List Interview 4
EJ Interview IV - Part 1:
Eric Johnson & Park Street
Transcribed by Laura Small
Park: Two people, Gabri & Nero, ask about meditation and/or concentration techniques for playing, studying and practicing guitar. Gabri writes "guitarists like Pat Metheny practice more mentally than they do physically where a high level on concentration is necessary (i.e. imagining the fretboard in solos, scales, etc.)"
Nero "wonders about meditation on a daily basis or before performances. I don't need much elaboration on the question whether it's prayer or Zen but I want to know what tools you might use to control your focus and breathing. We all know the feeling of trying to play solo beyond our means and standing up tense and holding our breath. You seem so relaxed."
Eric: Oh no! I wish I WAS relaxed. Nero must have seen the one show in the last ten years I was relaxed.
Park: Ah, but you look relaxed. He just doesn't know you're a seething caldron.
Eric: My blood pressure's running around 285 when I look relaxed.
Park: That's during Cliffs, right!
Eric: Really, to answer this question the best I know how is that all that (focus, breathing, etc) is important. What we always do is make things so complicated and complex and all we really need to do is keep it very simple and to the point. We need to simplify, be in the moment, and stay focused. Whether you're doing sports, music or if you're a surgeon any amount of concentration and focus will allow you to do a better job. Whenever we focus or concentrate, we are more in the moment and available to do a better job of what we do. So use whatever means it is that helps you to accomplish that; by simplifying your life, doing yoga, running or whatever it is that allows you to get to that place where you can stay focused. Other than that, try not to allow your mind go off on tangents on all the things you're trying to do to get the job done. Your mind can run away with itself and all of the sudden - one begets ten begets one hundred - all the things you're trying to remember to do to stay in the place where you can do the job. If you can let go of all that and just focus. That's what I think.
Park: Talking about ProTools and the recording technique called "punching in" - Kevin Schutt asks - Do you see "punching in" as just an aid to the composer to realize his vision? (i.e., so what if he can't quite play it--that's what he hears in his head and should do whatever it takes to get it recorded) Or do you see it as a representation of the artist's skills? (i.e., why doesn't he just practice the part until he gets it right?)
Eric: Well I agree. Honestly, what I do a lot of times when I'm aiming for a rung on the ladder that I can't play perfectly at the moment, I "punch in" to make the right take. In a more ideal circumstance, it would be better to just roll the tape, play the part, get it consummately from the beginning to the end and don't ever touch the punching machine. That sounds wonderful to me. But, honestly, I'll use the punching machine because I'm trying to get a better performance. As a foot note to all that: while it's true that it's done more now than it was 30 or 40 years ago but one thing that must be kept in mind is that we romanticize in the past that they just ran the tape and Dah Dah there was the take. What they did in the past is they had their own version of "punching in." They might run ten takes of the song and they'd get out a razor blade and splice all the tapes together and make a take. Some of the Elvis Presley or Miles Davis things you hear - which are live, which are great - they'd splice different tapes together. When you listen to orchestra pieces, they don't "punch in" with a button but I guarantee that they razor blade a bunch of tapes together. I've talked to people who've been in the sessions. It's another method of achieving the same thing.
Park: The old way might be better?
Eric: I'm not saying that "you're the best" if you get it right all the way from start to finish. This does happen sometimes. Go back to the essence and practice where you can get good enough and play more like what you hear in your head so that you can use less technology to get what you hear.
Park: Does ProTools scare you now in that you can dissect your music even more than you could before? Do you worry that you're going to spend even more time on your records because you have a smaller scalpel to take things apart with?
Eric: Honestly, my experience on this last record was that it saved me time. If I want to do an edit of a couple of takes it takes 20 seconds instead of 30 minutes. To me, it's a quicker tool.
Park: But is it a tool you're going to use more?
