Grammy Award winning guitarist Eric Johnson recently released his new studio record EJ. 

EJ is a first for Texan guitar legend Eric Johnson in the respect that it is his first all-acoustic record in his 30-year career. The record depicts a more personal and balanced side of his playing the likes of which has never been heard before.

National Rock Review recently caught up with Eric Johnson whilst out on tour across the U.S. on his acoustic / piano tour to talk about his latest offering, the myths surrounding his playing, the Austin music scene and his plans for the future.

NRR: Thank you so much for taking the time to speak to us here at National Rock Review, we really appreciate it.
Eric: My pleasure, thank you.
NRR: Obviously, you’ve just released your new album EJ, which in your 30-year career it’s your first all acoustic album. I was just wondering what made you feel that after all of this time that now was the right time to do an acoustic record?
Eric: I’ve kind of done one acoustic song here and there on my records, but never really included a whole thing of it. It’s something I’ve always enjoyed doing, I just thought well you know I’d rather kind of show a complete side of me. So I just wanted to start putting it out there, a kind of more balanced side of everything that I like to do. So that was the intention.

NRR: Now that you’ve opened the door and put your acoustic playing out to the world, where do you think you will go next, do you think you will continue to explore the acoustic realm or do you think you will make a return to the electric style of play?
Eric: Yeah, I have a bunch more of acoustic songs and I would like to do a Volume 2. So I’m planning on doing a volume 2 acoustic record, but I definitely want to keep doing electric stuff too. I just like to kind of try to do a balanced thing of a bunch of different things whether it be acoustic or piano or do bits of electric guitar and stuff, kind of a whole deal kind of vibe.
NRR: What’s your own personal preference do you actually prefer to play electric or acoustic?
Eric: I love them both, I mean I love to play electric. The acoustic is more rewarding, it’s challenging because it’s a whole different thing with finger picking and stuff but I enjoy it, I enjoy the challenge of it.
NRR: The record features nine original compositions and four covers including two tracks by Simon and Garfunkel which are “Mrs Robinson” and “Scarborough Fair” and also a reworking of Jimi Hendrix’s “One Rainy Wish”. I was just wondering, what made you choose those tracks in particular to cover on the record?
Eric: I went into the studio just recording more stuff than I put on the record. I just tried to find performances that would be good performances. It was more just over recording and finding stuff that worked and once I found that I just kind of went with that.
NRR: Do you have a particular favourite track on the album and if so which song and why?
Eric: Well I like the song “Wonder”, just because it kind of means something to me personally, but that’s just me. I think it was just a ….I don’t know, I like the take that I got of it and I like the message of it you know.
NRR: You are out on tour in the U.S. at the moment with your acoustic and piano tour, I was just wondering how have the shows been going so far?
Eric: They are going good, people are really enjoying it. Some people are kind of baffled a little bit because they are like woah what’s he doing I thought he played electric guitar? But they like it and so I think it’s just trying to do what you do and do the best you can at it and hopefully people they seem to be accepting it. But it will probably take a while for people to go oh this is part of the thing too. 
I think that’s why I want to try and include more of it, because I felt I was just showing for all of these years, I kind of showed a certain facet of myself but I didn’t really display everything that I personally like and I thought maybe that would bring more honesty and genuinity to what I do if do what I like, you know what I mean? So I felt like I needed to kind of put myself out there in more of a complete way and maybe it would just make it a little more genuine.
NRR: Its been a little while since you toured the UK. I was just wondering do you have any plans to bring this tour to Europe anytime soon?
Eric: We’ve just been talking about that. I’m not sure when but we wanted to do that, we are just trying to figure out when.
NRR: In terms of your guitar setup, the tone that you get out of your guitar is incredible. I was just wondering if you could walk us through your typical setup onstage?
Eric: Well you know onstage I use these Maton acoustics and I use AER amps with a Lloyd Bags venue preamp. In the studio, I just use microphones with a 1981 Martin D-45.
NRR: There’s been a myth circulating around the internet for many years that you can actually tell the difference in the type of battery that you’ve got installed in your pedals. Is that true?
Eric: No, it’s all been kind of turned into something. There was maybe 25-30 years ago, I put one of those super, super high energy batteries in my effect, you know the super last forever, super high voltage batteries. It made one of my tube screamer overdrives sound funny and I didn’t understand what happened, so I just put a regular Duracell back in and it sounded better and that was it, that was the whole story. So since then I just use the Duracell batteries because of that, instead of the super high voltage ones. It was like a one-minute thing, but people have kind of turned it into that I can tell the difference in all the batteries and just none of its true.
NRR: Thanks for putting that urban myth to rest.
Eric: Sure.
NRR: Having such a long and successful career in the music industry, and with the benefit of hindsight is there anything that you would have done differently?
Eric: Yeah, well I think I got offered to play with some interesting groups when I first got signed to Warner Brothers and I probably should have gone to heck with that and gone and played with them and just for the exposure it would have helped.
Maybe when I first got a little bit of recognition with the instrumental guitar and electric guitar I think I just went with that and focused on that, I think maybe doing this acoustic record or whatever maybe I should have just portrayed the whole side of me earlier, but I don’t feel like a regret or anything. But to answer your question if I did it differently now I probably would have been a little more careful or aware and try to do that at an earlier point instead of just going with the flow.
NRR: As a guitarist, if you could have played one iconic guitar solo in history which guitar solo would it be?
Eric: Wow, maybe the slow “Voodoo Chile” off Electric Ladyland. “Moving West” is a pretty great solo by Wes Montgomery. So I don’t know that would be a hard one, I would probably be jumping around with a bunch of different ones, no this one, no that one, I don’t know (laughing).
NRR: You are based out of Austin and it’s got such an incredible music scene. I was just wondering are there any young up and coming players out there in Austin who you like or you would recommend?
Eric: Yeah there’s somebody named Carson Brock, he’s a really fine player. There’s a guy named Dave Scher, he’s really good.
NRR: In terms of your own record collection, the albums that you listen to yourself, what’s the one album in your record collection that you couldn’t live without?
Eric: “Music Of My Mind” by Stevie Wonder.
NRR: What else do you have in store for the rest of this year and into 2017?
Eric: Well we have to finish this tour through until the end of November, then I have another five-week acoustic tour in the western part of the US. Then we are trying to figure out when we can get over to Europe. Also, I want to try and do that Volume 2 acoustic record, as well as I’ve got a bunch of new electric pieces that I would like to record.
NRR: That all sounds very good, I really hope we get to see you over here in the UK soon and good luck with the new album and the touring and we hope to catch you over here sometime soon.
Eric: Well thank you so much.

Eric Johnson’s latest studio record EJ is out now via Mascot Label Group / Provogue.

Eric Johnson
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Photo: © Max Crace


About The Author

Adam Kennedy is an experienced music photographer based in northeast England. He has been shooting concerts for several years, predominantly with the band Vintage Trouble. In 2013, he was one of their tour photographers, covering the UK and Ireland tour including the headline shows and as opening act for The Who. As an accomplished concert photographer, Adam's work has been featured in print such as, Classic Rock Blues Magazine, Guitarist Magazine, Blues in Britain magazine, broadcast on the MDA Telethon on ABC Television in the US, used in billboard advertising for Renaissance Hotels in the US, and featured online via music blogs such as Uber Rock and Guitar Planet. He is also the official photographer at Newcastle Rock and Blues Club.

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