VAIL Not many guitarists could claim the crown of greatest living guitarist in the world and get away with it, but Eric Johnson is certainly one of a few crown princes. The Texan axeman gets wide praise from both other players and press as a master of the instrument, both technically and melodically. His album Ah Via Musicom broke down walls for instrumental rock, and the lead single Cliffs of Dover won a Grammy.Johnson regularly joins forces with other guitarists Steve Vai and Joe Satriani to tour as G3, but Johnson stands out for his sense of melody and his rich, violin-like guitar tone. On the heels of his recent album Bloom, Johnson spoke to us before his performance at the Vilar Performing Arts Center on Thursday night.
Eric Johnson: Yes, and I think a lot of that is too my own detriment. I think I just want to naturally get a bit more efficient or productive. I dont want to do it artificially, where you lose the integrity; I just want to naturally speed the (recording) process up. The natural way to do that is to move on (by) trying to realize one piece of music the best you can. Not every piece is going to be the Mona Lisa. Whether you spend a year or a day, its going to be the case. Just do your best. Not every one will be right its a new philosophy Im working on.
EJ: An acoustic album is something Ive put on the backburner for a while, but Ive made a number of demos, and I definitely want to do that whole set of music. Id love to do that.Last month we went into the studio and caught some basic tracks, so Ill get home and finish that up. The music is a little different Ive been playing a lot of the new music and getting a good response. Most of the set is new music, with a few songs people know. Its a little more honest and organic Im playing from kind of where I feel I naturally reside at rather than thinking too much about it.
EJ: The records are sometimes too safe, and live can be too adventurous a middle point makes sense. I try to but dont always succeed in keeping all those aspects in balance. What I like a little more is a guitar with a really great sound. You have a musical vessel that you can fill with whatever you want; you can orchestrate it however you want. But if song is good enough, that should be enough. If it breaks the container, you dont have much but something to comment on. Statistically, you can make a comment on that but theres not much emotion to just powerful guitar.
EJ: Sure, absolutely. Ill go out and sit in and play sometimes, or Ill just go listen if Ive heard of someone whos good. Every month someone new pops up in town.Right now, I like Charlie Hunter, Pat Metheny, lots of guys. Theres a guy touring named Tucker Roundtree; hes an up-and-coming player, and hes really good. I enjoyed his playing.
EJ: I think ultimately the responsibility is in my department to get past all that if thats the case, well, then Ive got to write music thats strong and meaningful enough to dispel that stigma. I know that when I sit down to listen to a batch of new music, my mind wants to compartmentalize artists. Oh I see his bag, this is what he does. I already compartmentalize its a natural tendency. But you just have to have something thats strong (to fight that). Pay attention to songwriting and make it as strong as you can, make it honest and with more conviction. If it has more prominence that way, it shakes people out of that compartmentalization thing. But its not always that easy.
EJ: It was a little bit easier 10 or 15 years ago. Its going to have to be something pretty significant, with a really refreshing or original twist. Nothings completely new, but there are ways to make it fresher. The way most radio programming goes, its hard. That Ive been able to sustain something is really lucky. Ive tried to think about the song within the music. Thats helped me in a lot of times, rather than banging out an instrumental that didnt have a song attached to it.
EJ: Id love to work with a lot of people I love Stevie Wonder. Id love to work with him, or offbeat things like Neil Young. Any situation thats musically challenging, I love to add something to it and support somebdy. I really enjoy that supportive role where I can infuse some kind of artistic support into something. Arts & Entertainment writer Ted Alvarez can be reached at 748-2939 or firstname.lastname@example.org.Vail Daily, Vail, Colorado