Eric Johnson

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For other people named Eric Johnson, see Eric Johnson (disambiguation).
Eric Johnson
Eric Johnson cropped.jpg
Background information
Also known as "EJ"
Born (1954-08-17) August 17, 1954 (age 61)
Austin, Texas, US
Genres Rock, instrumental rock, jazz fusion, electric blues, acoustic blues
Occupation(s) Musician, songwriter, vocalist, recording artist, record producer
Instruments Electric guitar, acoustic guitar, steel string guitar, bass guitar, vocals, piano
Years active 1969–present
Labels Reprise, Capitol, Epic, Warner Bros., Favored Nations, Ark21, EMI, Concord Bicycle Music
Associated acts Mariani, Christopher Cross, Electromagnets, G3, Joe Satriani, Alien Love Child, Doyle Dykes, John Petrucci, Mike Stern, Steve Vai, Roxx Regime
Notable instruments
Fender Stratocaster, Gibson ES-335, Martin MC-40, Martin D-45, Gibson SG, Martin D-28, Gibson Les Paul, Steinway & Sons pianos, Gibson Flying V

Eric Johnson (born August 17, 1954) is an American guitarist, songwriter, and vocalist from Austin, Texas. Best known for his electric guitar skills, Johnson is also a highly proficient acoustic, lap steel, resonator, and bass guitarist as well as an accomplished pianist and vocalist.[1]

Johnson is skilled in a wide array of musical genres evidenced by the many different styles incorporated in both his studio and live performances including rock, electric and acoustic blues, jazz, fusion, soul-inspired music, folk, new-age, classical, and country and western.[2]

Guitar Player magazine has called Johnson "one of the most respected guitarists on the planet".[3] His 1990 platinum-selling, full-length album, Ah Via Musicom, produced the single, "Cliffs of Dover", for which Johnson won the 1991 Grammy Award for Best Rock Instrumental Performance.[4]

Early life[edit]

Born into a musically inclined family, Eric and his three sisters studied piano and his father was a whistling enthusiast. Johnson started learning the guitar at age 11 and rapidly began progressing through the music that would heavily influence his future style, including Mike Bloomfield, Chet Atkins, Cream, Jimi Hendrix, Ric Bailey, Wes Montgomery, Jerry Reed, Bob Dylan, and Django Reinhardt, among others.[1] At the age of 15, he joined his first professional band—Mariani, a psychedelic rock group. In 1968, Johnson and the group recorded a demo, which saw extremely limited release; years later the recording became a prized collector's item.[2][5][6][7][8]


After graduating from high school, Johnson briefly attended the University of Texas at Austin and traveled with his family to Africa. He eventually returned to Austin, and in 1974 joined a local fusion group called Electromagnets. The group toured and recorded regionally, but did not attract attention from major record labels and as a result disbanded in 1977. However, the strength of Johnson's playing attracted a small cult following to the group's early recordings, and decades later their two albums were given wide release on compact disc.[9][10]

The Electromagnets with Eric Johnson performing at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, North Carolina, on April 11, 1976.

Following the Electromagnets' demise, Johnson formed a touring trio, the Eric Johnson Group, with drummer Bill Maddox and bassist Kyle Brock. They played to audiences around Austin and between 1976 and 1978 recorded (at Odyssey Studios in Austin) his first full-length album produced and engineered by Jay Aaron Podolnick titled Seven Worlds. Although the album showcased Eric's sound, contract disputes held up the album's release for several years. Seven Worlds was eventually released in 1998 on Ark21 Records.[11][12] Unable to secure a new management contract, Johnson began working as a session guitarist for some well-known acts, including Cat Stevens,[13] Johnson also played with Roxx Regime, who later went to become the Christian metal band, Stryper. Carole King, and Christopher Cross, among others.[14] While a session musician, Johnson continued to perform locally, developing a flashy but tasteful electric guitar sound. His career rebounded in 1984 when he was signed to Warner Bros. Records. There is some disagreement about exactly how Johnson caught Warner Brothers' attention, with some reports suggesting that pop superstar Prince recommended him after hearing him perform on the public television program Austin City Limits. Others suggest that it was singer Christopher Cross and producer David Tickle who recommended Johnson to the label.[15] In any case, Johnson's major-label debut, Tones, was unveiled in 1986 with Tickle as co-producer.

