Eric Johnson - A Souvenir of the Past
So what's your favorite Eric Johnson recording? Ah Via Musicom? Too obvious. Alien Love Child? Maybe. Tones? Quite possibly. I'm sure EJ fans could argue over early Eric versus more recent Eric all day long. Eric's musical legacy stretches over 25 years of music making. Many fans may not realize just how young Eric was when he started playing professionally. By the time he hit "Austin City Limits" in '84, he had already spent time doing sessions for such recording luminaries as Carole King, Cat Stevens, and Christopher Cross. This merely set the stage for the release of Tones, his masterful 1986 release.
It's been 2-years since Eric's Favored Nations release, Alien Love Child. He's got a few more months of mixing and managing some minutia before he'll release his next CD, a double-disc set containing 21 songs. So what to do in the interim? How about a unique retrospective that will challenge the most hardcore of EJ fans but may strike a chord with a new legion of listeners. Souvenir is a collection of demo's and songs that come from sessions dating back as far as 1976, and on through this year.
Guitar.com catches up with Eric as he prepares for a brief summer tour. Find out what compelled Eric to release this distinctive collection, what Eric does to keep his technique up and if we'll ever get to see Eric on tour... acoustic!
Guitar.com: Eric thanks for taking the time to speak with us today. Are you familiar with Guitar.com?
Eric Johnson: A little bit, yeah.
Guitar.com: I know that Adam St. James had interviewed you in the past for the site.
Eric Johnson: Right.
Guitar.com: He's currently off attending the Buffalo Niagara Guitar Festival. We helped promote that event. It's one of the only national guitar festivals based in the US.
Eric Johnson: Very cool. Who's playing at it?
Guitar.com: Rik Emmett, Dickey Betts, Buddy Guy, Christopher Parkening, Los Lobos and they're also going to have the traveling Jimi Hendrix Museum.
Eric Johnson: That sounds like fun.
Guitar.com: Yeah, it's only their third year so we're sure that the event will continue to grow as more and more people begin to hear about it. So let's talk a little about your new release. I really like the concept behind Souvenir. Although fans might find it more compelling from a retrospective standpoint, I think this record stands up pretty strong on it's own. It contains your first live recording as a solo artist (a live version of "Dusty" from '76). Looking back across this musical timeline must have stirred up some memorable moments - or maybe some memories you'd like to forget. Any you could share?
Eric Johnson: Well, yeah, it really does bring back a lot of memories. I can remember what I was doing at a particular time on a particular song. Yeah, so it's kind of a personal thing for me.
Guitar.com: Yeah, I would think so. You covered quite a window of time, going back to 1976. I wonder how many of your fans know that you were out gigging back then. Is there any particular moment or memory that you could share...
Eric Johnson: I remember playing with Cat Stevens for awhile and he had just paid me for some sessions that I did. Right then, I just ran out and bought this 4-track recorder. And that's where a lot of this stuff came from there: just me sitting around in my living room.
Guitar.com: Very cool - was it an old Fostex or something.
Eric Johnson: An old Teac. Reel to reel four-track.
Guitar.com: Overall, the variety of styles on this record might surprise some long-time listeners. I'ts certainly your most diverse effort to date. Granted that's mostly due to the circumstances of the songs that were selected. The vaults had to contain way more than the 12 tracks you released. What was the decision making process on what fit this concept and what didn't?
Eric Johnson: I tried to use all new music rather than release alternative takes of stuff people had already heard. You know, let's just make it all new stuff and I also said, "Let's not get into all the live stuff now." It was going to be strictly all new studio recordings whether they were funky studio recordings at home or in a real studio. So those were kind of the parameters but at that point I was just kind of pulling stuff that was just bare in the closet. I actually had a few more things that were on this that were just - really - way too cheesy to put out. So I bagged those and that was kind of what was left. And then we just added that one new song to it.
Guitar.com: Speaking of that song ("Get to Go"), I had to check the CD to make sure I put the right CD in because, is has a great swampy vibe to it. Very Little Feat-esque.
Eric Johnson: It does have that kind of vibe to it.
Guitar.com: Do you consider yourself a Little Feat fan?
