List Interview 1
Eric Johnson List Member Interview - March 11, 1998
This is part one of the interview I did with Eric for the Official Eric Johnson Mailing List. It is copyrighted and may only be reprinted in any form with the permission of Eric and myself.
PS: What can you tell us about the album you are working on?
EJ: It's probably going to have 12 songs on it. I've cut all the basic tracks and I'm going through the 8 or 9 cuts of each track to see what the master cuts will be. We are starting to compile the basic track tapes so we can start working on them.
PS: I think some people are confused about how you go about recording an album. Some people I've talked to believe that you work on one song until you finish it and then go on to the next song. This isn't what happens, right?
EJ: Everyone does it differently. The best way to do it is to do a few, 3 or 4 songs, first then go on and do a few more until you have them all. I'm hoping to get more into that in the future but right now it works out best to cut all the basics at once. I have musicians coming in from LA and other places and logistically it works best.
Basically we cut the guitar, bass and drums or guitar, bass, drums and keyboards and get the gist of the songs finished right there and then put on the other guitar tracks and the vocals. This album I'm trying to do straight ahead. I'm not going to do as much guitar overdubs as I did on Venus Isle. Straight ahead meaning a little bit more space between the parts where it's less of a production.
PS: Originally it was going to be Alien Love Child material but that's changed somewhat has it not?
EJ: Yes, it's changed a little but there is still a lot of that on it. This will probably be a volume one and volume two set, but I am going ahead and getting volume one done first since I'm not the fastest recording person in the world.
(Laughter in room)
I'm spreading a lot of the material over both volumes. On both volumes half will be the type of blues/rock songs we played in Alien Love Child. As I got into it I started wanting to make sure I could do justice to the tunes and I decided in some cases I wasn't the man for a certain type of blues. In other cases though I thought that I have an original slant on some of the tunes that will create a new version of the song. I need to be discriminating about which of these songs I can really do well.The other songs on the album will be pieces I've written that I've wanted to get on an album.
PS: Any songs you are sure will make it?
EJ: My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean, but it's going to take about four and a half years because I want to do two guitar parts and everyone knows how long that will take.
PS: Any tour plans?
EJ: (Here Eric talks about a tour that Joe Priesnitz, his manager, has asked me to wait to put out information on until it has been finalized. He thought it wouldn't be long, and the tour affects very few of you.)
PS: Are you thinking of doing any side projects while you record these albums?
EJ: I want to do some acoustic concerts.
PS: How do you feel about the Seven Worlds and Electromagnets releases?
EJ: I feel good about it. Obviously there are parts of each record I would do differently if I was doing them today. Perhaps stuff that I'm not as proud of, but there are sections of each record I'm really proud of. So in that light and given that it's a retrospective of 20 years ago I think it's really valid. I always considered Seven Worlds my first album, so I'm happy that it's finally coming out though I feel some of it is a little dated.
I think it's great the Magnets album is finally coming out. We were together for several years and tried real hard to get a foothold as far as really turning people on to the music and so even though it's late, it's a chance to reestablish that. Maybe it will lead to the issue of live tapes in the future since we have live tapes of the Magnets that perhaps in a lot of ways would be more interesting than the album.
PS: A number of people have asked me why did you leave G3.
EJ: Well I didn't leave G3 actually. There's no weird vibe. Originally we talked about doing a US tour, I said yes and we did it.
While I did that tour I was coming out at the end of the night jamming with the guys wearing these aircraft headphones. It was a difficult time personally for me because I was suffering some ear problems that have since gotten better. That's why I was little tentative about the jam every night with Steve and Joe, because of the volume on stage. At that time I was having to be careful.
We toured, and at that point it was decided we would make a record and then a video. After that I was getting offers I wanted to pursue, and suddenly it was let's go to Europe. But it was a thing where we would have needed a considerable amount of tour support, and the finances of the tour just didn't look good to me. Then they wanted to do America again, and at that point I was just going to do some stuff I had irons in the fire to do. It was nothing personal. Originally we were going to do a tour and we did the tour and a record and a video. I believe that G3 should go on to have other guitarists. There's a host of players who could complement Steve and Joe.
PS: What have you been listening to?
EJ: Since I've been recording the album I haven't had the time to listen to much. I guess the most recent music would be Ben Folds Five, their really good and Smashmouth is an interesting group. Oh, and the fifties Tal Farlow compilation I gave you a copy of.
PS: If you could start your career over what would you do differently?
EJ: A lot of it I wouldn't change, but I would have liked to have played in other peoples groups, like when I did the Cat Stevens and Carole King tours.
PS: Do you regret not accepting any of the offers to tour you turned down?
EJ: Sometimes I regret not touring with Stanley Clarke. I probably also regret not doing the Mick Jagger tryout for his solo group.
PS: Do you try to emulate anyone in your singing? Who do you admire as singers?
