Eric Johnson revisits ‘Ah Via Musicom’
For pop artists, the idea of striking a trio of Top 10 hits is a challenging, but not an altogether insurmountable task. But when that performer is a guitar instrumentalist, you’re talking rarefied air.
So it went for Eric Johnson in 1990 when his third studio album, “Ah Via Musicom,” took him from being a Guitar Player magazine cover darling to getting significant airplay to go with that commercial success.
Fast forward to 2018, and Johnson is reuniting with bassist Kyle Brock and drummer Tommy Taylor to hit the road and play the hit album they created together in its entirety. Johnson brings their show to Walker Theatre tonight, Oct. 11.
Rather than rest on past laurels, Johnson is also promoting “Collage,” his 10th studio album.
Split between five covers and five original numbers, “Collage” gives nods to The Beatles (“We Can Work It Out”), Stevie Wonder (“Uptight”), surf music instrumentalists The Chantays (“Pipeline”), B.B. King (“Rock Me, Baby”) and Jimi Hendrix (“One Rainy Wish”). By casting such a wide stylistic net, the former guitar prodigy wanted to loosen up his recording process while honoring those who came before him.
“This was just me going in and recording whatever I felt like recording with no pressure. It was just to have a little fun and to try and cut as much of it live as I could. It has more of a relaxed vibe to it,” Johnson said.
“For me, it was just kind of honoring the idea that there’s such beauty in all styles of music. It’s kind of like going aerial in a plane and you look down on the topography and realize that there’s this connectivity to it all.”
Originally inspired to play music by a guitar-playing family friend, who came over to the house and played some numbers by bluesmen Elmore James and Jimmy Reed, Johnson started wood-shedding when he was 11. Over the next decade, his skills grew as he put in time with a local fusion group before going solo and earning his own following. He also wound up being a session guitarist for a number of higher profile artists, including Christopher Cross, Cat Stevens and Carole King.
“It was really cool to be around songsmiths like that and to see how important a song was to them. That was what it was about. It was a good learning experience for me to see that,” he explained.
Fans coming to see Johnson on this tour will get to sample the newer, mellower guitarist with a first-half set focused on his most recent fare, while diehards experience all of “Ah Via Musicom” in the show’s second set. It’s the first time Johnson has taken this kind of approach to that landmark release.
“I’ve never done it in its entirety before. I’d only do a song here and there. It’s pretty nostalgic and I’m having fun with it,” Johnson said.
“There are a lot of parts of it that are improvisational, so it’s a little bit more liquid than if I had to go play it all note-for-note. It’s nice to play with Kyle and Tommy again. There’s a chemistry between us that’s really cool.”