Eric: Well, I kind of vibrate with the gentleman that just asked this question. That's sort of an up issue with me right now. I can fabricate a performance or a lead that's like o.k. that's me playing - but, is it really me playing? In the moment, can I really nail that note for note like I just put together from "punching in"? I would rather come around the other door and become a better musician and a better player. So I think I kind of resonate with what that question was asking. That would be the frontier I'd like to head into now and tomorrow. It's just a matter of practicing more, becoming better. He asks a really good question. It's funny that he asks it - that's what I sit around and wonder about. I'd like to add one other thing. There's no hard and fast rule. If you start living by a certain rule you're going to limit yourself in the future. The second you set that rule you're going to be in the studio sometime and if you'd put something together it's going to give you insight into "oh I see what I could do." Which you could take home and practice today because you see another vision that you might not have seen otherwise.
Park: Can you reach for things that way? Things that are slightly out of your grasp that you'd put together - for example, if you'd done stuff on the record that you really couldn't do live until you'd done it on the record and then had to do it.
Eric: Exactly! That's my point. I feel that it's up to me to try to do what he's talking about. To become like ……cosmic??? ……where boom they just play. But don't rule out anything.
Park: From Charlie - Is the story told within the song "Show Down" from a literary piece that Eric read?, something that he wrote himself?, a chapter taken from Texas history? a John Ford western? Or did Jay Aaron have a large hand in the writing of the lyrics? I like the lyrics and it is, to me, unique in the catalogue of his songs.
Eric: Yea, Jay wrote all those lyrics. That was the part Jay wrote to the song, he wrote the lyrics. It was an amalgamation of different historical accounts of gunfighters. You know lyrics are really the best part of the song.
Park: From Frank - What advice can you give to guitarists trying to learn your material and trying to play at that speed?
Eric: To learn to have speed you start real slow. Because what you want to do, if you want to play fast is to play real clean. So you have to start real slow and build up. Get a metronome and start with a real slow beats per second and gradually take it up one notch.
Park: For some reason some people think you lived in Africa……
Eric: for about 15 years……I was head of a photography game park.
Park: I thought you were there to do chimp research with Jane Goodall …
Eric: I was actually one of the chimps
Eric: No, I never lived there. I was just there for a couple of months vacationing.
Park: Danny would like to know if "Rock Me Baby", "Redhouse", or "Intro Song" be on the new album?
Eric: "Intro Song" will be. It's not called "Intro Song" any more. It's called "Twelve to Twelve Vibe"
Park: Darrin Ezell wrote: "Just a thought: How does Eric feel about web sites and their ability to market his music to information masses?"
Eric: I think it's great. Of course you'd never know it because I haven't really put enough attention into it. It's one of those things……
Park: Chris wrote: "EJ is one that doesn't labor over delay settings as they relate to specific song tempos. Anyway, I've qualified things further to say that this only applies to live performances. I'll bet he labors quite a bit over delays on the recordings. Now that we mention it, it's also remembered him saying that he wanted to simplify his pedal boards something like a couple of fuzzes and choruses and leave more of the delays and such to Richard Mullen in the house mix. At which time the delays could become more tempo specific. Of course, whether he does or not give up the control, is another question. Maybe one for the next interview?" So are you giving up control of your delays?
Eric: Well, actually, when you hear a live performance there's reverbs, delays and choruses that Richard does - that he's been doing for years. I've had no control over that. Richard does a great job. A lot of what you hear live, he's doing. I'm not doing it. You usually hear an out of tempo delay from me. It should be more in tempo. It's just an echoplex. They're such an antiquated box. You're lucky if it works so I just turn it on and leave it. Yea, in the studio we're a little more tempo conscious with delays. But live I'd like to get to where I don't use so much of that stuff and it all goes through the P.A. But it's hard for me to make that change. Systematically, I've been taking pedals off my pedal board one by one. It's getting smaller all the time. I'd like to get to where it's really small so that I can just get into playing music. It's hard for me to get rid of them all at once. I've got to get used to using no effects.
Park: Skippy was listening to a Shake Russell and Dana Cooper record from 1982 which you played on. He asks are you interested in playing as a sideman any more? Or have you pretty much given that up for your solo career?
Eric: We're doing session stuff all the time. I'm going to do some this month.
EJ Interview IV - Part 2
Eric Johnson & Park Street
Transcribed by Laura Small
Park: Mike Wright wrote: " I read an interview with U.K. guitarist Larry DiMarzio where he hinted he'd been developing some noiseless pickups for Fender. Have you ever tried or considered trying any of these pickups? Harmony Central's pickups or Chris Kenman or new noiseless pickups?"