I think it's obvious that it's Mel Torme.<G>
EJ: Absolutely! Though one of my all-time favorite singers would be Stevie Wonder. His 70's era work in the period of Music of My Mind to Songs in the Key of Life is incredible. Other than the Beatles, he's probably the greatest pop artist. Incredible singer, great songwriter, great visionary as far as how he put his songs together. I also love Bryan Adams, early Rod Stewart and Paul Rodgers from Free...all really great singers.
There are many other singers I love that I can't approach such as Dinah Washington.
PS: Would you ever have another guitarist in your band?
EJ: Yes, I'd like to. Not someone to just play guitar , but someone who could play a little guitar, a little keyboards, and some percussion.
PS: Whatever became of the antelope named Phyllis?
EJ: She ran off with a moose named Larry.
PS: Which Hendrix shows did you see and can you talk about the highlights?
EJ: The first one was, I think, December of 68. I was 14, and without my parents approval I went with some friends down to Sam Houston Colosseum in Houston to see the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Fortunately one of us was 16 and had a drivers license. Fat Mattress was opening but having to drive all the way we were late and missed them. I had my ruffled shirt on trying to look older but really probably just looking like a little kid. It was like Hendrix was from another planet, playing amazing blues. I think he did VooDoo Child as well as VooDoo Child Slight Return.
Highlights of the show....
I remember Noel Reading was using five Sun amplifiers, Hendrix had two or three Marshalls and they barely had the microphones on Mitch Mitchell and you couldn't hear him very well.
Hendrix made some comment to the audience about " You're over there smoking cigarettes" , like he was making fun of them and you shouldn't smoke, but of course he smoked himself. I was glad he did since I smoked back then and I thought , Oh no, cigarettes are cool." I _had_ to smoke since the combination of the cigarette and ruffled shirt made me look at least 16 and a half instead of 14, at least that's what I hoped.
He had just cut all his hair off. It was really short and that blew my mind because I was into all those wild clothes and big hair. I heard he had caught his hair on fire at a show in Italy though I'm not sure if that's true or not.
He played great that night. I was totally blown away. One of the coolest things was they backed a Cadillac limo up right next to the stage and as he was doing VooDoo Child Slight Return he set his guitar down and it fed back with a perfect E, which was the key the song was in and he got in the Caddy while people were cheering for an encore and he was gone. They were 2 or three blocks away and the crowd was still cheering.
Second time was May of 70. I was with a friend named Jerry Hunter and we met some girls who invited us to sit with them. We squeezed the four of us into two seats on the third or fourth row. Hendrix was pretty depressed, you could tell. He came out and he was really nice. He saw someone he knew on the front row and walked right up to them, shook their hand and said, " I know you." You could tell by his vibe that he was a gentle, nice guy. Here I was fifteen feet away and he was acting like a regular guy! But then he closed his eyes and just did not play well the whole night. I just couldn't get over the feeling that something was on his mind or 500 things were on his mind. Why nobody around him.... I mean here I was I didn't know the guy but in two seconds I could tell there was something not right with this guy. With all those people around him... I know it was the 60's an experimental time and oh that's the way it was and we just don't question anything.... Or was it so much that or as long as the milk cows producing, let's go for it 24 hours a day. Soon after I started wondering why someone didn't send this guy on a vacation to some island where he could just sit and think and rest and eat and find out what he wanted to do. But it never happened... It was obviously karma or destiny. But here I was sitting there watching this guy and he's bummed. He was closing his eyes and it was like he didn't care if he was making mistakes but he really did deep down inside. He was just going through the motions.
PS: Why haven't you done any of the Hendrix or SRV tributes?
EJ: The only one I was invited to take part in was the tribute album a few years ago where each artist did a different Hendrix song. At the last minute I was dropped from the list and they got someone else. The SRV tribute here in Austin I didn't even know anything about until shortly before it.
PS: Have you ever covered any post Electric Ladyland Hendrix songs except for Angel?
EJ: Not really, except ,I think, playing the piece they end Woodstock with.
PS: Have you ever toured Europe?
EJ: Twice. Once with Carole King and once with my band in 93. I hope we can go again after we finish this record.
PS: What is your relationship with Alex Lifeson of Rush and didn't he give you a double neck guitar that was stolen later?
EJ: We did a Rush tour in 91 and we got to know each other. He's a really nice guy. We did some jams together and had some great chats. Yes, he did give me a black Gibson 6/12, and regretfully it was stolen.
PS: Do ya'll still keep in touch?
EJ: I haven't talked to him in a while. I tried to get a hold of him the last time I was in Canada but I couldn't get his number.
PS: You may have another record coming out. One being produced by Steven Barber, your long time friend, Electromagnets member, and current keyboardist,. Can you tell us something about it? It was described to me as having a Cannonball Adderly jazz/R&B feel.
EJ: That's a good description. I did 4 or 5 cuts on it. It's _really_ nice and I hope it comes out soon.
PS: Your also doing another soundtrack with Steve aren't you?
EJ: Yes, we are doing a soundtrack for a National Geographic special this summer. I think it's on the coral reefs off the California coast.
PS: Anything you want to say before we end this?
EJ: I just want to thank everyone for taking part in the mailing list. I hope to get this record out sooner rather than taking too long.