Eric Johnson: Yeah, they're great. Lowell George, yeah.
Guitar.com: Now you recorded that recently with Tommy (Taylor) and Kyle(Brock).
Eric Johnson: Yes.
Guitar.com: That's a reunion of sorts because you've haven't recorded with them in quite some time.
Eric Johnson: Right. About ten years or so, but I'm out touring with Tommy right now. It was great to track with Kyle and Tommy again.
Guitar.com: Will they be getting "the call" for some additional tracks on your upcoming CD?
Eric Johnson: Yeah, they did. The music is already finished. But I'd love to play with Tommy and Kyle (live) again. It'd be fun. Tommy's on several tracks on the new record and Kyle's on one, on this new one that isn't out yet. But yeah, I'd love to play with them again.
Guitar.com: Do you ever see Roscoe (Beck, also a former EJ Bassist)?
Eric Johnson: Yeah, he's out with the Dixie Chicks.
Guitar.com: That sounds like a great gig.
Eric Johnson: He's been real busy with those guys.
Guitar.com: It's been a while since I last saw him. I think the last time he was still with Robben Ford.
Eric Johnson: Right.
Guitar.com: Back to the vault-process, the liner notes were a really nice touch [Editors note: The liner notes contain Eric's thoughts about when the tracks were recorded and for what session. It gave a nice perspective for each song.] It was almost like a little piece of that VH-1 show "Storytellers." How much of the material was complete and how much did you have to touch-up for the release?
Eric Johnson: Everything was already written and in some form of near-completion.
Guitar.com: And I guess it was just a matter of having to polish up some of the songs...
Eric Johnson: Yeah, the work that I did on it - sometimes there would be a solo section that didn't have a solo. Or there wasn't finished vocal thing. I tried to do as little as possible to the old stuff.
Guitar.com: I would imagine some of the formats that you recorded some of that stuff on is all over the place. Was that a problem? Bringing everything over to digital?
Eric Johnson: It was, it really was. It's amazing that some of that stuff turned out the way it did. I mean, some of that stuff - some of the recordings were pretty mediocre but they way they started, they were just bad (laughs). Some of the stuff was on cassette.
Guitar.com: Really? Nothing like a little hiss.
Eric Johnson: Right. We also had stuff from this funky little 2-track reel-to-reel player. So Richard (Mullen - the engineer) had to run them through this noise clean-up - deal. They were pretty funky.
Guitar.com: On the whole, you wouldn't think that. It's sounds pretty good, given those circumstances.
Eric Johnson: Yeah, I agree. They did a really good job. Yeah, some of those songs were REALLY, REALLY humble recordings (laughs).
Guitar.com: (laughing) I suppose we all have demo's tucked away that are like that. They're not supposed to see the light of day.
Eric Johnson: Exactly.
Guitar.com: You put a good deal of acoustic tunes on this record, which will probably test your more hardcore fans on some level, depending on what their expectations are of this record. But I think that accurately reflects the demo nature of the disc. Have you ever thought about doing an all-acoustic release?
Eric Johnson: I have, in fact, later this year I'm probably going to try to do a little touring, solo acoustic. I'd love to do an acoustic record.
Guitar.com: I think that would be compelling. Kind of a more like, Eric Johnson the singer/songwriter. However, I think I would be really interested in hearing what you might do to some of your instrumental compositions.
Eric Johnson: Yeah, I really think I'd like to do that.
Guitar.com: I was sorry to learn that your tour dates with B. B. King were cancelled. Any chance that those dates might be reslated?
Eric Johnson: I don't know. It was weird. He was out on tour and they asked us to do several of the dates with them. And I was like "Oh I would love to." And those dates got cancelled and I don't know if B.B. had to pull out of them or if the promoter pulled out or what. I know that Jeff Beck's out with him.
Guitar.com: I got to see a few minutes of a PBS special featuring B.B., and Jeff Beck comes out and closes the show with him. What I saw was pretty cool.
Eric Johnson: Really? And Jeff plays with B.B.'s band?
Eric Johnson: Oh, I didn't realize he was going to do that. I thought he'd bring his own band.
Guitar.com: Yeah, it was pretty cool stuff. Thanks for chatting with us!