By: Rob Cavuoto
Guitarist, songwriter and singer Eric Johnson brings listeners Up Close to his stunning musicality when the Grammy winning artist releases his sixth studio album on December 7th 2010. The 15-track disc presents 14 new Johnson compositions plus his version of the Electric Flag song “Texas,” and features guest appearances by fellow master players Jimmie Vaughan and Sonny Landreth on guitar and vocals by Steve Miller and Jonny Lang.
Lyrical themes of reflection, emotional revelations, personal growth and fulfillment are underscored on the album by Johnson’s most daring, urgent, progressive and at times raw and fervent guitar work to date. As with all of Johnson’s work, his all-encompassing style draws from rock, blues, pop, country, jazz and classic to exemplify his stature as one the greats.
Robert Cavuoto had a chance to chat with Eric while the guitarist was on tour with the Experience Hendrix Tour to talk about the new CD and Hendrix Tour.
Robert Cavuoto: What was the inspiration behind Up Close?
Eric Johnson: It was put together with bits and pieces of songs that I’ve been working on over the years. The inspiration was to write lyrics and music that were more honest and personal.
Rob: Why so long between studio CDs?
Eric Johnson: I have been busy touring and spent the last two years working on the CD off and on.
Rob: How was it to work with Steve Miller, Jimmie Vaughan, and Johnny Lang?
Eric Johnson: We had a great time! All the guys had said that if I ever needed their help that they would like to come down and record. It was nice to get other people’s energy to balance things out and raise the bar musically. It just unfolds where it should unfold. If I sang a song and didn’t think it was as good as it could be I would let someone else try.
Rob: I’m intrigued by the cover artwork, what is the meaning behind it – it looks like letters?
Eric Johnson: It is letters, it says Up Close. We made it intentionally hard to read. It’s understated and hard to read but eventually you will get if you continue to look at. I wanted a pop art cover like the old jazz LP from the late ’50s and ’60s; that bold modern look.
I really wanted something that was attractive to look at and didn’t have my name plastered all over it. Something that someone could hang on the wall or would give you a feeling when you looked at it.
Rob: What was the delay regarding the audio quality?
Eric Johnson: The CD has been done for four months. It’s a subjective way in which they make CD duplication. In my opinion they do it quicker with a different type of material and press the sound in quicker to the medium. I heard two test pressings and I said, “Wow what happened to the sound?” I was compelled to go back to back to the old school type of pressings they did 5 or 6 years ago. It sounds much more like my mastered CD now. It took us a while to figure what was going on.
It seems that our reference point of high quality of audio is changing with our technology. There is a lot of music that can prevail. It’s not saying that those types of music are not as good. There are certain types of electronic music or music with heavy drums where it’s not as noticeable. It shows up more on jazz or symphonic music that have different tonality. It’s an interesting point that depends on the music.
Rob: Jimi Hendrix’s music meant a lot of things to a lot of different artists. Everyone from Miles Davis to Slash has considered him an inspiration. What is it about his music that reaches out and grabs you?
Eric Johnson: Hendrix is such a great song writer and I tend to like the musicality of it. I enjoy people who write great songs. It is one thing if someone can play an instrument great, but to play great and write great songs that’s a great musical premise. Hendrix, Coltrane and Miles Davis were able to do that.
Rob: What do you think Hendrix would have done musically had he lived longer?
Eric Johnson: I think he would have expanded his alphabet. He was cool about not being gratuitous in his playing. He was a real proliferator of rhythm guitar. His rhythm guitar was just as important as his leads. I think he would have gone off in a musical direction that no other guitarist would have thought about. I think he would have gotten into more jazz and symphonic music.
Rob: How do you find moving between playing on the Acoustic Guitar Masters and the Experience Hendrix tour, is it tricky for you to transition so quickly between those two setups and musical situations?
Eric Johnson: It definitely is tough. It’s easier to go from acoustic to electric than electric to acoustic. So took a week off and rented a rehearsal hall in New York City and practiced all the acoustic stuff. I approach my acoustic playing totally different. I play with my finger and not with a pick. It’s the bass and rhythm thing going on with the left hand. It takes me a while to get it together.
Rob: How did it come about to play Hendrix Woodstock guitar at the Bacon Theater a few days ago?
Eric Johnson: It was amazing, a real treat. Paul Allen from the Music Experience in Seattle owns its and they asked if some of us wanted to play it. There were pick marks on the underside of it from playing it left handed. It was in fantastic condition and one of the lighter guitars Jimi had.
Rob: Was the guitar under lock and key?
Eric Johnson: It was, Paul brought in a special case with a real serious lock on it. A security guard hung around with a key in his pocket the entire time.