Eric Johnson Live and Beyond
Jupiter Index Web Magazine
December 2001 Texas Scene
Blowing off some steam, refreshed, improvised and finally away from the recording studio, musician Eric Johnson delivers live this time. It is with his band Alien Love Child, that Austin's guitar-prodigy brings forth a new album titled Live and Beyond. Released under the Favored Nations record label, this new release is Johnson's first live recording and he tries to capture the spirit of the best of his playing in concert. Known to be a perfectionist, Johnson says: "In this album, I went for a what-you-got-is-what-you-have frame of mind." Eclectic and diverse in his playing, Johnson is one of Austin's most celebrated guitarists and one of the top 20 guitar players in the country. But what was is that moved him to do a live album at this point of his career? In the middle of a tight touring schedule Eric took some time to talk to Jupiter Index about his new record, and the musical vision that has placed him as one of the most acclaimed artists on the six strings.
Jesus Ramos: Alien Love Child has a very cohesive sound, tell us how long you worked with Bill and Chris?
Eric Johnson: Well, I've worked with Bill on and off for many years. We played together many years ago in a group called The Electromagnets and we've done stuff on and off since then. And Chris I met years ago but we started doing stuff together like four or five years ago when we started the Alien Live Child project.
JR: There is definitely a lot of chemistry in the band's playing. However, I read "Eric Johnson and Alien Love Child" on the cover of the album, do you consider ALC as your band or is it more of a collaboration between you and Bill and Chris?
EJ: Well, it's kind of like doing different things at the same time. I still have my solo records that I'm doing but now I'm playing with ALC in more of a band concept where there is a lot of improvisation which has to do with their playing as well as mine. So it is inclusive of the whole band chemistry thing.
JR: Once you commented that Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jimmie Hendrix were great guitarists and songwriters. Have you made a conscious effort to stay in this line and not going for just solo guitar music? Has this ever been an issue for you?
EJ: Well, I've never gravitated only towards instrumental or songwriting, but I've always worked towards writing better songs, whether they are instrumental or vocals. It is important to me to be able to write a good song, I mean a piece of music that it is worth listening to. Otherwise you just have fancy fret work with no song. That is kind of superfluous and it doesn't give a reason for listening to it. The integrity of the song is totally subjected to the listener.
JR: Although the blues influence is undeniable in your playing your sound seems so rich of other musical influences as well. In spite of this diversity is there a genre that you tend to gravitate most towards?
EJ: I try to take the intensity of rock but with kind of an inflection of blues-type guitar playing. That's how I learned to play guitar, the first music I played was blues and so it stayed with me just the kind string-bends and vibrato and the kind of attitude towards playing the guitar. I wanted to use that but in a kind of higher achieved way.
JR: Do you feel that your creative efforts should be indebted to your fans in some way?
EJ: I feel that I'm lucky to have the fans that I have, that's why we do this, that's why we play and that's why we sell records, so I guess that we are lucky to have fans in that respect, it's a blessing. I want to continue doing something that would turn them on and that would appeal to them. I feel that a lot of my fans are pretty open-minded, they are concerned with integrity in the sense of something that would lift them or would make them feel good. You can do this or that but you've got to follow your heart and do it really well. It is like when you go to a museum and you see these paintings that are really nice hanging on the wall and there are other paintings that don't say anything to you, but there are this paintings that you really like and kind of jump off the wall and they come to you and those paintings are what signify what painting is all about, and when that happens the constituency of what the painting is about is not so important. It has accomplished what the reason is for, you know.
JR: It has been contended that after the '80s and early '90s the guitarist has not been considered the wizard/hero that it was before. What do you think about that?
EJ: I think that people just heard it all on guitar, all the riffs and all the licks. I think they are just a little bored with it. There is not something about it that has a refreshing effect to it or something that would make them turn their head because they heard it all. It is really not a mystery why things have followed that trend. The thing that is kind of unfortunate is that because of people wanting to hear something fresh and new the concept of having a guitar solo is not a very useful thing to do in a pop song now and that is a little bit dangerous. The real issue is what the quality is. You never see that happening in jazz music where they would say "oh no, we are not going to solo anymore", that's just crazy, that's what that music is all about. In that jazz music there must be freshness and negotiation between the players to make it worthwhile. I just think that it became a so overly saturated thing in pop music that you just say, ok, turn it off. You are known to be a perfectionist in what you do.
JR: Have you ever given away the joy of playing in order to get everything "just right"?
EJ: Definitely, yeah. Personally I think there is nothing wrong with trying to get things right. I don't like to use the word perfection anymore because I think it gets misconstrued. You use it and immediately you are neurotic. If you ask Winton Marsalis if he is trying to get better himself for practicing he will say he's trying to get better and better. It just has to be done in a moderate way in where you see a means to and end and that's hard to do, is kind of a delicate balance and you can definitely take the fun out of it. I think that I've definitely gotten to those places where I take the fun out of it because I got so preoccupied with getting things just right, you know.
JR: Anything, you would like to add?
Well, hopefully things will get more fun in the future (laughs), more than they already have.
- Jesus Ramos C 2001
Eric Johnson Live and Beyond