Guitar World magazine ranks Eric Johnson’s “Cliffs of Dover” as number 17 out of the 100 all-time greatest guitar solos. The same song is the winning song for the game Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock, and it won a Grammy. You can listen to him play it live, among many other hits, at Vinyl Music Hall.
Johnson is on tour right now promoting his album, “Up Close.” The new album has an impressive list of guitar greats such as Sonny Landreth, Steve Miller, Jimmie Vaughan and Johnny Lang as special guests.
Joining Johnson on stage for this tour will be Chris Maresh on bass guitar and Wayne Salzmann on drums. After playing the dates stateside the band will be venturing off on a European tour. Upon their return to the U.S., Johnson and company are planning to play the highly esteemed Guitar Town Festival in Colorado and the Los Angeles Guitar Festival on a tour of the Western U.S.
He has won seven Grammys and produced nine solo albums. On top of writing and performing for over 30 years, he has done session work for some of the greatest musical artists like Cat Stevens, Christopher Cross, Rodney Crowell and Carole King.
As a busy guitar aficionado, he is helping others in the business by creating items like his signature Fender Stratocaster. Johnson also recently developed a Fuzz Face Pedal and an Eminence speaker. All three are designed to specifically capture the ‘60s sound of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and others.
“I first heard the Fuzz Face when I was about 12 and loved playing through it,” Johnson said. “It’s the classic tone used by Jimi Hendrix, one of my greatest influences. No other pedal gets this type of sound. It’s the pinnacle of psychedelic fuzz.”
IN was able to reach Johnson one afternoon as he was on his way to the studio. We talked with him about his musical beginnings, his rock ‘n’ roll life and everything in between.
IN: You are from Austin, Texas right?
JOHNSON: I was born in Austin, Texas, lived in New York and Los Angeles, but I always return to Austin. I have deep roots there. There is so much talent in this part of the country. Guitar is a big deal here, and there are some real greats. I would go to clubs as a kid and listen to some of the legends of the business. So many blues-rock people came through here.
IN: “Up Close” is your first album in quite a number of years, why so long?
JOHNSON: I have been touring and playing on other artists’ albums. When you are off doing other things, you don’t get to your own work
IN: What is it like working with Sonny Landreth?
JOHNSON: He is such a nice, normal, down-to-earth guy. I am a fan of his. I picked him to play with and we have played with each other.
IN: You began playing in a band at about 11 or 13; you have been in the music business for a long time, any advice for those just entering the music world?
JOHNSON: (Laughing) Yes, I have been playing since the year 1113. It feels like I have been playing that long. My advice for anyone thinking about getting into the music business is to separate your craft, art, music from yourself personally. There are always critics, do not take it personally. Try and make a splash out there. I see so many new musicians who create YouTube videos that do not want to sign a contract, or make it their life, and they are much better than I am. There is so much dynamic strong talent out there; you have to be really good at what you do. Can’t live in your own head, think you are doing great things but you are really average.
IN: How do you stay alcohol free and vegetarian in the face of all the rock ‘n’ roll life presents you?
JOHNSON: I get it: life is tough. Those that take drugs or drink are paying a high price for a small amount of escapism. It does not accomplish what they expected in the end. You have to be clean and sober to be available to receive the messages and magic. Drugs and alcohol are an undesirable rock tied to your balloon.
IN: What is your favorite tool of the trade?
JOHNSON: When I was taking flute lessons, I used my Sister’s solid silver Haynes flute. Old instruments sound great. Like the flute, I like old Fender Stratocasters. Old instruments really channel a vibe that new ones cannot replicate. They also used wood that is not available anymore. Now they use the wood used to make shipping crates. When I got my first guitar, guitars were so new to everyone; it was like it was from another planet. Now guitars are a common household item.
IN: What CD have you most recently purchase? And, whom do you listen to?
JOHNSON: My most recently purchased CD is from double bassist Esperanza Spalding—love her music. The album I have listened to since 1970 is Stevie Wonder’s, “Music of My Mind.” I never tire of that album. When I listened to it for the first time, I said to myself, should I go practice or quit.
AN EVENING WITH ERIC JOHNSON
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 26
WHERE: Vinyl Music Hall, 2 S. Palafox