Eric Johnson’s stature as one of the premier guitar players in contemporary music is his artistic trump card, backed by a Grammy Award and five nominations, a platinum album, Top 10 hits such as “Cliffs of Dover,” and praise from critics and the esteem of his peers. But the full hand of his talents marks him as well as a gifted songwriter, dynamic live performer, singer, pianist, song interpreter, and creator of a rich and diverse musical legacy.
Johnson’s myriad and distinctive musical gifts are vividly evident on his aptly titled new album, Up Close, released on his own Vortexan Music label via EMI Distribution. The new fifteen-track disc finds the noted master craftsman cutting loose, roaming through variations on the rock, blues, pop, country and jazz all found at the core of his sound, pushing the dynamic range of his artistry, and mixing it up with such friends and peers as guitarists Jimmie Vaughan and Sonny Landreth and guest singers Steve Miller, Jonny Lang, and Malford Milligan.
“I decided to let go a bit and allow things to happen and just go with the flow,” explains Johnson of his approach to the album. “I think that’s a direction that works better for any artist, and especially for me. I like my work to have a high proficiency, but I also wanted to go for the energy and magic of the performances.”
That vitality and vivid musicality brims from such hook-filled numbers as the hard-rocking instrumentals “Fat Daddy” and “Vortexan” and the driving vocal song “Brilliant Room” (sung by Milligan). “Gem” is splashed with bright and painterly six-string colors, “Soul Surprise” finds Johnson weaving a picturesque tapestry of both his guitar and piano gifts, and “Arithmetic” summons up a swirling and spectral kaleidoscope of guitars, keyboards, and Johnson’s singing.
His many achievements include being enshrined in Guitar Player’s Gallery of Greats and being named one of the “100 Greatest Guitarists of the 20th Century” by Musician Magazine, alongside numerous other awards. He also enjoys the admiration of many of his fellow players and has performed and/or recorded with such notables as Chet Atkins, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, and others, and follows the release of Up Close with an acoustic Guitar Masters tour sharing the stage with six-string masters Peppino D’Agostino and Andy McKee. Johnson was tapped by Eric Clapton to appear at the 2004 Crossroads Guitar Festival and played his second stint of the Experience Hendrix tour in fall 2010. He has paid homage in song to such players as Jerry Reed (“Tribute to Jerry Reed” on his album Bloom), fellow Texan Stevie Ray Vaughan (Grammy-nominated track “SRV”), and Wes Montgomery (who Johnson saluted in “East Wes”), and boasts both a signature Fender Stratocaster electric and a Martin MC-40 acoustic guitar. “Cliffs of Dover” is featured in the video game Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock as the final winning challenge. And in addition to his recordings, tours, and DVDs under his own name, Johnson also plays with his side project Alien Love Child (band), which released an in-concert album in 2000, Live and Beyond, that earned an instrumental Grammy nomination for the song “Rain.”
An extraordinary guitar player accessible to ordinary music fans
—Commercial Appeal (Memphis)
Eric Johnson plays guitar the way Michelangelo painted ceilings: with a colorful vibrancy that’s more real than life.
—New Age Music Guide