The Crawler caught up with axe master Eric Johnson just prior to the “Cliffs of Dover” creator’s impending tour with Mike Sterns of Miles Davis infamy. Here’s some of what went down.
Crawler: With so much material for you to choose from, including your solo stuff and your heavy involvement in the Experience Hendrix tours, what can we expect this go-round?
Johnson: As you know, I’m going out with Mike [Sterns] this go-round. So the plan is, he’ll do some of his stuff, I’ll do some of mine, then we’ll have some fun together.
And I imagine you’re keeping it pretty loose? Someone attending more than one show on this tour will probably hear some decidedly different stuff?
That’s certainly the plan, yes.
Do you physically get together and practice? Or do you just text each other, “Let’s do this and that,” and brush up individually?
(Laughs) No, we are getting together in New York for rehearsals. I’m always learning!
And I imagine if I ask you what the secret is to your phenomenal chops, you’ll probably tell me you bought your first guitar from a pawn shop when you were 10 and played it 10 hours a day every day since, right?
There’s some of that, yes. But to me, perhaps even more important than that is having a strong vision, you know? You can practice non-stop and get your scales down and speed up, but where will you take it in terms of tonality, what you want to say, things like that? Some really great players are just that more for their vision than anything else.
Great point. And who better to answer my next question than a world-class player with decades in the industry, dating back to session gigs with Christopher Cross and Cat Stevens? My question is this: what do you make of the current state of musical affairs? By that I mean, brick and mortar record stores are closing, singles are more important than full-length albums. MTV doesn’t play videos, and many songs don’t even feature guitar solos anymore. Yet a new generation is finding you on Rockband and Youtube. A fair trade-off? Progress?
Well, it’s change, for sure. And with all change, there are pros and cons, I think. I mean, when television came out, it was the end of stories on the radio. Why only listen when you can see? But if you go back and listen to those old radio shows, there was some really magical storytelling going on there. So that art is lost.
But, yeah, by the same token, things like Youtube are also raising the bar in many ways… shining some light on players off the beaten path, so to speak, who are doing amazing things. As for the industry, I don’t know what it all means. It just kind of seems like it’s all just in the airwaves these days. I’m also not sure music even serves the same function as it used to. But again, it’s all just change—not necessarily bad or good.
Eric Johnson and Mike Sterns will be at the Regattabar in Cambridge with four shows between Aug. 9 and 10, as well as at Norfolk, Conn.’s Infinity Hall Aug. 11. For more info or to purchase, kindly point your browser to ericjohnson.com.
In other news, seminal ’70s soft-rockers The Eagles landed at the Mohegan Sun July 18 for an historical look at the band’s storied career. The show began with just founding members Glenn Frey and Don Henley on acoustics in storyteller fashion and concluded with epic, 10-piece workings of staples “Hotel California,” “Take It Easy” and “Desperado.”
For most—the Crawler included—it was the band’s clown prince of rock, Joe Walsh, with his comedic delivery, sizzling fretwork and overall Energizer Bunny enthusiasm who injected the evening with a much-needed dose of energy and levity as he offered “Life’s Been Good” from his personal catalog, and the James Gang mainstay, “Funk #49.”•
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