LIST MEMBER INTERVIEW 3 - EricJohnson.com

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List Interview 3

 

Eric Johnson List Member Interview - September, 1998

PS: From James Santiago: One of my favorite old shows of EJ was from a place called Myskins in South Carolina. Were the tunes "Green Jam" and "Pass The Salt" written by EJ or are they some obscure covers?

EJ: "Green Jam" is a song I wrote and "Pass The Salt" is a song Bill Maddox wrote.

PS: From Walt Beier: I'm curious as to how EJ set his delay on rhythm and lead so as not to conflict with the drums, particularly during live sets with songs of various tempos, etc. Does he tweak them for each song, or does he "set and forget?" From what I know he doesn't use any tap tempo device.

EJ: They're set for one setting and a lot of times there probably off beat with the drums. I just set them for one setting and forget about it.

PS: From Mitch Keen: Has EJ had any tendonitis problems? If he has, does he have any useful tips?

EJ: No, I really haven't. Sometimes I have a mild pain in my left thumb and sometimes I get a little shooting electrical thing in one of my fingers if I'm playing a whole lot or if I'm playing a guitar with real heavy strings. But for the most part I've been lucky not to have too much problem with that. For someone who is having this problem, I would definitely recommend that they use skinnier strings. One way to get a better tone with skinnier strings is to just raise the action.

PS: From Charles Hollis: Would Eric ever care to divulge the identity of individuals who he holds as heroes, or people who otherwise inspire him, whether they be spiritual leaders, race car drivers, or bazouki players?

EJ: People that come to mind are Martin Luther King and Albert Einstein. Einstein and Martin Luther King not only because of their brilliance but also their spiritual nature and how they put both together.

PS: From Laura Small: What inspires EJ to create music, and is it the same thing(s), person(s), etc. who have always fueled his muse?

EJ: I think that God's given me a talent and I'm doing what I do better than other things I do. The inspiration is that I have some kind of connection with music. To me it's a very inspiring media. It's exciting and it's a passion for me.

PS: From Benjamin Grier: How does EJ divide his practice time? How did he divide it earlier when he was working on learning chords (with "Chord Chemistry"?) and developing his technique (read "chops")?

EJ: When you're a kid you have all this extra time. All I did was play. Six, eight, ten hours a day. Now I try to practice at least a few hours a day. I try to divide it up between writing songs and just working on technique. Right now there's other responsibilities of producing a record,in making sure the record is the best I can do. Then there are all the other things that go along with life. I still try to put in a diligent

PS: When you first started playing you were copying people, right?

EJ: Yea

PS: So you were learning "Wheels of Fire" and the whole bit. Did you use
chord books? You took lessons didn't you?

EJ: When I first started I took a couple of months of guitar lessons.

PS: Lessons from Wayne Wood? Then you did a lot of copying records. Then after that did you get into chord books, like Chord Chemistry?

EJ: Yea, I started checking out chords and tried to just sit down and experiment.

PS: So do you still work out ther people's material to learn new chops.

EJ: Yea, I don't think I do note for note as much any more. But I still do just in the process of learning stuff. Sometimes when you go in a certain direction you might get rusty in an area that you were good at years ago. Then you go back and pick that up trying to figure out a way to put it all together.

PS: Since I know you don't listen to a whole lot of guitarists, not to the extent that people might think, are you transcribing other instruments to guitar?

EJ: I'm not married to listening only to guitar. I like to listen to different types of music and create a synthesis of it all together in what I play.

PS: So, when you warm up, do you actually play scales?

EJ: No, I either practice techniques that are interesting to play or tunes. I never really break it down into the skeletal thing of just practicing scales. Every once in a while I will if there's like a brick wall right in front of me that I have to get over. But I've never been a fan of having a diligent practice where I do nothing but work on exercises. Maybe that would be better, I don't know, but for me it seems to be a delicate balance. You have to balance the real dry work with the inspirational stuff. If you go too far one way you loose the balance and it's going to effect you. My balance is not to get too dry when I play. I've got to keep an element of interest in it so that I'm having fun with it. Otherwise, it would have too much of an element of complete discipline.

PS: In other words, you would not make a good classical guitarist solely playing other people's work?

EJ: I don't necessarily mean that. I don't have to play my own work. I just mean that sitting down to play only scales for three hours would effect the fun factor of playing guitar.

PS: From Edward Cheung: Did Eric or Richard Mullens deal a lot with engineering folks, i.e. electrical engineers, etc, with the design and setup of his studio? Also, in what areas did they help Eric or Richard?

EJ: Acoustical engineers designed the room to be as flat as possible. It's a floating room inside a room so it can be completely quiet and not have any spurious frequencies, that are out of proportion with the complete sonic field. As far as the electrical AC wiring, it was customized to a design that I learned from my experimentation with wire polarity.

