List Interview 2
Eric Johnson List Member Interview Part 2 - June 1998
I am changing the format I used in the first interview by including the original member's question.
The interview was done Sunday over a cup of coffee overlooking the lake here in Austin. We thought it was pretty darn hot and found out it was 108 afterwards.
1. What's up with Alien Love Child? Who is in the band, and will there ever be a cd and tour?
Eric - "We're not doing anything right now. There is one cut with Bill Maddox and Chris Maresh from Alien that will be on the new record."
2. Has Eric ever thought of doing an album of nothing but cover tunes? It would take the pressure off him to write. I would love to hear him record Simon and Garfunkel's "April Come She Will"(which I've heard him do live), and a bunch of Hendrix.
Eric - " Yes, I've thought of doing that."
At this point I quizzed Eric about the accuracy of my posting in which I said that I thought there was little chance of seeing him put any Hendrix tunes on record.
Eric - "They're so beautiful the way they were done, and a lot of the fun I have is playing them note for note off the record. It's the way I pay tribute to something that inspires me. I've never really felt the urge to really redo a Hendrix song."
I have 2 questions for Eric.
1) At what age did he start playing guitar, and what kind of guitar was it?
Eric - "Eleven years old, and it was a 64 or 65 white Fender Musicmaster."
2) What is Eric's all time favorite song to listen to? I don't mean one of his own songs or songs that he plays.
Eric - " If I had to choose just one, it might be _For Free_ by Joni Mitchell."
Speaking of "Venus Reprise", I have a question for Park to ask Eric: Why did he only record an excerpt on Venus Isle, and not the whole song?
Eric - " I didn't feel I was singing it well in the studio and so I made it into an instrumental."
Do you tour internationally, ie Europe, South Africa (My home town) and the like? If not, Why?
Eric - "I do when we can. I would love to tour South Africa if the chance presented itself."
And do you hold guitar workshops?
Eric - "Rarely"
(We didn't get into why. I have discussed it before with him and believe it is a combination of the preparation time and his feeling it's just not something he does as well as he would like. --Park)
1. There is an entry that says Eric played guitar on a self-titles release
by Marc Anthony Thompson for the Warner Brothers label in 1984. I wanted to see if this is accurate and if this record is still available.
Eric - " Did I? I'm not really sure or not." I might have done it during the time I was doing a lot of studio work."
2. This doesn't really have to do with the above question. I was wondering if Eric has published any of the songs that he did while he was known as Eric Johnson and the Avenue? Songs such as "All I Need" and "All Those Days". I was also wondering if Eric still talks to Rob Alexander?
Eric - " All of those songs are published, and I got a letter from Rob just the other day."
When and from where did Eric procure the 1954 Strat "Virginia"?
Eric - "I found it in the warehouse section of J. R. Reed Music in Austin in 1977 leaning up against the wall waiting to have some work done on it. I called the owner and asked if he was interested in selling it. He said no, but he might trade for a nice Gibson. I found a really nice SG a few days later and bought it in the hope he would like it. He did."
I actually change pick shapes *and* thicknesses for the same purpose, although more on acoustic than on electric. Picks are a lot less expensive to collect than different guitars, and at times make just as much difference. Ancient faux-12-string trick: take a regular (fairly thin) Fender-shape pick and file a notch so it has a double point, and you get the double attack characteristic
of a 12-string (if not the octaves).
Hey Park/Jerry - any fave pix/trix up Eric's sleeve in this vein?
Eric - "Nope. Other than sanding them down I really don't do anything in this vein."
At this point, since we had had such a long thread about who we would like to see Eric collaborate with, I asked him who he would like to work with.
Eric - "Peter Gabriel, Bryan Adams, B. B. King, Joni Mitchell, Paul Rodgers, Grady Tate and Nancy Griffith, just to name a few."
I have a question about Eric's practice space and his hearing. I read in an interview that he suffers from a condition that caused ringing in his ears. How is that condition now? Park - Sorry but I forgot to ask but I know it's much better.
