Eric Johnson is on the short list of all-time guitar heroes, earning critical and commercial success, a Grammy award, peer accolades and unabashed fan devotion. His music reflects a broad range of influences—blues, country, pop, rock, jazz, fusion and more, and his meticulously produced albums are often equally divided into instrumental and vocal songs that showcase all of his musical interests.
An Austin, Texas, native, Johnson was making waves on the city’s scene by his teens. By age 21, he was a member of Electromagnets, a jazz-rock band with an intense cult following. He recorded his first album, Seven Worlds, in the late ’70s (although it wasn’t released until 1998), and his burgeoning reputation then and in the early ’80s led to session work with Cat Stevens, Carole King and Christopher Cross (Johnson played on Cross’s Grammy-sweeping 1980 debut album).
An important break came in 1984 with an appearance on the PBS television show Austin City Limits; Prince reportedly saw Johnson’s performance and recommended the guitarist to his label, Warner Brothers Records. Tones was released in 1986, by which time Johnson was getting considerable guitar magazine coverage.
Johnson’s mainstream breakthrough came with 1990’s Ah Via Musicom, a guitar tour de force with an instrumental, ”Cliffs of Dover,“ that enjoyed tremendous crossover appeal and radio success. The album went platinum, ”Cliffs of Dover“ won a Grammy, and Johnson earned the distinction of being the first artist to have three instrumentals from one album reach the top 10 in any format.
Venus Isle was released in 1996; Johnson promoted it with the massively successful G3 tour, which also featured his friends and fellow guitar virtuosos Joe Satriani and Steve Vai. 1997’s G3 Live in Concert video and DVD have been certified platinum. The 2000 Live and Beyond album by his blues-trio side project, Alien Love Child, resulted in yet another Grammy nomination, for the song ”Rain.“ He released his fourth studio album, Souvenir, through his own website in 2002.
Johnson’s 2004 solo tour showcased his acoustic guitar and piano skills, and he was invited by Eric Clapton to play at Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival that summer. In 2005, Johnson released fifth studio album Bloom and first live album Live From Austin Texas, and Fender introduced its Eric Johnson Signature Stratocaster guitar; Johnson played at Fender’s 60th Anniversary concert in Tempe, Ariz., in 2006. He released his sixth studio album, Up Close, in December 2010.