In May 1986, Guitar Player magazine ran a cover story about Johnson. The article helped promote the release of Tones and brought Johnson critical praise as well as elevating his profile in the guitar and music community.[16] The album's track "Zap" was nominated for the 1987 Grammy Award for Best Rock Instrumental Performance, but as a whole the album didn't sell well and Warner Brothers let Johnson's contract expire. He signed on with indie label Cinema Records, distributed by Capitol Records.[17]

By the time Johnson released his 1990 Capitol Records debut album, Ah Via Musicom, he was regularly winning awards for his musicianship in the guitar press. During this period, Johnson also drew recognition for the rich, violin-like tone he coaxed from his vintage Fender Stratocaster. The album's second track, "Cliffs of Dover", exemplified his unique sound and won Johnson a 1991 Grammy Award for Best Rock Instrumental Performance.[1] Ah Via Musicom was a crossover hit, and was certified platinum.

Fellow Texan and late comedian[18] Bill Hicks opened for Eric Johnson on at least one occasion in the Eighties. The highly intoxicated Hicks made light of Eric's lack of hit singles, as well as his vegetarian and teetotal lifestyle, by suggesting that if Eric were to eat a hamburger and drink a beer he would be able to write more popular songs. After this incident Bill Hicks was not asked to open for Johnson ever again.[19]

Johnson is an admitted perfectionist, and those traits seemed to work against the Ah Via Musicom follow-up release. Unhappy with his recordings, Johnson mastered, then later scrapped, several completed tracks for the new album and delayed its release for three years, on top of the three years he had spent touring in support of Ah Via Musicom. He also had setbacks involving musical growth and personal issues while recording his next album Venus Isle.[20][21]

Venus Isle was finally released on September 3, 1996. It was a unique album with world influences that demonstrated Johnson's growth as a guitarist, songwriter, producer, musical arranger and vocalist. But the album received mixed reviews and did not match the success of its predecessor. As a result, Johnson was dropped from Capitol Records. He rebounded with a successful tour from October to November 1996 with fellow guitarists Joe Satriani and Steve Vai. Named the 'G3' tour, it resulted in a successful platinum-selling compact disc and DVD titled G3: Live in Concert.

In 1998, Eric Johnson was among the judges in Musician magazine's "Best Unsigned Bands" competition, along with Ani DiFranco, Moby, Art Alexakis of Everclear, Keb' Mo' and Joe Perry of Aerosmith.[22]

In 1994, Johnson formed a side project called Alien Love Child and played shows sporadically while recording Venus Isle. The positive fan feedback from the shows made Alien Love Child a permanent gig. A live performance recording, Live And Beyond, was finally released in 2000 on Steve Vai's Favored Nations label, showcasing their new songs. The Alien Love Child project helped Johnson move away from his perfectionistic tendencies and loosen up enough to embrace and release a live album.[23][24][25]

Johnson eventually returned to the recording studio, releasing Souvenir in January 2002 on his own Vortexan Records. The album, released on the Internet, received nearly 65,000 plays in the first seven weeks after it was made available on[26] Johnson promoted Souvenir with an electric tour in 2003 and an acoustic tour in 2004.[27][28]

In 2003, Eric Johnson contributed an extended guitar solo on Mike Tramp's solo album, More to Life than This. The solo was featured on the track "The Good, the Sad and the Ugly".[29]

In 2004, Johnson performed the song "Desert Rose" at the Crossroads Guitar Festival, included on Disc 2 of the 2004 Crossroads Guitar Festival recording.[30]

Johnson's next studio album Bloom was released in June 2005, again on Vai's Favored Nations label. The album was divided into three sections with different musical styles, intended to showcase Johnson's versatility.[1][31] His December 1988 Austin City Limits performance was released on both DVD and compact disc on New West Records in November 2005. His instructional guitar DVD, The Art of Guitar (Hal Leonard Corporation), was also released at the end of 2005.

In January 2006, a man named Brian Sparks was arrested for posing as Johnson and in the process defrauding businesses out of about $18,000 worth of guitars and equipment.[32] Also in 2006, some of Johnson's guitars that had been stolen 24 years before were recovered.[33]

In September 2006, Johnson took part in a theatrical production titled "Primal Twang: The Legacy of the Guitar" – the first definitive theatrical journey through the guitar’s colorful and controversial 3,500-year history. In September 2007, Johnson participated in a second theatrical production by the same company titled "Love In: A Musical Celebration" in which he performed a Jimi Hendrix set, a tribute to the year 1967, often called "The Summer of Love".[34] Also in late 2006 Johnson participated in a second G3 tour in South America, with Joe Satriani and John Petrucci.