Along with that, I was wondering about his practice space and sound. He said that he played in a little room with Marshalls on 10 for too many years. Did he use a special studio for that, or does he have a sound proof room in his home? Marshalls turned all the way up will rock any residential neighborhood.
Eric - "I play at much less volume now and practice in my studio, which has a large room."
The last part of this question is what does he do now? How does he get the volume that he needs to get the tone that he wants without putting his hearing in danger?
Eric -"Amp positoning helps. My volume is less than half what it used to be."
Park -"Are you happy with your tone and feedback?"
Eric -"Yes. I am finally getting it to sound much like it used to. It was really hard to get the sound at that lower level but it's pretty much come around."
Since we're on the subject of unreleased songs..... Back in 1993 on the Blues Festival Tour, EJ did a song he introduced as "World of Trouble", an instrumental blues number that sounded great!!!! Is this an original song by EJ or is it a cover he did for that tour?
Eric - "It's an original. I just cut it live in the studio and it will be on the next record."
Park: next time you talk to Eric, please ask him to seriously consider recording a more guitar-oriented version of Lone Star (the song he played on Stuart Hamm's 'The Urge' album). Eric's playing is mind-boggling on this song.
Park - I did.
We've all discussed the Eric's ideas of good tone when it comes to creating and recording music. I'd like to know about his opinions on hi-fi. What hi-fi equipment does Eric prefer to listen to his stuff on? Is he has picky about his stereo equipment as he is his guitar equipment?
Eric - "My stereo is mostly 30 years old now. I lucked into some Mac (MacIntosh) tube equipment that I've used for years. There is some solid state equipment that I like too. I'm not that picky about stereo equipment."
How does he feel when he hears his stuff being played on inferior equipment?
Eric - "Sometimes I like it better." :-)
Would Eric unofficially recommend any particular brand of equipment (speakers,amps, etc.) or style of equipment (planar speakers v. conical speakers,tube v. solid state amps, etc.).
Park - On advice of counsel he declined to become embroiled in that. He did say that he could recommend good batteries. ;-)
What playback system does he use in-studio?
Eric - "BGW power amp and Yamaha NS10 speakers."
Could you get some recommendations of specific classical CD's that Eric enjoys? Particularly violin stuff that reminds him of his own lead playing.
Eric - "Nope"
Has Eric ever been tempted to ditch all the vintage gear and go 100% modern/digital to avoid the temperamental equipment thing (kind of like Eddie van Halen did years ago)?
Eric - "Sure. I think that eventually they will get computer sonic modeling together and I'll just plug into a computer that will go into the PA."
I'm curious to know whether Eric has ever gotten into Rush. I've never heard him comment on Lifeson's playing or Rush's music in general.
Park - Forgot to ask.
Has Eric ever taken a stab at playing flamenco/jazz style guitar, like Strunz & Farah?
Eric - "No."
Are there any guitar or music books which Eric has read/studied over the years which he would recommend to other guitarists?
Eric - "Chord Chemistry by Ted Greene."
Park - "Another Ted Greene plug. Why don't you have him open on tour sometime?
Eric - "I would _love_ to, if he would."
Has Eric's guitar playing improved in a series of quantum leaps, or has it been slow and steady improvement?
Eric - "It's been a steady slow process. The more I've worked at it the better I've gotten though."
Does Eric visualize music as he plays it (or listens to it?). Does he see his music as a shape or color or line or something?
Eric - "Indirectly."
Why isn't he on any of the Hendrix tribute CD's? I can't think of a better person to do a Hendrix song than EJ. I think it's a crime.
Park - This was answered previously. They just don't ask him.
Are there any of his recorded songs which he would be interested in re-recording from a different angle and putting on an upcoming CD?
Eric - "No."
One thing I'd like to ask EJ is about the song called "...Mountain" (it's absolutely impossible for me to catch the exact words from his singing!). We have already been informed by Robin Detlefsen in May as follows:-
I talked with Eric today and he said this was Venus Reprise. In the studio more and more kept getting cut from the song so it ended up being a lot shorter then when he started. Also he was never very happy with the vocal track so it was dumped.