Eric: I tried them years ago. I haven't tried any in the last several years. There very well could be some that are really great. To me they didn't sound like a good ole single coil. I would love to get rid of the hum but I don't want to get rid of the hum _and_ the tone.
Park: What type tube do you use in your Chandler tube driver?
Eric: Well the best ones are the ones that used to be made in Yugoslavia. Needless to say those are hard to get right now.
Park: What were they?
Eric: I don't know. They just say Yugoslavia on the side. They worked perfectly for the Chandler tube.
Park: So what's the second best?
Eric: I think sometimes I put Sovteks in em.
Park: Michael Linderoth wrote: "On several cuts of Ah Via Musicom and Venus Isle you played Lap Steel. As much as I like listening to both CDs I suspect that you use it as a melody-doubling instrument on several cuts and also, playing different chord inversions on it. What tuning do you use and what kind of instrument are you playing on?"
Eric: I've got a couple of old funky early 50's six string lap steels. One's a National and one's a Supro. They have those old magnetic pickups with screws in the top - I don't know what kind of pickup. They have that old kinda twangy hollow Hawaiian sound. I use different tunings. I use all these bizarre tunings. Whatever song I want to put lap steel chords behind I'll figure out a tuning that will work for the part I want to play. So sometimes the tunings are real bizarre.
Park: Have you ever met or worked with Pete Cornish?
Eric: I've heard about him but I've never met him.
Park: Do you play any sports or take any interest in any sport teams?
Eric: I like water skiing.
Park: That's full contact water skiing?
Eric: Yes, Rugby water skiing.
Park: A member wrote: "Have you ever tried different creative ways of achieving different sounds and tones from your amps and guitars, other than what your usual procedure is? Examples of what I'm talking about are Jimmy Page used to get different sounds by having one mic in front and one behind, or recording under a stairway, or in the middle of a field. Duane Eddy would record his guitar tone by dropping his amp in a 500-gallon tank. Alex Lifeson said that while making Moving Pictures he recorded his guitar tracks with amps and mics out in the parking lot of the studio or near a lake. Do you do anything like that?"
Eric: Actually, no but I'd like to though. We experiment with different positions in the room and different mic techniques but that's about as far as I get. I'm still trying to make the amp sound right. Just from what comes out of the speakers. But, yea, I guess if I ever got satisfied with the way they just sounded then I might let go of that and start experimenting with what to do with 'em. [Laughter]
Park: How do you go about micing your amps?
Eric: I just put a Shure 57 about 4 inches from the front and sometimes I use a room mic 10 feet away.
Park: As far as tracking for album tracks, do you prefer that everything be tracked to a quick track, or one piece at a time, or is any of it ever played live with other players?
Eric: Oh yea definitely! It's different all the time.
Park: It depends on the track.
Park: What do you think of newer guitars like Parkers and Paul Reed Smiths?
Eric: They're very well made guitars. I actually have a Parker. I have a Joni Mitchell model Parker. It just an acoustic guitar. It's a very nice guitar.
Park: All right - You've said the SG is stock '63 or '64 with a vibrola tail piece. I'd be interested to know if you had to go through a bunch of SGs to find one you really like or if good ones aren't so rare?
Eric: Well over the years I've played SGs and what's always kind of turned me off about them is that they don't stay in tune. And every once in a while I remember finding one that would sound really good with a really Wheels of Fire/Cream tone to it. But usually they don't stay in tune. I traded some vintage old Marshalls with this guy out in California - I was getting rid of some Marshall stacks just to simplify my rig. He said he had this '64 SG and I was kinda looking for one. So he sent it to me to try and it sounded great and it also stays in tune. It's the best staying in tune SG I've ever found. They're weird guitars. I'm not a real SG fan but I just like this one I've got. It's real cool.
Park: Do you want to be remembered as a guitarist or a song writer?