Johnson had been working on an all-acoustic project[35] and a live video from his 2006 Tour with Satriani.[36] However these were shelved in 2007 in favor of cutting a new studio album.[37]

His hit single "Cliffs of Dover" appears in the games Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock and Rocksmith. Johnson has also signed up with "Operation Immortality", a project to create a digital time capsule of their DNA and humanity's achievements in the event of a global calamity.[38]

He began a six-date U.S. tour in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on February 27, 2013,[39] followed by a 14-date European tour which concluded in Esch-Sur-Alzette, Luxembourg on April 24, 2013.[40]

Johnson appeared as part of Guitar Player Magazine's Ultimate Musician's Fantasy Camp in Las Vegas Feb. 13–16, 2014, alongside guitarists Joe Perry, Steve Vai, Elliot Easton, Michael Anthony and others.[41]

He appeared with Zakk Wylde, Buddy Guy, Jonny Lang, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Dweezil Zappa and Doyle Bramhall II as part of the eighth edition of the Experience Hendrix Tour highlighting the music of Jimi Hendrix, in March 2014.[42]

On June 24, 2014, Provogue records released Europe Live,[43] a retrospective of Johnson's work that features two new compositions. One of the new compositions is entitled "Evinrude Fever" and draws inspiration from water skiing and boating.[44]

Johnson returned to the Experience Hendrix Tour in September and October 2014.[45]

Eric Johnson and fellow guitarist Mike Stern kicked off their Eclectic Guitar Tour on November 6, 2014[46] and released an album supporting it on October 27, 2014.[47]

In August of 2015, he participated in the "Vai Academy" along with guitarists Steve Vai and Sonny Landreth, and also kicked off an acoustic tour of the Southwest.[48][49]

Guitar and equipment[edit]


Johnson is best known for playing stock Fender Stratocasters and Gibson ES-335 electric guitars through a triple amp setup that consists of Fender, Dumble and Marshall amplifiers. Johnson has also played other guitar brands such as Robin, Rickenbacker, Jackson and a Charvel, which appears on the cover of the Ah Via Musicom album. In 2001, Johnson added a Gibson Custom Shop '59 Les Paul Reissue to his guitars of choice.

Fender Eric Johnson Stratocaster


Johnson has had several models built to his specifications for sale in the mass market. In 2003, C. F. Martin & Company released a limited-edition Eric Johnson Signature MC-40 guitar built to his specifications. Johnson donated 5 percent of the profits of the guitar's sales to his father's alma mater, Jefferson Medical College.[50] Johnson has also been known to use the Martin D-45 before his signature Martin guitar was released.

In 2005, Fender released an Eric Johnson Signature Fender Stratocaster also built to his specifications. This was followed up in early 2009 when Fender released the Eric Johnson Signature Stratocaster Rosewood model, featuring the same specifications as the Eric Johnson Maple Neck guitar, with the addition of an unusual 3-ply, 8-hole white pick guard, hotter treble pickup and a bound rosewood laminate fingerboard with pearloid dot position markers.

Johnson has also released other signature gear such as GHS Eric Johnson Nickel Rockers Electric Guitar Strings, DiMarzio DP211 Eric Johnson Signature Custom Pickups, and a Fullton-Webb amplifier. Jim Dunlop also has released an Eric Johnson signature Jazz III plectrum and an Eric Johnson signature Fuzz Face. 2012 also saw the introduction of the Eminence Eric Johnson signature 12" alnico guitar speaker.

In the winter of 2015, Roland Corporation announced the "Eric Johnson Blues Cube Tone Capsule." Which is an accessory to go with their Roland Amplifiers.


He uses effect pedals such as the Dallas-Arbiter Fuzz Face, BK Butler Tube Driver, MXR KD IV Stereo Chorus, Vox CryBaby wah-wah,[51] ToadWorks Barracuda flanger,[52] Prescription Electronics Experience octave fuzz,[52] Xotic AC Booster, MXR Flanger/Doubler, Electro-Harmonix Deluxe Memory Man delay, Boss Corporation DD-2 Digital Delay,[53] MXR 1500 Digital Delay, Line 6 Echo Pro Studio Modeler, and up to two Maestro Echoplex tape delays.[54][55] All of these are connected to multiple A/B boxes to create sounds and tones that are both clean and distorted. Although the majority of Johnson's setup is vintage, he has recently started using more modern equipment, including a stereo chorus made by Analog Man and a Fractal Audio Systems Axe-Fx.[52] Dunlop has also begun selling Johnson's signature Fuzz Face pedal.[56]


In late 2006, Johnson switched from recording in analog[57] to digital format.[58]

Popular culture[edit]

Guitarist Alex Lifeson of Rush gave a thank you to Johnson in the liner notes of Counterparts for being the inspiration for the guitar solo in the song "Cut to the Chase".

