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Eric Johnson at the Magic Bag, 5 Things To Know

Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

Posted: Monday, October 31, 2016

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Eric Johnson's credentials as an electric guitarist are unquestioned.

After all, when Rush's Alex Lifeson thanks you for inspiration in album liner notes and Steve Morse pays tribute to you in song, you've probably got something going on.

But this year the Austin, Texas-based auteur has flipped the switch a bit.

"EJ," which came out in early October, is a mostly solo effort that finds Johnson playing mostly acoustic guitar -- both steel and nylon strings -- as well as piano, and mixing originals with covers of Simon & Garfunkel ("Mrs. Robinson," "Scarborough Fair"), Jimi Hendrix ("One Rainy Wish") and Les Paul and Mary Ford ("The World is Waiting for the Sunrise").

Johnson not surprisingly shows as much virtuosity on "EJ" as on any of its electric predecessors, and he says there may be more where that came from, too...

Acoustic guitar was the secondary instrument for Johnson, 62. "About 17 or 18 I started playing acoustic," Johnson says by phone from Virginia. "My folks bought me an acoustic guitar for my graduation from high school (a 1980 Martin D-45 that he plays on 'EJ') and that's how I thought, 'I'll see if I can learn to play this.' I dabbled in it for years, but it wasn't until five, six years later when I really tried to record with it or be serious with it in any way at all. I was more plugged into doing the electric thing and rocking out so that was it. But I'd always go home and listen to other types of music a well as write songs on acoustic."

The "EJ" album, he says, is "something I've wanted to do for a long time, but I was so busy with other things I kept putting it on the back burner. I just never allocated the time. Finally I just decided, 'Let's make this record I've been talking about making for 10 years.' I just decided now is the time to go ahead and do it."

The nuances of playing acoustic, Johnson says, are markedly different than his electric method. "The way I like to try to approach it is more like several things going on at once," he explains. "It requires you to use a lot of right hand finger-picking and stuff, so there's more stuff going on -- a bass thing and a melody thing going on at the same time. In that sense it's orchestrated to be a little more challenging than single-note playing and chordal stuff, which is typically what you do on electric guitar, if for no other reason than you're playing with a band. The acoustic can be orchestrated to be by itself. I've had to work at it, and I'm still working at it now. It's still a challenge for me."

Johnson is planning a second acoustic album as well. "I've got about 10 songs written for it, and two or three covers," he says. "I'm hoping to get on it this spring. I have a lot of tour dates, but I really would like to get in and work on that."

Johnson hasn't forsaken electric guitar, either. "I have a bunch of new (electric) tunes I'm trying to figure out what to do with," he notes. "I'd like to expand on them a little bit. (Guitarist) Mike Stern and I did this thing, we made a record and that was really kind of eye-opening to me because he's such a great jazz musician and has such a wide vocabulary. So I'd like to do something electrically that widens my vocabulary a bit more."

Eric Johnson

Tuesday, Nov. 1. Doors open at 8 p.m.

The Magic Bag, 22920 Woodward Ave., Ferndale.

Tickets are $30.

Call 248-544-3030 or visit themagicbag.com.

Web Site: www.themagicbag.com

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