of what you can do to try and get yourself in more of an environment for getting the most out of the music.
Talk about your Strat, and the rest of the gear that makes up the Eric Johnson sound. Is the signature Strat the guitar of choice all of the time?
I use some vintages as well. But I like that guitar; I'm pretty happy with it.
Is yours customized or modified at all?
It's pretty much it. It's one of the first they made. The neck is a little bit bigger than the ones on production, which I don't particularly favor. It's just the way it turned out on the prototype.
What's different about it than a standard American Stratocaster?
We used alder wood, which is lighter. I wanted it to be as light as possible. We sanded the contours down to be more like the old 60s contours. It's a quarter-sawn maple neck. The machine heads are staggered, so you don't have to use a string tree. The fretboard is kind of flat with big frets. The pickups are a little stronger, a little hotter. The tone control is hooked up to the bridge pickup instead of the middle pickup. The tremolo blocks have changed since the early seventies, so we put it back more like the 50s and 60s.
Do you use the tremolo a lot?
A little bit.
Does it stay in there?
Yeah, if you don't go crazy on it.
You also have a signature Martin acoustic. How long has that been around?
|"I've got a bunch of new things, so I definitely want to get in the studio and get recording."|
About two or three years. It was a limited edition. They made about 90 of them. It's between a Triple-O and a Dreadnaught with a cutaway. It has nice inlay with planets and stuff. I'd like to do another Martin guitar, a different model.
What other guitars do you use live and in the studio?
I play some Gibsons. I use an SG live sometimes. In fact I have it with me. In the studio I use a 335, a Les Paul, a Vincent Bell Coral electric sitar, and some lap steels.
I'm using one of those new hand wired 100 watt Marshalls and Fender Twin Reverbs. The Marshall is a copy of the old 1969 100-watt (1959HW Plexi reissue), and it's hand wired. I use it live and in the studio.
I use a TC Stereo Chorus and a BK Butler Tube Driver. I use an old Dallas Arbiter Fuzz Face and a Vox Cry Baby. I also have an Ernie Ball Volume Pedal in there now. I use the GHS Nickel Rocker Strings.
Is there anything new on the horizon?
I've got a bunch of new things, so I definitely want to get in the studio and get recording. But right now I'm just doing this tour with Joe and I'm happy to be out here. It's great hearing him every night.
Is there anything you'd like to say to your fans?
Thank you for letting me play music, and thanks for listening.
The Eric Johnson Electric Band will soon start touring in support of The Steve Miller Band. Check his website for dates.
Brian D. Holland 2006