Eric: I'm still trying to get the song writing thing together 'cause I think it's important. I've still got a long way to go to be a better song writer. If you're in that middle ground, one moment it's like "you can't write songs" but then the next moment it's "you're a great song writer." Neither is probably true for me, I'm just trying to learn to write better songs. I think I'll be remembered as a guitarist. I mean that's my thing. It'd be stupid of me to try to forego that. At the same time I'd like to find a good vehicle for what I do. Whether it's doing other peoples' songs, which I'm going to do a couple on the new record, or doing my own. I'd actually like to be remembered as a lion tamer actually. [Laughter]
Park: How about an acoustic album?
Eric: This next record I'm doing is volume one of a two volume set and I hope I can get faster at putting them out. After I'm through with this double volume set, which I already have most of the songs written for it, that's my next plan - I want to do an all acoustic record.
Park: These guys want you to tour with Morse again.
Park: I hear that some guitarists' left hand fingers are longer than their right. Paul Gilbert says that his left hand fingers are longer and lots of classical guitarists say the same thing. Are yours?
Eric: Yea, I think they are a little bit. You're talking about a very little bit. I think the difference is just a build up of calluses. Maybe it is agility.
Park: Do you think you'll tour for many years to come, like Les Paul, or do you envision a time when you'll retire?
Eric: I'd like to just keep doing my thing. I'd like to keep trying to get better and figure out my pocket. As long as people want to hear what I have to do…
Park: Are there any plans for a third Hot Licks video?
Eric: Not right now, but I'd like to do some more. I've actually been thinking about writing a little pamphlet book on setting up guitars and amps and getting tone and stuff.
Park: Oh, that's another question, actually, they're several questions about that book.
Eric: Well you know I've got all these little notes and stuff and I think it would be…oh, I don't know, I might do it some day.
Park: What do you do or how do you handle the times you're not playing 100%? Got any secrets.
Eric: You just play on through. There's something about just keeping at it, facing reality, or the issues. Confronting yourself with your musical situation at the moment is a humbling experience. So sometimes when you're not playing 100%, the humbling experience is helpful because it can sort of retune you to be a better musician.
Park: Do you like your singing?
Park: What is good singing to you?
Eric: I like to try to sing on pitch and have a relatively good sounding vocal performance. The whole singing thing…well, I don't know. It's funny certain people can sound pretty good and everyone says "they sound terrible" and others can't sing at all and everyone says "it sounds great" because it's more of a character singing. It's interesting we'll file different exceptions for certain people. Our list of credentials for what makes a good singer or not is so elastic depending on the personality of the singer.
Park: Or maybe the material.
Eric: That's a good point. My music might lend itself more to a real singer. So maybe that's why I get myself into situations sometimes because my music lends itself to a real vocal performance, then here I am doing it and sometimes it's just mediocre. I don't consider myself a great singer by any stretch. Sometimes I wonder if I should sing.
EJ Interview IV - Part 3
Eric Johnson & Park Street
Transcribed by Laura Small
Park: From Kingsley: On the main riff of Pavilion, what guitar - sounds like 335 to me - and what distortion buzz was that?
Eric: 335 with the Marshall amp.
Park: Laura Small wrote: " Poetry and lyrics lend themselves to multiple interpretations. When you're crafting the lyrics to your songs are you ever consciously aware of different levels of significance or do you even think of your lyrics in this way at all?"
Eric: Actually, a lot of times they're several levels of significance.
Park: There are probably multiple factors behind what makes a live performance fun for you. Do you ever feel that the audience's vibes are a major factor in your enjoyment of the performance?
Park: Jeff Shirkey asks: "Seems to me that there is kind of a cultural bias against old musicians as if bands or musicians only have a limited shelf-life, maybe ten years or so at most. After that, with only a few exceptions, the public loses interest or they consider certain artists/bands to be washed up, over the hill, or no longer relevant. But I think that really great musicians like EJ only get better with time because they're so dedicated to their craft and all its aspects. By the same token, at some point I guess, you've got to assume that even those artists may eventually get mentally burned out when they finally arrive at their own physical or creative limitations. I'd like to get your thoughts on this subject and see if you've thought about your long-term future."