Guitarist Steve Morse recorded a song titled "TruthOla", which is a tribute to Jeff Beck, Alex Lifeson, and Eric Johnson. The song is on Morse's album "Major Impacts".


Solo albums[edit]

Title Album details Peak chart positions Sales
Seven Worlds
  • Released: 1978
  • Label: Ark 21 Records
  • Formats: CD
  • Released: March 12, 1986[62]
  • Label: Reprise Records
  • Formats: CD, CS, LP, digital download[62]
Ah Via Musicom
  • Released: February 28, 1990[63]
  • Label: Capitol Records
  • Formats: CD, CS, LP, digital download[63]
Venus Isle
  • Released: September 3, 1996[64]
  • Label: Capitol Records
  • Formats: CD, digital download[65]
51 88
  • Released: 2002
  • Label: Vortexan Records
  • Formats: CD
  • Released: June 14, 2005[66]
  • Label: Favored Nations
  • Formats: CD, digital download[67]
Up Close
  • Released: December 7, 2010[68]
  • Label: EMI, Vortexan Music
  • Formats: CD, LP, digital download[69]
  • Released August 27, 2014[47]
  • Label: Concord Music Group
  • Formats: CD,[70] Digital Download[71]
"—" denotes a recording that did not chart or was not released in that territory.

Live albums[edit]

Title Album details Peak chart positions
G3: Live in Concert
(with Joe Satriani and Steve Vai)
  • Released: June 3, 1997
  • Label: Sony
  • Formats: CD, CS, digital download[76]
20 52 37 35 82
Live from Austin, TX
  • Released: November 1, 2005[77]
  • Label: New West Records
  • Formats: CD, digital download[78]
Live From Austin TX '84
  • Released: November 22, 2010[79]
  • Label: New West Records
  • Formats: CD, digital download[80]
Europe Live
  • Released: June 23, 2014[81]
  • Label: Mascot Label Group
  • Formats: CD, LP
"—" denotes a recording that did not chart or was not released in that territory.

Video albums[edit]

Title Album details Peak chart positions Certifications
G3: Live in Concert
with Joe Satriani and Steve Vai
  • Released: June 3, 1997
  • Label: Sony
  • Formats: VHS, DVD
Live from Austin, TX[84]
  • Released: November 1, 2005[85]
  • Label: New West Records
  • Formats: DVD
  • Released: November 11, 2008[86]
  • Label: Vanguard Records
  • Formats: DVD
"—" denotes a recording that did not chart or was not released in that territory.

Instructional videos[edit]

Title Album details Notes
Eric Johnson: Total Electric Guitar
  • Released: 1990
  • Label: Hot Licks
  • Formats: VHS
  • re-released as DVD on November 15, 2005[84]
Eric Johnson: The Fine Art of Guitar
  • Released: 1996
  • Label: Hot Licks
  • Formats: VHS
  • re-released as DVD on March 7, 2006[84]
Eric Johnson: The Art of Guitar[84]
  • Released: February 1, 2006[87]
  • Label: Hal Leonard
  • Formats: DVD


Title Year Peak chart positions Album

"Righteous" 1990 8 Ah Via Musicom
"High Landrons" 31
"Cliffs of Dover" 5
"Trademark" 1991 7
"Pavilion" 1996 33 Venus Isle
"Beck's Bolero"[89] 2007 non-album single
"The Wind Cries Mary"[90] 2013
"Imagination of You" (feat. Christopher Cross)[93]
"To Whom It May Concern"[94]
"—" denotes a recording that did not chart or was not released in that territory.

