This month Stuart Ryan goes surf-side as he shows you how to get the cool and groovy vibe of this chilled-out acoustic troubadour.
Born in Hawaii in 1975, Jack Johnson took up guitar at the age of eight and was writing songs before he was a teenager. However, music wasn’t his first calling – he is the son of the famous surfer Jeff Johnson and his childhood and teenage years were spent developing his surfing skills on the professional circuit. But for an accident at the age of 17 things may have taken a different course altogether, and he could have become a surfing superstar instead of a global acoustic success. However, after his accident music was clearly ‘in the pipeline’ and his love for playing grew while he studied at the University of California and played rhythm guitar in a band.
Johnson’s guitar style is quite simple but also quirky and catchy. You’ll hear both strumming and fingerpicking but don’t expect solos as his style is more based around laid-back acoustic songwriting – essentially the guitar is used as a writing and rhythm tool with plenty of interesting ideas contained therein. His influences range from classics like Jimi Hendrix and Bob Dylan to those who formed their music career just before Johnson – Ben Harper, Radiohead and G Love And Special Sauce. Indeed, it was working with the latter in 1999 that led to his big break and Ben Harper contributed to his 2001 debut album Brushfire Fairytales.
The instrumentation on Johnson’s recordings is often sparse – typically his voice will be backed up by just his acoustic guitar, bass and drums. You’ll find everything from simple open-chord strumming to more challenging barre chord work. Indeed, barre chords are something that many acoustic guitarists tend to overlook (or live in fear of) so I’ve included some Johnson-esque barre chord phrases in this month’s study. If you are new to barre chords or building up strength to focus on them please work through these sections slowly and carefully as it is surprisingly easy to develop wrist and hand-related injuries from excessive barre work - even with a good, modern action.
This month’s piece combines a riff-based idea with some more basic chord work but listen out for the chord changes as Johnson doesn’t always take the predictable route you’ll sometimes hear twists and turns and longer chord sequences than the average I-IV-V pop strummer. As always, ensure you focus on your rhythm and timing as you play through this piece and don’t forget those all essential loud-to-quiet dynamics (a hang-over from grunge). See you next issue.
barre chords are something that many acoustic guitarists tend to overlook (or live in fear of)
NEXT MONTH Stuart examines the acoustic style of Americana legend Dave Matthews
Jack Johnson: he spent life as a pro surfer before going solo as a musician