Remember a couple of years ago when NASA could still get off the ground, and they sent that rocket off into the galaxy seeking intelligent life forms? They sent a lot of stuff, even some recorded music by Beethoven and Chuck Berry. They could have sent Texas guitarist Eric Johnson.
By listening to his one-of-a-kind guitar pyrotechnics, it's easy to see that Johnson has already been to interstellar space. He would've been perfect. Now, he's only going to be in Santa Barbara; at least it's closer. Johnson will be opening for another guitar whiz, Joe Satriani, at the Arlington Theatre on Thursday night.
Those who attended Johnson's concert at the Ventura Theatre a few months ago are still trying to invent some new adjectives to describe him. The tunes are so complex, so ethereal, so spacey, it's amazing the band members--drummer Tommy Taylor and bassist Kyle Brock--know when to stop at the same time. But they do.
Johnson, who has received as many guitar guru awards as anyone, recently released his second album, "Ah Via Musicom," which roughly translates as "by way of the communication of music," or the right stuff for aliens in outer space or guitar-god wanna-bes. He's been compared to Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, John McLaughlin and other heavyweights. In a recent telephone interview from Abilene, Tex., Johnson talked about his life and times.
How's the tour and the new album doing?
The tour is doing pretty good. We just played our first gig last night in Abilene. We're going to do some other shows in West Texas--Odessa and El Paso--then it's on to Arizona, New Mexico, then California, Oregon, Washington and finally Vancouver. Basically, it's just a West Coast tour; then later, we'll tour the South. The record is doing pretty well, actually considerably well, much better than "Tones," which came out four years ago--I'm real happy.
Why did it take you so long between albums, and will it be 1994 before the next one is finished?
Well, hopefully not. It took a couple of years to get a record deal. After "Tones," Warner Bros. spent a year or so trying to figure out what to make of it, what we could do or couldn't do. But now I'm signed with Cinema (Capitol) and they told me, "Hey, let's do this wild guitar record--we'll use Gregorian chants, whatever, we'll make a new Yardbirds album."
How did you get started in the music biz?
Well, my brother had friends who played, and this guy named Jimmy taught me how to play guitar. I just hung out a lot and listened to the Beatles, the Stones and the Ventures. I played in my first band when I was 14. We'd play bars in Austin sometimes, and my brother would hang around and make sure I didn't drink any beer.
Who are some of your musical influences?
Originally, the Ventures--they're still around too. I saw them here in Texas seven or eight years ago and they knocked me out. Also, Brian Jones of the Stones, and of course, Jimi Hendrix. Currently, there's an Austin band I like, Big Car, and I also like Miles Davis and Depeche Mode.
Why are there so many great guitarists from Texas--is there something in the water, or what?
I don't really know. Stevie Ray (Vaughan), Jimmie (Vaughan)--yeah, there's a lot of them. Maybe it's the balance of culture and country. Then there's that Texas blues thing. There's just a special chemistry here.
How many hours a day do you practice?
When we're on the road, not that much. I play a bit in my hotel room, but we have fairly lengthy sound checks. When I'm at home, I practice several hours a day.
What is the best thing about being a guitar god?
I don't think I'm a rock god. I think I'm more of a rock janitor. I just keep playing. It's fun, and I'm glad people enjoy it.
How would you compare the new record with "Tones"?
I hope it's a step in the right direction. We're trying to go forward with some sort of evolution.
How would you describe Eric Johnson music?
It's really chicken music.
Is it rock, jazz, blues or just the soundtrack for Foghorn Leghorn?
It's sort of homogenous. We sort of just steal stuff.
People toss around some heavyweight comparisons when describing your music, most often Jimi Hendrix. What do you think about all that hype?
Well, I don't think I'll ever be another Jimi Hendrix. He changed the face of music forever. I don't want to step into his shoes. I'm still trying to find my level. I just want to be an innovative contributor.
Is there a basic Eric Johnson fan?
Well, I guess we attract the guitar audience.
What advice would you give to young guitarists?
Well, just work hard and put a lot of value on your integrity. If you write lyrics, put some depth into the composition. Put all the pieces into the picture and make a holistic critique of yourself.
What are your musical goals?
I want to get to another level--find a shorter route to my Muse so I don't have to go through all these extra steps. I want to play chord changes better and become a better composer.
Can music change the world?
Well, it can help give somebody renewed hope when things get blurred. It can definitely lift your spirits.
How 'bout those Dallas Cowboys, is this their year?
Well, I hope so.