PS: Edward is also looking forward to your book on this subject!

EJ: Yea, I'd like to do it someday. It's going to be a crazy book.

PS: From Grace Warren: Often when listening to Eric's music, I get chills at the sheer beauty of it. Has he ever experienced this himself while either writing or recording his music? Or after listening back to the finished product? If so, does a particular piece come to mind?

EJ: I think I have experienced that. Usually when that happens it's when I'm plugged into something bigger than myself. I think when people experience the chill factor they're plugged into that "Big Outlet". It's when you're taping into the bigger picture.

PS: From Cliff Fields: Regarding Eric's guitars, he always seems to favor maple necks over rosewood fingerboards on his Strats. Is this due to a difference in tone, or a difference in speed?

EJ: To me they have a purer sound. Every once in awhile you'll find a rosewood neck that dispels that philosophy. I like some, I think the rosewood necks sometimes have a better rhythm tone. As far as the overall tone - all the tones you try to get out of the guitar - I like the maple. It's one piece of wood as opposed to a laminated piece. If you get lucky, in maybe one out of a hundred, the two pieces of wood have a synergy that's real nice. Otherwise they can be fighting one another.

PS: How many songs on the new album?

EJ: I think there's going to be eleven. It's volume one of a two volume set.

PS: From Brian Jackson: Eric's ability to pick up a slide from the floor and use it for one bar of a song without a glitch is amazing. Are there any stories behind his mastering of this technique?

EJ: There used to be a guitarist from Dallas named Steve Meter (sp?), who's no longer with us, but he was a really fine rock guitarist. I remember meeting him many years ago and he had the ability to do that. He'd have a slide in his pocket or his mouth or on the floor and he'd just whip it out then play a couple of licks then throw it down. One of my favorite rock, slide players is Jeff Beck. He's really one of the greatest slide players. Steve was a lot like Beck. He'd just materialize a slide out of no where. I always thought this was kind of cool.

PS: From Danny Wuu: With which album and with which song are you most satisfied? Or should I say, which work are you most proud of?

EJ: It would be hard for me to say. I'm real proud of "Battle We Have Won." Guitar-wise, I guess I'm proud of the guitar playing I did on the song "Desert Rose." That would be a couple that come to my mind.

PS: Have you thought about touring Asia or outside the USA?

EJ: I've been to Europe, Japan and Canada. We're slated to go to Australia and New Zealand next year.

PS: Any plans to come out with a signature guitar with Fender?

EJ: Well I talked to them about that a few years ago. I haven't talked much about it recently. I just have mixed feelings about it. I pretty much play a vintage reissue guitar with a few changes on it. I don't know if I could add enough to make it that different, to say that this is "my model guitar."

To me the difference lies in the particular personalities of the pieces of wood and the parts more than the changes I would make to the guitar. I'd much rather play a totally stock Strat that had good pieces of wood and parts than one that was massively customized for what I would project as my "signature" guitar. So there's kind of a dual feeling about that. But I have talked to them about doing it.

PS: One question that keeps coming up is, are all your Strats modified with the one rewired pick-up and other modifications?

EJ: Only one out of three. The other two are totally stock. They have big frets and I wire the tone control to the bridge pick up on all of them. The one modified Strat has a DiMarzio HS-2. The others have the original pick-ups. I sort of got more neurotic about amplifiers during that period and forgot about those guitars and quit fiddling with the guitars. Now I've quit fiddling with the amps.

PS: From Jeff Wallace: I stopped by my favorite guitar shop on Congress Avenue. I found a beautiful 50's tweed Fender Twin (an early one without reverb) for sale. One of the guys in the shop said that you had borrowed that amp for Jimmie Vaughn's solo on "SRV". Any truth to this story?

EJ: It's true. If were talking about the same amp, which I'm sure he is, the solo he did on "SRV" is that amp.

They're asking 5 Grand for a tweed Fender Twin!

PS: From Chris Florko: What music have you been listening to lately? What are some of your newest CDs?

EJ: I've actually been listening to some Sarah McLachlan. I like that group Savage Garden, they're interesting, the lead singer is real good. Here's one I'll get in trouble for, I've been listening a little bit to Mariah Carey. She has a great voice. I've been studying that song that she did "Whenever You Call." The vocal performance is ridiculous, it's so great. I'm just interested in it because I'm inspired by the talent. It's not necessarily my favorite type of music. I need to find that - people that have this prolific talent that explodes out of their personna. I've been listening to that song. Studying the little things she does technically with her voice. Not that I'll ever approach it, but you can learn from everybody.

PS: I'll be waiting for that really high falsetto.

EJ: That's something everyone is going to love. And you think the last one took three years!

PS: What led to the release of "Seven Worlds"?

