Eric Johnson

Eric Johnson (born August 17, 1954) is an American guitarist. His 1990 album Ah Via Musicom was certified platinum by the RIAA, and the single "Cliffs of Dover" won the Grammy Award for Best Rock Instrumental Performance.


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. He plays in many genres, including rock, blues, jazz fusion, soul, folk, new-age, classical, and country. Guitar Player magazine has called him "one of the most respected guitarists on the planet".

Born into a musically inclined family, Johnson 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, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Ric Bailey, Wes Montgomery, Jerry Reed, Bob Dylan, and Django Reinhardt, among others. 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 an extremely limited release; years later, the recording became a prized collector's item.

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

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. From 1976–1978, Johnson recorded Seven Worlds, his debut album, at Odyssey Studios in Austin. Contract disputes followed, and Seven Worlds was not released until 1998 on Ark21 Records.

Unable to secure a new management contract, Johnson began working as a session guitarist for some well-known acts, including Cat Stevens, Carole King, and Christopher Cross. While a session musician, Johnson continued to perform locally in Austin.

Johnson's career rebounded in 1984 when he was signed to Warner Bros. Records. There is some disagreement about how Johnson caught the company's attention, with some reports suggesting that Prince recommended him after hearing him perform on the TV show Austin City Limits. Others suggest that it was Christopher Cross and producer David Tickle who recommended Johnson to the label.

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. The album's track "Zap" was nominated for the 1987 Grammy Award for Best Rock Instrumental Performance, but as a whole, the album did not sell well, and Warner Bros. let Johnson's contract expire. He signed on with indie label Cinema Records, distributed by Capitol Records.

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. Ah Via Musicom was a crossover hit and was certified platinum.
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