Eric Johnson (born August 17, 1954) is an American guitarist, vocalist, composer, and multi-instrumentalist. 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.
Eric Johnson is best known for playing stock and lightly modified Fender Stratocasters and Gibson ES-335 electric guitars through a triple amp setup that consists of Fender, Dumble and Marshall amplifiers. He tends to swap out the bridge pickups in some of his Stratocasters for DiMarzio HS-2 pickups, because they don't hum as much as standard single-coils. Johnson has also played other guitar brands such as Robin, Rickenbacker, Jackson, and a Charvel, which appears on the cover of the Ah Via Musicom album. In 2001, Johnson added a Gibson Custom Shop '59 Les Paul Reissue to his collection of guitars. It is noteworthy that he no longer uses a Dumble amplifier, as he had to replace a faulty component in his favorite Dumble, the Steel String Singer. It never sounded the same afterwards, and he sold the amplifier to Carlos Santana.
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.
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 lead sound he coaxed from his beloved 1954 Fender Stratocaster, which he named Virginia. The album's second track, "Cliffs of Dover", exemplified his unique sound and won Johnson a 1991 Grammy Award.
Johnson uses effect pedals such as the Dallas-Arbiter Fuzz Face, BK Butler Tube Driver, MXR KD IV Stereo Chorus, Vox CryBaby wah-wah,ToadWorks Barracuda flanger, Prescription Electronics Experience octave fuzz, Xotic AC Booster, MXR Flanger/Doubler, Electro-Harmonix Deluxe Memory Man delay, Boss Corporation DD-2 Digital Delay,MXR 1500 Digital Delay, Line 6 Echo Pro Studio Modeler, and up to two Maestro Echoplex tape delays.All of these are connected to multiple A/B boxes to create sounds and tones that are both clean and distorted. Dunlop has also begun selling Johnson's signature Fuzz Face pedal.
Johnson is an admitted perfectionist, and those traits seemed to work against the Ah Via Musicom follow-up release. Unhappy with his recordings, Johnson mastered, then later scrapped several completed tracks for the new album and delayed its release for three years, on top of the three years he had spent touring in support of Ah Via Musicom. He also had setbacks involving musical growth and personal issues while recording his next album, Venus Isle. Venus Isle was released on September 3, 1996. It was an album with world influences that demonstrated Johnson's growth as a guitarist, songwriter, producer, musical arranger, and vocalist. But the album received mixed reviews and did not match the success of its predecessor. As a result, Johnson was dropped from Capitol Records. He rebounded with a successful tour from October to November 1996 with fellow guitarists Joe Satriani and Steve Vai. Named the "G3" tour, it resulted in a successful platinum-selling compact disc and DVD titled G3: Live in Concert.