Ronan McCullagh continues his blues column with a look at Texan rock titan, Eric Johnson’s sublime bluesier playing.
Eric Johnson (born August 17, 1954) is yet another virtuoso guitarist to have come out of Texas. Born into a musical family Eric started his journey on the piano after his father sent him and his sisters to lessons. At age 11 he picked up a guitar and began transferring his piano knowledge to his new love, which explains those rich chord voicings for which he’s famously known.
From his beginnings with The Electromagnets, through to his solo albums and session work with artists such as Cat Stevens, Christopher Cross and Carole King, Eric has constantly delivered authenticity within the boundaries of rock and blues, yet he’s never lacking in exploration; edging those boundaries further forward with every record. It should be no news to regular readers that Eric has the most meticulous attention to detail and tone. He professes to be able to hear the sweet spot of a battery’s life in a Tube Screamer, showing that he completely gets the importance of tone and its role. There’s definitely an argument for the notion that the actual delivery of music should take high priority, and therein lies the reason for this obsessive attitude towards tone - remember this beautiful logic when admonishing yourself for tweaking your amp and pedals into the small hours when every other sane person is sleeping!
Johnson is never shy to show his influences. Ranging from Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimi Hendrix and Mike Bloomfield through to Wes Montgomery and Chet Atkins, Eric manages to have his own stamp on each one of these dialects as he lets this vocabulary stew in his expansive imagination. He frequently mentions that he likes to practise freedom within his playing above anything else.
His soloing style leans heavily on Pentatonic and classic rock and blues but with a mixed bag of extras that can be dropped in at will, such as wide intervallic ideas, chords with beautiful voicing leading, or odd rhythmic groupings. You might notice that he will frequently ascend with one of these wide intervallic ideas and descend with a Pentatonic scale arranged in odd groupings in a cannoning fashion.
Although Johnson’s soloing is exemplary - some would say flawless - his rhythm style is also full of beauty, aided no doubt by viewing chord construction from a pianistic point of view; his beautiful ‘voice leading’ gives his chord changes their own melody, as well as musical balance and direction. His overall touch is dynamic and purposeful, seamlessly switching between pick, hybrid or a fingerstyle approach in which he uses the full range of what the guitar has to offer.
Let’s get stuck in and try it out…
NEXT MONTH Ronan explores the blues side of Traffic’s hugely talented Steve Winwood
ERIC’S LEAD PLAYING IS EXEMPLARY AND HIS RHYTHM FULL OF BEAUTY