Eric: Yea, you have to keep reinvesting and reinventing the passion in your playing, and your interest, your enthusiasm and exuberance. If you do that then your working from a fundamental place where you can keep creating something that has a spark to it. If you do that then there's more likelihood that people will enjoy and get some type of transference from what you do. The initial responsibility is up to me to keep reinvesting the passion for playing and that takes work. If you stop investing - reach a certain level and go "well I am this and I am that, I've done this and I've done that" - then you become stagnate and go into a neutral place where you have been. Also, if you're talking about pop music, it's very fickle, very transitory. People get to be in their thirties and it's like a perfume add or something - that's part of it. There are exceptions to it. Sometimes you have to shift and you might still appeal to certain age groups but then not to others. You have to sort of go with it. You just have to keep reinventing and keep trying to do a good job at music. My thing is that I want to keep doing it. I have to stay committed to that because, if I don't then I'm going to get in a dangerous eddy.
Park: Will there be any reports from the road back to the list when Eric does tour? Maybe someone in his camp can tote along a laptop and give some feedback every now and then.
Eric: I find this humorous because on the last tour Richard Mullen took along a top of the line power Mac with a twenty-inch monitor on the tour bus with them. It took up probably the majority of the bus.
Eric: It took up the whole back of the bus. He'd hooked that up, printer and all.
Park: We'll do that when the tour happens!
Park: Xav asks: "When you listen to younger artists like Eric Gales, Chris Duarte and Craig Erikson. Do you hear the big musical influence you have been for them?"
Eric: I've heard Eric Gales and Chris Duarte, but I haven't heard Craig Erikson. Yea, probably there's some influence in there. Those guys definitely have a lot of different influences.
Park: Kingsley says he's playing Cliffs on slide.
Eric: Oh really!
Park: Kingsley would you please give us access to the slide version of Cliffs. Eric and I would both like to hear this.
Park: When, why and how did you choose between a career as a pianist and a career as a guitar player? Have you ever thought about releasing a piano album?
Eric: Oh that would go over well, wouldn't it? I'd like to maybe do a couple of piano pieces on the acoustic guitar album that I'd like to do. But I don't know when I was a kid… I love piano but when I heard the Beatles, The Stones, and The Yardbirds, I just wanted to play guitar.
Park: And the guitar gets all the girls.
Park: Why don't you use the wireless when you play live?
Eric: I don't like the way they sound.
Park: Do you have a working title for the new record?
Eric: Ten Years And I'm Gonna Bring This Home Tonight
Really, I don't know yet.
Park: Darren Michaloski asks: "Eric talked about his thoughts upon winning guitar polls. In one he said that his current obsession was Big Bill Brumsey and considered doing a remake of Mystery Train using Big Bill's finger style technique. Is he ever going to do this or was this a passing thought?"
Eric: I'd love to. I've a million thoughts, like everybody else. If I could ever figure out a way to be more efficient in recording, I'd love to do it all. I'm kinda like the farmer who spends a year out in forty acres of fields and at the end of the year he comes in with a basket and he has - they might be Really Nice Potatoes - but he says, "look I've got FOUR potatoes."
Park: I know that Chet Atkins was an influence on the way you play finger style guitar. Was he an influence on electric finger style or acoustic finger style?
Park: Who came up with the name Electromagnets?
Eric: I think it was Kyle
Park: Tell us the history of Zap. When you wrote it? What inspired the riffs? What permutations were discarded?
Eric: I wrote it in 1976. Kinda sounded to me like a Frank Zappa lick so I called it Zap. There wasn't really much in it that got deleted. It's pretty much what it is.
Park: Mark Dittmer asks: " What, in your opinion, is the single greatest contributor to tone? Fingers, Soul/Inspiration, or Equipment/Gear?"
Eric: I would say inspiration. I think that the person is the most important.
Park: Your tone has been described as violin-like. Was it a conscious decision to try and achieve it? What do you feel is it that gives your tone that characteristic?
Eric: A lot of it is the way you pick the strings. A lot of it is just the way the equipment works. If you set your equipment up fifty times, one or two of those times you're going to say "God that sounds great! What's the deal? What's the deal?" And then the other times it's like "What happened?" My whole thing has just been trying to figure out why it sounds good when it sounds good so that I can take little notes and be like a violin player that opens his case and gets his violin out and wah lah, basically it's there. Like an acoustic guitar or an acoustic piano, it's pretty much there. But what do you do with an electric guitar, the chord, the amp? Then you've got to plug in, God forbid the electricity. You're basically fighting a loosing battle. But if you try to make a few notes from that time when it worked great to try and get more consistency. So that's kinda of what I'm trying to do.
