Seven Worlds Interview
Eric Johnson on Seven Worlds
by James Santiago
At what point was there interest for you to do the Seven Worlds album?
In '76 I just kind of wanted to try and do some other music. It didn't seem to be fitting to do it in the Magnets, so at that point I left the group and I just started kind of fooling around and playing with other people. In the late '70s, I just asked Bill [Maddox] and Kyle [Brock] if they would do this thing with me.
Seven Worlds was recorded in two different time periods. Can you outline which songs where from each time period?
Yeah. In '76, in about three months, I did "Winter Came," "Showdown," "Turn The Page," and "A Song For Life," as well as several other things that never saw the light of day. Then in early '78 I went back in five months and did the other songs.
Were you teaching to support yourself through the years it took to finish Seven Worlds?
Yeah. I worked at a music store; I taught guitar, but mostly just kind of went on the road. We were kind of lucky, Bill and Kyle and I. I mean, we played original music and we were able to at least get by. You know, we didn't have any overhead. We had a van, and we just stuck all the equipment in it and left enough room to sleep. We put bunks on the top. We did our own equipment. Whoever was there would do the sound. Then we'd just go on the road and play. We were able to do okay, actually.
From what I've read from that period, it seems like you passed up some pretty serious offers from other bandleaders. Did you pass them up because you thought Seven Worlds was going to be released?
You know, I thought it was. I was told it was. But that's just the way it unfolded. I mean, I don't even know what happened with that deal. It was all in somebody else's hands. They were making the decisions. The point I was trying to [make] was, let's start at step one and just put it out on a regional label. But the person wanted to do it either one way or nothing at all, which is kind of a different business tactic than I ever... You know, sometimes you have to take one step at a time. But in the interim, yeah, I got offered to play with U.K. and Stanley Clarke. I did play with Cat Stevens for a while. I played with Carole King for a while. The Stanley Clarke thing I kind of regret. I wish I'd done that, because that would have been a lot of fun. At the time I was told, "No, your album's coming out and everything..." It would have been probably one of the few offers I had where I could have really cut loose on guitar.
So you resorted to playing acoustic shows?
Yeah, in the early '80s it was kind of a stalemate. I couldn't get out of my contract. I had to just wait it out. So I waited it out 'til it was over in '84.
Did you go out and play the Seven Worlds material after that?
By then we didn't do much Seven Worlds stuff. We did a little but of it, I think, but not a whole lot.
You've hinted at this before, but does any of the Seven Worlds material sound corny to you now?
Oh yeah. Well, putting it in perspective I'd say 70% of it is fine. It was out of my hands, but I would have personally taken "Showdown" off of it. It's funny, I kind of said that to a couple of people, and they're like, "Well, we kind of like that tune." But to me it's kind of dated and corny-sounding. It has parts about it that are neat, but the vocal is...it's just... It's probably the most embarrassing thing on the record to me personally. You know, if I'd have been involved in making the decisions to put it out, I think I would have either put it [laughing] last on the CD, or as a bonus cut, or not even included it, or made an instrumental mix of it or something.
Most everything else I'm still proud of, like "By Your Side" and "Winter Came." And actually, the version of "Emerald Eyes" on there I like better than the one on Tones. Some of the other vocal pieces, like "Alone With You" – it's not anything brilliant, but it's okay. It's got some interesting stuff. I think probably, if anything, it would just be "Showdown" that's just like, ugh. If it hadn't been included on Seven Worlds, I think the tone of that record would have been a little just a little bit hipper. That's my personal opinion.
Are you going to consider playing "Winter Came" and some of the others when you go out on the road again?
I would be happy do to another version of that. There may be a couple of the other things. But you know, that record – the Seven Worlds thing – I mean, absolutely nothing was done to it. It came out exactly like it originally was. In fact, I think that maybe a couple of the mixes aren't even the same mixes that were chosen in '78, because there's a couple of guitar parts missing from the final mixes that I actually wanted to put on. But that's not any huge difference.
Did you use a Dynacomp compressor on the beginning of "Winter Came?"