Other appearances[edit]

Album Song Year Notes Ref.
Perpetuum Mobile' by Mariani
1970 band member [95]
Electromagnets by Electromagnets
1975 [96]
Christopher Cross by Christopher Cross "Minstrel Gigolo" 1976 guest [97]
One to One by Carole King
1979 [98]
Long Time Friends by Alessi "Rise Up" 1982 [99]
Marc Anthony Thompson by Marc Anthony Thompson "Recover Gracefully" 1984 [100]
Stand Up by Steve Morse Band "Distant Star" 1985 [101]
Street Language by Rodney Crowell "Ballad of Fast Eddie" 1986 [102]
Guitar Speak "Western Flyer" 1988 compilation of various artists [103]
Willie Jones by Willie Jones "So Long Mary Jane" 1990 guest [104]
The Urge by Stuart Hamm "On Our Dreams" and "Lone Star" 1991 guest [105]
Instrumental Moods "Cliffs of Dover" compilation of various artists [106]
Guitar's Practicing Musicians, Vol. 2 "Cliffs of Dover" [107]
Rush Street by Richard Marx "Keep Coming Back" 1992 guest [108]
The Hunter by Jennifer Warnes "Lights of Louisiana" and "I Can't Hide" [109]
Rendezvous by Christopher Cross "Nothing Will Change" [110]
Herman Harris & the Voices of Hope by Herman Harris
1993 [111]
Read My Licks by Chet Atkins "Somebody Loves Me Now" 1994 guest [112]
Wave of the Hand by Carla Olson "I'm Tryin'" 1995 [113]
True Voices "At The End of the Day" with Susan Cowsill compilation of various artists [114]
Angelica "Ave Maria" 1997 [115]
Merry Axemas "The First Nowell" [116]
Guitar Gods "Trademark" 1998 guest [117]
Walking in Avalon by Christopher Cross "When She Smiles" [108]
Koko's Hideaway by Van Wilks "Vanquila" 1999 [118]
The Best of Rockline "S.R.V." compilation of various artists [119]
Moods Box Set "Cliffs of Dover" [120]
Fingers And Thumbs by Adrian Legg "Lunchtime at Rosie's" guest [121]
Live and Beyond by Alien Love Child
2000 band member [122]
Been A Long Time by Double Trouble "In The Garden" 2001 guest [123]
Texas Guitar Slingers Vol. 1 "Enzo Shuffle" 2002 compilation of various artists [124]
More To Life Than This by Mike Tramp "On The Good, The Sad, And The Ugly" 2003 guest [125]
A Guitar Supreme, Giant Steps in Fusion Guitar "Resolution" 2004 compilation of various artists [126]
Don't Mess With Texas Vol. 2 "Boogie King" [127]
KGSR 107.1 Broadcasts Vol. 12 "Song For George" [128]
Fusion For Miles, A Guitar Tribute: A Bitchin' Brew "Jean Pierre" 2005 [129]
Industrial Zen by John McLaughlin "New Blues Old Bruise" 2006 guest [130]
Viva Carlos: A Supernatural Marathon Celebration "Aqua Marine" compilation of various artists [131]
Walk On by Roscoe Beck "Together All The Time" guest [132]
Electromagnets 2 by Electromagnets
band member [133]
The Devil Knows My Name by John5 "The Washing Away of Wrong" 2007 guest [134]
Freeway Jam: To Beck and Back "Beck's Bolero" compilation of various artists [135]
Lovers by Bobby Whitlock and CoCo Carmel "Layla" 2008 guest [136]
From The Reach by Sonny Landreth "The Milky Way Home" [137]
Bridging the Gap by Doyle Dykes "Red Clay" [138]
Big Neighborhood by Mike Stern "6th Street" and "Long Time Gone" 2009 [139]
Doctor Faith by Christopher Cross "Hey Kid" 2010 [140]
Elemental Journey by Sonny Landreth "Passionola" 2012 [141]
Musica E Palavras Dos Bee Gees (Bee Gees Tribute Album) by Ana Gazzola "Run To Me" [142]
2776 "Not What the Founders Intended" 2014 compilation of various artists [143]
Good For Sumthin by Eric Gales "E2 (Note for Note)" 2014 Guest [144]

Video games[edit]

Game Song Year
Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock "Cliffs of Dover" 2007
Guitar Hero World Tour "Camel's Night Out" 2009
Rocksmith "Cliffs of Dover" 2013

Awards and nominations[edit]

  • Albums:
    • 1991 – Ah Via Musicom (album) – Grammy – Best Rock Instrumental Nomination[145]
    • 2006 – Bloom (album) – Grammy – Best Pop Instrumental Nomination


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External links[edit]