Just over 50 lucky fans and guitar aficionados had the rare opportunity to visit with the one-and-only Eric Johnson Monday evening at the Fender Visitor’s Center in Corona, Calif.
Not only did Johnson perform a five-song set – which included his Grammy-winning hit “Cliffs of Dover” – the Austin, Texas, native participated in an extensive Q&A session hosted by Grammy Museum Executive Director Bob Santelli.
Johnson began his show with “Manhattan” and “Fatdaddy,” showing his incredible command of the tone of his Fender Stratocaster before he offered a gem in John Coltrane’s “Mr. P.C.”
“P.C.” was actually a chance for Johnson to dial back a little, allowing drummer Wayne Salzman and bassist Chris Maresh to impress with their soloing skills.
Following the spot-on Coltrane cover – impressive considering the jazz impresario was a horn player and not a guitarist – Johnson sat down to discuss his history in music.
Johnson spoke of his childhood, picking up the piano early, strumming a guitar around the age of 11 and playing his first gig at 13 years old.
Johnson laughed when recalling that show at the now-closed 11th Door.
“I couldn’t stay awake,” he said of his three-set performance. “I kept nodding off.”
Listening to Johnson today, it is understandable that his tastes were varied. Johnson listed the British Invasion, surf rock and Hank Williams and Chet Atkins as some of his early influences. B.B. King, Albert King, Eric Clapton and Wes Montgomery were just some of the other names he cited.
Johnson also shared the story of his first big break, a seminal appearance on Austin City Limits in 1988 that featured several cuts from Ah Via Musicom, the 1990 album that thrust him into the spotlight as a solo artist.
Having released Up Close in 2010, Johnson has been consistently on the road for the “Up Close World Tour” with Salzman and Maresh.
He continues to pick up the guitar even if he is not on stage, revealing that he tries to play for a few hours each day if he has the time.
As a gracious Johnson closed out the night with a tight-as-ever version of “Cliffs of Dover” and an autograph signing for those in attendance, it was clear that the legend is still on top of his game.