No, that song I literally just played straight into the console. No amp or anything. Nothing! The producer, Jay Aaron, put some kind of compression on the recording.
Did you experiment a lot during the recording?
Yeah, we spent about five or six months doing that whole record, so there was a lot of experimenting.
What gear were you using then?
I remember either using a Twin-Reverb or a Boogie or a Marshall. I think that's all. Maybe a tweed Fender, like a tweed Deluxe. Those were all the amps I used on the whole record, I think, unless I went straight into the console. Guitar-wise, it was just a smorgasbord. At that time, literally, I'd get guitars and I'd trade them or sell them and buy other guitars the next month.... Within six months I went through a lot of different [guitars]. Basically, it was either a Rickenbacker 12-string or a 335, a Les Paul or a Strat or an Oahu lap steel. Any kind of variation of those things.
Did you get the reverb from the mixing console?
Yeah. Effectwise, I think I used a Tychobrae flanger and the Fresh Fuzz and the Echoplex.
How did you choose the rhythm section? Was that the first time you'd worked with Roscoe Beck?
Yeah, it was. [Before that] it was basically Bill and Kyle. Marc Singer was a friend of Jay Aaron's, and he played drums on a couple tracks, and Roscoe I had just met. Yeah, let's see, who else? Kim Wilson played a harp thing on "Zap."
There is a second guitarist credited to "Turn The Page," Jimmy Martin.
Oh, Jimmy Martin. No, he wrote this little baroque-type thing that I actually played on guitar. But he wrote it out for me. It's kind of a counterpoint thing. He's a real fine pianist that was going to music school at UT, and I played him the melody. I said, "What kind of counterpoint, kind of baroque-y thing can I do?" He said, "Here, just play this," and he wrote it out in two seconds.
Do you plan on going out with keyboards again?
I don't know. I don't know what to do about that. I don't know whether I should do the keyboard thing or a trio. Ultimately, I think it would be nice to have a keyboard. Steve [Barber] has a lot of beautiful voicings. I learned a lot from him.
What is your overall feeling about Seven Worlds coming out now?
That was all just a crazy thing, you know. It was done, it was supposed to come out in '78, and a lot of people just didn't want to put it out. I mean, they just said, "Nobody would like this." It's funny. I mean, all the comments about why they didn't want to put this out was what actually worked out for me later [i.e., instrumental guitar music]. But, unfortunately when these people would say , "No, we're not interested," what you do is you renegotiate and go somewhere to do something else. Unfortunately, I was not in a position to say, "Okay, let me go somewhere else." There were places to go. There were smaller labels, so there was something to do with it. But the person-in-charge's decision was just to shelve it. If he couldn't get this deal that would be worthy of some big, huge group, then he wasn't going to do it. And, to me, that wasn't a prudent decision because, as history suggests time and time again, you take a humble step and that leads you to step two, which leads you to step three.
So regardless of whether the record is perfect or not – I shouldn't use that word, 'cause that's a bad word for me to use [laughs]. Regardless of whether the record is great or not, it's got some nice moments on it. Given the right record label and the right audience, it would have done okay. It would have been a good step one. And if I had been able to, I would have sold it out of my trunk or I would have gotten with some smaller label and done something with it. But my hands were tied. Ultimately, that's why I left that management and wasn't able to technically leave, I had to wait the contract out. That was just six years of craziness. But that's what happened.
So the fact that it comes out 20 years later... In a way, I'm glad it came out because there's some redeeming moments on it, but it's 20 years late. So if somebody's looking at it from surface value of "Um, I don't know," it's got to be tempered with the fact that it was 20 years ago. But I'm glad that it came out. I feel okay about it. I mean, they called me. They were nice enough when they wanted to put it out. They said, "Do you feel okay about this?" And I was like, "Yeah, sure, that's fine." VGM
VGM would like to thank Stephen Barber, Kyle Brock, Eric Johnson, Bill Maddox, Kimberly Lewis, George L's Cables, ARK21 Records, and the members of the Official Eric Johnson Mailing List. VGM is eternally indebted to Park Street.