The Hippo


Apr 18, 2019








Photo by Max Crace.

Eric Johnson Ah Via Musicom Tour 

When: Friday, March 9, 8 p.m.
Where:  Tupelo Music Hall, 10 A St., Derry
Tickets: $46-$65 at

Throwback time
Eric Johnson plays breakthrough album at Tupelo

By Michael Witthaus

Though performing a beloved album from start to finish is a thing for many classic rockers, Eric Johnson was a reluctant convert. The guitarist tends to move forward, shifting between genres and bringing something new to each of them. His last three discs were 2010’s Up Close, which touched on his Texas blues rock roots, Eclectic, a 2014 collaboration with jazz guitarist Mike Stern, and the all-acoustic EJ, released in 2016.

On his latest record, last year’s Collage, Johnson reinvents songs by personal heroes like Jimi Hendrix, B.B. King, Stevie Wonder, Dick Dale and The Beatles, and offers an equal number of  inventive originals. Maybe doing covers put him in a nostalgic mood — when it was suggested that he let fans pick a favorite record for him to play in its entirety, he agreed.
To the surprise of few, Ah Via Musicom ran away with the votes. The 1990 effort established Johnson as a singular talent, winning a Grammy and awestruck praise from the music community. Guitar World ranked the album’s biggest hit, “Cliffs of Dover,” as No. 17 on its Greatest Guitar Solos list. Equally impressive, three instrumentals from the disc made the Mainstream Rock Top 10, in a time when grunge was ascendant. 
Midway through rehearsals for the upcoming Ah Via Musicom tour, Johnson has warmed to the idea. 
“It really is kind of meaningful to me; I’m enjoying this,” he said by telephone. “When we decided to do it, I was kind of wondering ... but it’s fun.” 
A big reason for his jocular mood is the chance to again work with drummer Tommy Taylor and bass player Kyle Brock. 
“They were the original guys in the band. So it’s nostalgic, brings back a lot of memories,” he said, adding it didn’t take long for the three to reconnect. 
He and Taylor occasionally collaborate, but he hasn’t done anything with Brock in “many, many years. It’s interesting, we got together and started rehearsing and there’s a chemistry there that’s really nuts.”
Johnson stressed the shows don’t consist of a lockstep re-creation of the disc. 
“There’s space inside all of the songs. ... It’s not written in stone; we get to improvise and stuff,” he said. “If it was note-for-note the same it might not be as fun, but it gets to change a little bit. But we’re trying to play it pretty close to the record.”
Nashville singer-songwriter Arielle is opening on the tour and sitting in with Johnson later; occasionally, he joins for her early set.  
“She’s just really awesome, a great songwriter and singer,” he said. “I’m really kind of surprised that in this day and age that she would have any trouble at all getting things rolling, because she’s just so talented.”
Early in his career, Johnson’s painstaking musicianship led to long gaps between recordings, but that’s not a problem these days. 
“I have a bunch of music that I want to record; I want to speed up my process,” he said. “I have a second volume of my  acoustic record that I’d like to finish, as well as an electric record. Then maybe some specialty projects with other people. I’d like to do a blues record and then a country record, with chicken picking kind of things.”
Johnson has worked with many great guitarists, including the first incarnation of G3 with Joe Satriani and Steve Vai. The loss of  many seminal artists has hit him, with B.B. King’s death a particularly hard one to absorb. 
“The reality is a lot of the original guys are fading away,” he said. “But his passing was like, wow, the world’s different now.”
The two shared stages over the years. 
“Just such a nice gentlemen, eloquent, always treated us wonderfully,” Johnson said. “He would take time, give me advice. It was beautiful. Some of the advice he’d give me I didn’t get right away, then 10 years later I’d say, ‘Oh, that’s what he meant.’”
During one tour,  Johnson gifted King with a vintage Lab amplifier, a favorite piece of gear of the blues legend. He found the amp in a pawn shop, in near-mint condition. 
“It was exceptional-sounding,” he said. “I wanted to keep it for myself, but I thought, no, and I made a little gold plaque that said, ‘Thank you so much for everything,’”
A few months ago, Johnson ran into King’s former guitar tech at a gig. 
“He told me, ‘You know, Eric, B.B. used that amp all the way to the end; he just loved that amp,’” Johnson said. “That just made my day — that he not only accepted the amp, but he used it for all those years.” 

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