Does it mean EJ gave up recording "...Mountain" or will he try again someday?
Eric - "I just never could get it on tape as beautiful as it was in my head. I don't know that I will ever get it the way I would like. The best thing I could do at the time was throw it on as a jam."
My question: Can Eric describe some peak moments he may have had playing music?
Eric - "I enjoyed the period right after Ah Via Musicom came out when we were able to play 2500 seat auditoriums and theaters, and people were really excited to come out. There was a certain eloquence about theaters as opposed to clubs. Good lights, good PAs, and people on the edge of their seats.
Is he trying any new 'gadgets' or 'off the wall' axe's on his Tone's for the new LP?
Eric - "Nope."
And finally, is 'Virginia' being used on this LP, or if not- what has replaced her?
Eric - "I haven't used it because it's been out of commission for a long time. It took a fall five years ago and ever since I've been trying to get it put back together. I will, I'm sure, use it on the record since I only own three Stratocasters now. I don't have 50 million of them. I used to own quite a few but I've gotten rid of a lot of guitars in the last few years.
Park - "So what guitars have you used on the record so far...the 335...the Les Paul?
Eric - Just the 335 so far. I'm sure I will be using the Les Paul and the other two Strats."
1: My favorite song is 'Manhatan'. What was his inspiration for the song?
Eric - "I used a Wes Montgomery lick off of Down Here on the Ground as a motif to write a kind of homage to Wes. Now it was never meant be a straight-ahead jazz tune, or to sound like a Wes Montgomery tune, only to have overtones of one."
Where (in the Austin/Houston area) do you enjoy performing the most? Why?
Park - "Hole in the Wall...right?"
Eric - "There's this great 7-11 over on... Music Hall's fine, La Zona Rosa is fun. I liked to play the BackYard sometime. My favorite thing about playing in Texas is the people are very important to me. It's a real honor for me to play for people I've grown up with and who have followed my career so long. It adds a special quality to playing here. ...I'd like to play more for them..."
Park - "I'd like to see you play at the Paramount or Symphony Square again."
I have a question for Eric. I don't think that it's personal. I wondered how autobiographical the song "Bristol Shore" is? The woman depicted in Eric's lyrics for me has always been a sort of mysterious image. "She works at sea,for the land propriety." I have wondered who she worked for and what she did. Eric has that knack for telling wonderful stories with his songs. So much so that even after having heard that song so many years on, I still wonder about "her" and if she in fact was a friend or acquaintance of EJ's. I had envisioned Bristol Shore to be perhaps somewhere along the coastline of Texas,but that's just a guess.
Eric - "I wrote it for a friend of mine who used to live in Galveston when she flew helicopters out to the oil rigs in the gulf. I guess it would be somewhere near Galveston. I looked on the globe for a name that would sing well."
The other question that I would like to ask is this: Is there any lighter fare of music that Eric grew up listening to and enjoying? The night of the show I saw him in Boston he mentioned he wouldn't be singing any Diana Ross tunes that evening, nor would he be doing any Burl Ives covers! I found that humorous and wondered what Eric likes to listen to in a lighter, unguarded moment. (Again, hoping this isn't too personal.) When all was said and done, he did "Red House" for everyone's delight! A memorable evening.
Eric - "My dad had very broad tastes so I listened to lots of swing, broadway musicals, he had a Jim Nabors record, Lawrence Welk, Tommy Dorsey, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin..."
Park "Ok to end this I want to ask you for your ten desert-island-discs."
Eric - "That's really tough. OK here goes.
"Truth" - Jeff Beck
"Down Here on the Ground" - Wes Montgomery
"Are You Experienced"
"Axis Bold As Love"
"Electric Ladyland" All were Jimi Hendrix
"Wheels of Fire" - Cream
"Song to a Seagull"
"Ladies of the Canyon" Both Joni Mitchell
"Any of the Hayden discs by Glenn Gould"
"Love is the Thing" - Nat King Cole