Park: I think that Eric had a dark red Strat as well. Was that stolen as well?
Eric: I had a candy apple red Strat, a 1982 reissue that was stolen in New Orleans in about 1983. That wasn't one that was stolen from the house, that was stolen at a gig. I had another red Strat that I sold - I don't have it any more.
Park: What's your favorite guitar now?
Eric: I have several Strats and some Gibsons. I like them all. They're all just different.
Park: On the list, each member sent in their "dream set" and we compiled the results into this list based on the number of times a song was mentioned. Does any of this surprise you?
Eric: Really? This is neat. Yea, these are probably the ones I like more than the other ones. This is interesting. Great! Maybe I should get copies of this when I make my set list out to tour again.
Park: Wondering about the full scope on the Bogner Ecstasy Head? Do you know anything about it? Do you use a Bogner Ecstasy Head?
Eric: I had one for a while but I don't use one currently.
Park: The intro to the first training video is really beautiful. It's one of my favorite parts of the video. Is the intro ever going to become a complete song? It seems like the beginning of something much larger.
Eric: Yea, it's just improvisation. It was totally made up at the moment. Sometimes what you make in the moment has something bigger than life - more so than when you labor over it and write something from your mind. It would be interesting to do a whole song just like that.
Park: When are you going to do a video? Everyone wants live stuff, live tapes both audio and video!
Eric: Yea, that would be cool to do a live video. I don't know if I'd do a concept video. Simply because they're so expensive and I don't know if I could really get it played. I'd like to find a really great video guy to work with. If there was some really wonderful video cinematographer……
Park: I've seen you three times all from the front right. I've noticed from up close that your wah pedal was easily activated. You don't push it or switch it on, at least from what I've seen. How is this done?
Eric: It's just a stock wahwah
Park: With you being such a perfectionist, how do you decide when it's time - this song is done, it's exactly what I want? Do you feel like you've ever settled in releasing something?
Eric: If it starts conveying the kinda the vibe that I was trying to get across in the first place, if it gets close to that then I say "o.k. now I feel like it's conveying the vibe." That's what is important to me.
Park: How do you make your solos on records? Do you compose them? Does you make lots of spontaneous cuts and choose one? Are they written?
Eric: All of that. It's different all the time. Sometimes I compose them note for note. Sometimes I'll play five off the top of my head and combine them. Sometimes I'll just play one. It's just different with different songs.
Park: How were the solos at the end of Dessert Rose and Lonely In The Night come up with?
Eric: Lonely In The Night was basically a combination of improvised and worked out. I'd just play for 10, 20, 30 second spurts and then if I didn't like what I'd played I'd punch back in and take another 10, 20, or 30 seconds. Desert Rose was worked out note for note. Except for the part with the feedback and the fuzz - that part was live.
Park: Final Question: Several people on the list ask if you had questions for the list. Do you have anything you'd like to ask your fans?
Eric: I'd really just like to say thanks. It means a lot to me that people care and that they're interested. I actually enjoy your constructive opinions. I want people to feel free to say that. Destructive criticism isn't so useful.
Park: Of course, people want you to do what THEY want but I've been surprised at the number of people on the list that want you to do what YOU want.
Eric: A piece of that is that I want to do something that people will enjoy - not so much because they'll go buy the CD as much as I feel I'm contributing to the world and making people happy. I cannot see 360 degrees of what I do 24 hours a day. Someone coming up and saying - "you can't sing - stop singing" - that's a different kind of comment than someone saying - "if you want to sing, if you're going to try to sing, great! Why don't you try this." Somebody offering the possibility of an ingredient added to bake the cake is much more interesting than someone showing me the trash can to throw the cake in. In that light, it makes me excited and happy to hear what people have to say. I've got to do what I've got to do. I've got to follow my path like everybody does. But I am interested in hearing what people might have to say as to how I might do a better job of serving them. So we all can enjoy it more - probably make me enjoy it more too. I appreciate that