AllMusic Review by Scott Yanow
Guitarist Eric Johnson's debut recording is quite enjoyable. Performing seven standards and three originals, Johnson immediately makes it apparent that his main influence is Wes Montgomery. Although he does not utilize octaves like Montgomery, his single-note lines have the same basic sound Montgomery had. Backed by a fine rhythm section that features a liberal amount of solo space for the talented pianist Greg Kurstin, and drummer Chuck McPherson, Johnson takes creative improvisations within the boundaries of the style he has chosen.
FROM ERIC JOHNSON:
After a 40 plus year career (and still counting) I've had the opportunity to play for and have met so many beautiful people and collected so many wonderful memories. Growing up in Pittsburgh, PA. during the" Golden Age Of Jazz", I was fortunate enough to hear and meet so many jazz legends. My dad would take me to the matinees at the Legendary "Crawford Grill" and "Hurricane". As time went on I would go myself and order food and soda. As a 16 year old, the staff knew I was there only for the music. As a result, I heard brilliant, inspirational music. I would make a point to go on a Monday or Tuesday night so I could meet and talk to the musicians. Most of those guys are gone now but those that are left are still friends of mine. My website is somewhat of a tribute to those days. In addition to being a musician, I like to think of myself as a jazz historian.
I invite you to please visit me at: www.fabalousej.com
SPECIAL TO THE L.A. TIMES
By ZAN STEWART
AUG. 31, 1995
LOS ANGELES — The first time guitarist Eric Johnson heard Wes Montgomery, that fabulous jazz guitarist who died unexpectedly at age 45 in 1968, he flipped! “It was 1965, I was a teenager just starting to play, and his version of ‘Tequila’ just blew me away. Here was a guy who communicated so powerfully that even a non-jazz fan could get with it,” says Johnson, an active member of the L.A. jazz scene who has played with organist Jack McDuff, trumpeter Jimmy Owens and saxophonists Lou Donaldson and Willis Jackson. He appears tonight with bassist Bobby Haynes at the Coffee Plantation in Newport Beach.
Today, Johnson still greatly admires Montgomery, famed for his gleaming yet soft sound and his way to make both jazz numbers and pop songs such as “Eleanor Rigby” and “Windy” breathe with vitality.
He is particularly enamored of his idol’s ability to play octaves--striking two notes at once, an octave apart, producing a rich, ringing sound--said Johnson, a native of Pittsburgh who has lived in Southern California for a year. Few guitarists since Montgomery can manage this difficult but deliciously appealing style. George Benson is one, Lee Ritenour is another, and so is Johnson. His “Bumpin’ in L.A.” CD on Clarion Records spotlights octave playing on most tracks.
“It’s a pretty much-unexplored territory,” Johnson, an animated man with a fleshy oval face and bright brown eyes, said during an interview in his Westside home. “It’s not something many can do. And before the album, I couldn’t either. So I practiced extensively, switched to heavier-gauge strings, and after some time, I could hear the difference.”
Offering his version of Montgomery’s signature style isn’t all Johnson is about. He’s a very lyrical player who can give such standards as “Am I Blue” a warm quality, or can add plenty of blues whammy to the melodic bent that underpins his numbers.
“Oh, man, the melody is everything,” said Johnson, who also plays Friday at Mum’s in Long Beach with ex-Crusader Bobby Haynes, and on Sunday with the legendary Claude (Fiddler) Williams at the Jazz Bakery in Culver City. “I love those tunes by Cole Porter and Gershwin and Duke Ellington. And I try to be melodic in my solos, instead of playing a lot of dry patterns.”
His aim with solos is to make perfect musical sense.
“I try to remain logical and not ramble,” he said, “to resolve ideas and not just leave you hanging, to try and raise the level with each chorus so that I reach a natural climax. Then I’m happy and the people who are listening are happy.”
When Johnson was 13, he was given his first instrument by his father. “He just told me I looked like I could play it,” he said. “My father was a jazz fan, and there was always music in the house.”
As a youth, Johnson first became a fan of Kenny Burrell, and then Montgomery. He practiced devotedly, and by 1971, landed his first prime job: a four-year stint with renowned organist jack McDuff. Johnson landed the post on a recommendation from George Benson, who is also from Pittsburgh and who knew the younger man’s capabilities.
Next came a two-year hitch with renowned alto player Donaldson, which preceded Johnson’s 1979 move to New York. There he was active with Jimmy Owens (who took him on a 9 week State Department-sponsored tour of Africa) as well as with Willis Jackson, one of the best of blues-based jazz tenor saxophonists, reedman Sonny Fortune and many others.
Johnson left New York in 1986--"My wife hated it,” he says--and returned to Pittsburgh, where things were slow. When he and his wife separated in 1989, he began to make trips to Los Angeles to visit his hometown buddy, sax man Dale Fielder.
“I thought the jazz guitar field was wide open here, so I moved,” he said.
Wherever he’s been, he’s found life in music to be very therapeutic.
“It keeps you out of trouble,” he said, “keeps you young, gives you something to live for so that each day you can be a better artist, a better person.”
released January 27, 1993
Eric Johnson - guitar
Greg Kurstin - piano
Bill Markus - bass
Chuck McPherson - drums
Rock Deadrick - congas & percussion
Produced by William Jemison & Eric Johnson
Recorded @ Sage and Sound Studios
Hollywood, CA January 27, 1993
Jim Mooney -engineer
Mastering by Project One
Graphics by Strata Graphics
CLARION JAZZ 89301