EJ: Well that's a good question because it really boils down to, I cut that record in 1978 and it's been totally out of my control. I've had nothing to do with it. Someone else owns the masters and at some juncture they decided they wanted to put it out. It's fine with me. They have my blessing. Obviously, part of it sounds a little dated. There's some songs on there that I don't feel real comfortable with because they're twenty years old. Part of the album I'm proud of. Consequently, it has my blessing. I worked hard on the record for six or seven months in 1977 trying to record it. So it's cool to me to put it out. But really it was totally out of my hands. It wasn't something that _I_ decided to put out. It's nothing that I've held back for twenty years. My original intention was to put it out in 1978.

PS: From Joseph Najera: Is there any chance of a live album or video?

EJ: Sure. If I could ever get through a song without trashing it. The Spice Girls come to mind with this question.

(Laughter)

I'd love to do a live album. I really would. I'd like it to be a live album that I didn't go back and fix anything. Just live. I think that people will find that this new record is considerably more organic than the last record.

PS: Mark Dittmar wanted me to share the following quotes with you and if you wanted to comment it would be cool. "Through vibration comes motion, Through motion comes color, Through color comes tone." Pythagoras

EJ: That is really beautiful. Yea, Pythagoras was really into some metaphysical stuff. He talked about the music of the spheres. I've read about him.

PS: The other one is: "Neither a lofty degree of intelligence nor imagination nor both together go to the making of genius. Love, love, love, that is the soul of genius." Mozart

EJ: That's great. I've never heard that. That's really great!

PS: From Greg at Compuserve: What did you think of the latest Roland (Strat) guitar synth? It has some Eric like sounds.

EJ: I haven't tried the latest one.

PS: What acoustic players do you like?

EJ: Michael Hedges, Joni Mitchell, some of James Taylor's stuff, Adrian Legg, Christopher Parkening, the Assad Brothers, to name a few.

PS: Have you ever considered joining a death metal band? (Just kidding)

EJ: That's what this new record is.

PS: From Mark Anderson: Have you ever gone into playing be-bop type jazz
(e.g. Wes Montgomery's "Four on Six" or Jimmy Bruno or Frank Martino)?

EJ: I listen to it and I've been learning some of it. But I'm not totally free to play that stuff yet.

PS: Ever played a 7 string jazz box (like a Bennedetto)?

EJ:No I haven't.

PS: What is it about the playability or feel of Stratocasters that make them you guitar of choice? Or is it all tone that draws you into the Strat? In other words, which contributes more to your love for the Stratocaster: the way they sound or the way they play?

EJ: The way they sound.

PS: Karen Monohon asked about Hawaiian Punch, especially the vocal at the end.

EJ: That was John Traynor, who did percussion on several tracks. Not much to tell really, Steve Barber and I wrote it. Steve named it.

PS: Frank Grullon asked if you would play the National Anthem again at a big event like the Super Bowl.

EJ: Sure. All they have to do is ask. (Big smile)

PS: Arthur Hung asks several questions. First What kind of ear protection do you wear when practicing or playing?

EJ: I wear specially fitted custom E.A.R. plugs. (E.A.R. being the brand.)

PS: Arthur thinks your tone really improved from Tones to Venus Isle, and asks if you are still going for more improvement or are you satisfied?

EJ: For the most part I'm satisfied. I really want to spend more time and effort on the music. I want to be less obsessed with equipment.

PS: Are you bothered much by fans?

EJ: For the most part fans are very nice. It is really rare that anyone really "bothers" me.

PS: Are you going to be doing guest spots on any other albums coming out soon?

EJ: The Christopher Cross album and an upcoming Van Wilkes album.

PS: Carlos asks what you think of Brazilian music.

EJ: I'm not familiar with much, but what I've heard I like. I like Milton Naciemento and Jobim. Is Laurindo Almeida or Carmen Miranda from Brazil? Have you ever heard Carmen Miranda sing?!! She was really incredible and almost no one knows.

PS: Now I want to talk about pre-Mariani and Mariani. So Mariani wasn't your first real band.

EJ: It was my first real original band where I was with someone who had a concept of playing concerts and writing original music, doing an original thing. Before that I was in copy groups.

PS: What was the first time you played in public?

EJ: It was at this place called the Eleventh Door, which is now Symphony Square. I was 13 years old.

PS: What was the band?

EJ: Sounds of Life. That was the main copy group I played with before Mariani. I played with Paul Rabbit. For about two months, that was right after I joined Mariani and before I joined the Electromagnets. When I was 13.

PS: Are there any of those tapes around? Do you still have them?

EJ: I don't think we ever recorded. We played in the Battle of the Bands and played fraternity parties and in clubs.

PS: Did ya'll win in the Battle of the Bands?

EJ: No

PS: Who won?

