This quick post is just to give a shout out to this DVD of Eric Johnson live in Austin Texas on the well-known and award-winning Austin City Limits. Recorded in 1988, this performance, along with the breakout album, Ah Via Musicom two years later, put EJ on the map as a Texas guitar force to be reckoned with. While he certainly has all of the roots music abilities one associates with that part of the country, it is obvious that Eric has also integrated many other styles and possesses a completely stunning progressive technique. Not only that but he might be the most meticulous guitarist to ever “spank the plank” as Billy Gibbons would say. Johnson has said in interviews he can tell the difference between something as minute as the type of battery in one of his effects boxes. Now that’s focused! Here’s one of my favorite tracks, Desert Rose from the DVD. You can see and hear how he simultaneously sounds like Texas and something completely different.
Back in the day players were very quick to focus on Eric’s soloing style (which features really fast picking, oddball scalar choices, string skipping and seamless integration of various effects choices along with an absolutely beautiful touch). His chording/comping style is also really brilliant and he has that cool “textured” approach, which maybe began (in the modern era) with Jimi Hendrix + modern technology, which forever after would allow players to coax so many different sounds out of the instrument. EJ takes the whole idea even further and is able to combine touch and effects to accentuate various passages and/or parts of his songs to achieve a 6-string symphony of sorts. Put all of this together, along with the really great rhythm section of Kyle Brock on bass and Tommy Taylor on drums and you get a super-duper powerful presentation that is good not only in and of itself for viewing enjoyment, but also provides a mother lode of ideas to work into your own guitar explorations. Watch how Eric plays Jimi — very impressive. Always loved this song and a band I was in used to play it. Notice all of the amps EJ has behind him — incredible combination of sounds MAN! (His version of Are You Experienced from this DVD is also mindblowingly good!)
Through the magic of Youtube, clips of Eric’s instruction video can be yours with the price of a click. I would encourage you to buy the whole thing though to get the full picture of what he is doing just like I advise you buy the whole concert on DVD. I have it and it’s great to pull out and watch every once in awhile. What’s amazing is as soon as you try to work in a string skipping passage or focus on how and where your hands are playing a lick or a chord, you can completely change the sound and it may lead you onto other things that can either 1) get you out of a rut, 2) make a cover of a song you’re doing sound like something else entirely or 3) aid you in expanding your technique to include stuff you can pull out spontaneously at a jam or live. It’s all about more tools in the toolkit and EJ has a veritable warehouse full of tools for sure.
Since these early days of Eric’s career he has attained the stature of a bona-fide modern guitar hero. After winning a Grammy Award for Cliffs of Dover in 1990, he has released several successful albums, formed a permanent side project named Alien Love Child and performed on the G3 tours multiple times with fellow guitar stars Steve Vai, John Petrucci and Joe Satriani. Here’s an interesting interview with EJ from 2010 right before he released his album Up Close, which includes guitar or vocal performances by Jonny Lang, Jimmie Vaughan and Steve Miller. Obviously, 25+ years later, Eric Johnson has successfully achieved respect as a world-renown iconoclastic guitarist/multi-instrumentalist while never betraying the vision and values that are already in full bloom on this very heavy performance in Austin from his early days. Here’s a G3 tribute to the late Stevie Ray Vaughan done as only Eric can. He has moved the possibilities what a guitarist can do up a few notches during his career and that’s about as cool as it gets.