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nine questions with: Eric Johnson Interview

 

(Transcribed from original audio: Edited for print clarity)

 

FG: There are some people who need absolutely no introduction. With us today we have one of them. Eric, how are ya?

EJ: I'm good. Thank you man.

FG: Lets go ahead, we'll jump right to it. Your playing has been influential on pretty much anyone who's picked up the instrument in the past 20 years. Who were your early guitar influences?

EJ: Originally, I would say Nokie Edwards, and then Brian Jones, then probably Jeff Beck and the Yardbirds, and then Eric Clapton, John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers, Cream... and then probably Mike Bloomfield, then of course Jimi Hendrix came out, that was a big influence, then I discovered Wes Montgomery when I was really young. Then after that it was Bill Connors from Chick Corea band, John McLaughlin, then I started getting into some country stuff like Chet Atkins... Lenny Breau and Jerry Reed. I'm giving them in the order they came. That was kinda like a chronological order

FG: (laughs) Gotcha. That's cool... You are best known for your electric stuff, but you've been hitting the acoustic world pretty hard. How well does one discipline translate to the other?

EJ: I don't know... With the way I approach them, it's pretty different. You know, of course the left hand can translate since you're playing the fingerboard, but the right hand, I kind of approach it totally different. It's kind of two different worlds for me.

FG: Do you have any preferred luthiers as far as acoustic guitar makers go?

EJ: Yeah, I have a signature Martin that they made a run of a few years ago, I mainly use one of those... I'm kind of on the prowl to find an old-old Gibson. I kinda discovered the old 50's ones sound pretty cool... They got that folk'y, Dylan'y kinda thing going on. The older ones seem to have a bit more magic to them.

FG: We have a few standard questions we like to ask all artists. One of them is to just pick five albums... They can be five albums that were influential to you, five albums that you're listening to right now, five random albums off the top of your head... So, Eric Johnson; five albums. What are they?

EJ: Oh man, I can think of a million.

Kind of Blue by Miles Davis

Music of my Mind by Stevie Wonder

Are you Experienced, Jimi Hendrix

Smoking at the Half Note by Wes Montgomery

Ladies Of the Canyon Joni Mitchell

FG: Switching gears a little bit, there's always going to be great music out there, but it seems like in recent times, we have to dig deeper and deeper to find it. Do you have any thoughts on the direction mainstream music is heading?

EJ: Well, I think we're all getting seduced by the availability and the, sort of, intoxicating opportunity the digital world provides us. It's almost like, you come up to a set of stairs or an escalator, and a lot of times we'll choose the escalator because it whooshes us right up to the top without any effort.

FG: (laughs)

EG: There's an ease about the digital world that kinda seduces us. It kinda takes us away from the integral building blocks of music and lets us just skip right to baking the pie in an easier way, and then, ya know, the ingredients aren't quite the same. It doesn't have the soul or the spirit if you don't learn to perform your instrument or play... So, I think because it's not essential that everyone do that (master their instrument), it will be the road less traveled.

FG: When you see, like a Justin Bieber win four American Music Awards, that seems to be a relevant commentary on something, something kind of fundamental about our culture when great musicians aren't fully appreciated... Is there any fixing this? Is there any way we can kind of up our game in this regard?

EJ: Well, I think, it's a dry word, but it's really education. If you look back many years ago to a Bill Graham concert, he would have Jimi Hendrix playing with Cat Stevens and the Mamma and the Pappas, then maybe end they evening with Ravi Shankar. They way they would build a concert-bill was just a complete array of different musical style.

It was just something people wanted to do... They'd say “This guy's great, Ravi Shankar's great, the Grateful Dead, they're good, then we'll put Soft Machine, all these crazy different styles of music, but no one thought “Well, they're “that” style and we have to put (only) these styles together...”

It was just, they were good! They were good and entertaining... And inadvertently, without being dry about it, kids were getting an education and an appreciation of great music. You still have this in the classical world, where there's so many different styles of clasical artists and there's a wider appreciation. Over the years, we've gotten so myopic..

So, ya know, Justin Beiber, he's valid. If you have a 12 year old kid, a 14 year old kid, they're going to love him, and there's room for everybody. Once we start trying to get Justin Bieber out, or get Stravinsky out, we're getting into the same trap, whether it' teenager pop music, or Penderecki, or John Coltrane, it's the same trap either way, so to me, its like, there' room for everybody, but it's a question of education. We shouldn't be so high up on 'styles', and that's what radio has done. You know, like, “if we can control that, then we can just spoon-feed everybody.”.. And then what happens is you get a lot more of the Justin Biebers and you don't get the Stravinsky's, as much, and that's the sad thing. There's room for everybody, and let people pick and choose what quality is and if it's inclusive rather than exclusive then you have more of a future. But who know's where it's going. The whole pop music, it's gotten to the point where it's matured into this business, in a way, to where we're really kind of scooching out the heartbeat.

FG: Yeah, I'm of the opinion it's a great tragedy... That's some deep stuff, your insight is absolutely an incredible perspective... So, away from music, what are your passions?

EJ: Ah, ya know, I like to be out in the water, swimming or skiing... Hiking around.

FG: Jam session with any artist, living or dead, who would it be?

EJ: Oh man... I'd love to Jam with Stevie Wonder.

FG: (laughing) You haven't had the opportunity to do it yet?

EJ: No, I haven't. Never have, but it would be great.

FG: Yeah, he's one of my personal favorites too. So, you were a participant in the “On the Music Path” app for the iPad, which is just sincerely, amazingly cool. Mind talking about that and music education in the 21st Century,

EJ: Well, I think it's so much better. It's such an improvement, in a way, to teach music. It's just so interactive, with the touch screen. It's almost like you're just in the room, asking questions... you have so much more ability to have a dialog or a dynamic going back and forth, so it's a brilliant idea for guitar lessons, or any music lessons.

FG: Yeah, it is really cool. We're going to have a link up for the users to check that out. So, in closing, any shout-outs, tour dates, album related stuff

EJ: Yeah, we're just finishing up this tour, have another week or ten days, then we're going to do some double-bills with Sonny Landreth, that ought to be fun, late September/early October, then hopefully get in the studio and start recording some new music.

FG: Eric, this has been a real honor, personally for me, thank you so much.

EJ: You're welcome, thanks for the interview.

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Since EJ's interview was so rich in great references, we thought it might be helpful to make an information-index of Wikipedia Articles, as far as the people/things he mentioned.

Nokie Edwards

Jeff Beck

The Yardbirds

Eric Clapton

John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers

Cream

Mike Bloomfield

Jimi Hendrix

Wes Montgomery

Bill Connors

Chick Corea

John McLaughlin

Chet Atkins

Lenny Breau

Jerry Reed

Martin Guitars

Gibson Guitars

Kind Of Blue by Miles Davis

Music of my Mind by Stevie Wonder

Are you Experienced by Jimi Hendrix

Smokin' at the Half Note by Wes Montgomery

Ladies of the Canyon Joni Mitchell

Pie

Bill Graham

Cat Stevens

Mamma and the Pappas

Ravi Shankar

Igor Stravinsky

Krzystof Penderecki

John Coltrane

Stevie Wonder

Sonny Landreth

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