EJ: I think one of the years Shepherd's Bush, with John Staehely, won. They were great. He was my hero.

PS: So let's talk a little bit about Mariani. How did you end up getting in the group?

EJ: I was in Sounds of Life and I remember that at one point the drummer was not going to be working with us any more. The keyboard player, Jay Wagner, opened up the phone book and said "I've heard of this great drummer named Vince Mariani, let's call him up." We called Vince and he came over to my parents' house where we were jamming and he jammed with us. Vince wasn't that interested (laughing) but later he called me back and asked if I was interested in doing something original.

PS: Did he already have a bass player?

EJ: No, but we got together and jammed with different people. Larry Nye, who has now been playing guitar with the country rock musician Steve Fromholtz, was playing bass with us for a while. Then Vince split to Colorado to go play with Zephyr, Boenze Cryque (sp?) and Herbie Rich & The Electric Flag. Then he came back.

PS: Did Vince already have all the music?

EJ: No, we developed it together.

He came back from Colorado and decided to put a group together because there was a producer in town named Bill Josey who was interested in doing something with Vince. Originally, Vince had an audition to be the drummer with Jimi Hendrix. So he recorded a solo drum song called
"Pulsar" to send to Hendrix's management company at the time, this was 1969. That's when Mitch Mitchell was leaving and he had talked with someone who said send a tape and we'll get you an audition. But then he met Josey, the producer in Austin who worked with Johnny Winter who said "why don't you stay here, do your own thing, and we'll get you a record deal." At that point he called me back and we started working together.

PS: There was a single that came out. Was that "Pulsar"?

EJ: Well there was "Pulsar" that came out which was a drum solo. Then there was a single "Re-Birthday" that came out.

PS: Do you have any copies of that?

EJ: Yea, I think.

PS: What was your first gig as Mariani?

EJ: Our first gig was Kingsland Pop Festival which is this pop festival that Charlie Hatchett would do out in North Austin off of Howard Lane before it became a suburban area. It was a big show. He'd always have concert groups out there. ZZ Top would play out there. We played out there several times. We played at City Park at a thing called Hill On The Moon. We played several gigs in Texas places like Corpus Christi and Waco. We played several times in San Antonio at this place called the Jam Factory that Joe Miller had. It was a real cool club where a lot of up-and-coming groups were playing. I think Zepplin's first time in San Antonio, they played there. And Deep Purple. We used to play with Deep Purple.

PS: You couldn't even drink at that time, right?

EJ: No, but I was drinking beer back stage. (Laughter) I remember one gig with Deep Purple I'd had a little too much beer and I forgot to stretch my strings out and the first song that I played my strings all went way out of tune. We had to stop the band. But that was a cool place with a V-High public sound system. Remember those? Did you ever go there? This was in 1970 weren't you in San Antonio then?

PS: No I came to Austin in 1968. I remember the Vulcan Gas Company. That's where I started going.

EJ: Oh, I went there to see Johnny Winters. Got ripped off, it cost me .50 to get in to see him.

PS: Yea, so did I.

EJ: Remember that - .50!!! It was incredible. He was great. Everyone said you have to go see this guy. I said "O.K.", paid my .50 went in there and said "this guys's great. Oh my god!"

(More Incredulous Laughter)

PS: So, you did all the gigs. Vince tried to shop the album. There were a hundred copies that went out. They were all autographed. Did ya'll autograph every one of the hundred?

EJ: I think we did.

PS: Why did the band break up?

EJ: Well, we were together for a few years under Bill Josey. Vince actually turned down deals, one with Electra Records and one with other people because of a deal that Josey was working on. So we hung in there with Josey but it turned out that his deal just never materialized and finally it just all came apart at the seams. It. Then at some time, after a few years of trying, Vince went back to New York and got some other interests. At some juncture I decided to go off on my own and do my own thing. You should really interview Vince about all this. He could probably give you more insight into it all.

PS: I'd love to. Would you like to see the Mariani album come out?

EJ: I think it would be nice if it came out. Once again there's stuff on there that can be a little embarrassing but there's also stuff that's interesting.

PS: You were 15 years old!!!

EJ: Yea, I was 15. What's really interesting is that there are other tapes that Vince has, other than what came out on the Mariani album, that are actually even more interesting. It would be nice to see, if they do put out the Mariani album, an edited version of the record supplemented with stuff that's more interesting. There is some really cool stuff. Jams and stuff. Bill Josey choose what went on the record and there is other stuff that someone else may have chosen. It's personal taste.

PS: Anything else you want to say to the mailing list?

EJ: Thanks for your comments and the support. Really, sincere thanks for that. I'll keep trying to do my best.

I would like to thank Laura Small for transcribing the tape of the interview. It has made this interview the most enjoyable I've done.
Best wishes to all,
Park Street