Johnson is on the short list of all-time guitar heroes,
but his creative path has taken some interesting twists
and turns. He has earned critical and commercial success,
a Grammy, accolades from his peers and unabashed devotion
from his fans. However, his story as a guitarist, vocalist,
keyboardist, songwriter and producer is not a "typical" one.
Johnson is a native of Austin, Texas, which is steeped
in blues and country music. But Johnson's music reflects
a broader range of influences in addition to blues and
country, particularly pop, rock and jazz/fusion. His meticulously-produced
albums are almost always equally divided between instrumentals
and vocal songs showcasing all of his musical interests.
By the time Johnson had reached his teens, he was making
waves on the Austin scene. At 16, he was a member of a
band called Mariani and by 21, he was part of Electromagnets,
a jazz-rock band with an intense cult following.
He recorded his first album, 'Seven Worlds,' between 1976
and 1978, but it was not released until 1998. Ark 21 issued
the album with Johnson's blessing. A previous manager owned
the rights to 'Seven Worlds.' Johnson's burgeoning reputation
in the late 1970s and early 1980s led to session work with
the likes of Cat Stevens, Carole King and Christopher Cross.
In fact, he played on Cross' Grammy-sweeping, self-titled
1980 debut album.
One of the most important breaks of Johnson's career was
a 1984 appearance on the PBS television show 'Austin City
Limits.' Reportedly, Prince saw Johnson's performance and
recommended him to his label, Warner Bros. Records. The
Warner subsidiary Reprise Records signed Johnson, and 'Tones'
was released in 1986. Prince band members Wendy and Lisa
even sang uncredited background vocals. The song "Zap" was
nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Rock Instrumental.
Johnson had already earned considerable coverage from the
guitar magazines at this point, and their chronicling of
his career increased rapidly.
Johnson's breakthrough into the mainstream occurred with
1990's Capitol release 'Ah Via Musicom.' The buoyant, cascading
instrumental "Cliffs of Dover" enjoyed mountains
of radio airplay across multiple formats. The platinum-selling
album was nominated for a Grammy and "Cliffs of Dover" itself
earned Johnson a Grammy for Best Rock Instrumental, topping
fellow nominees the Allman Brothers Band, Danny Gatton,
Rush and Yes. The smooth, supple instrumental "Trademark" is
another highlight. 'Ah Via Musicom' gave Johnson the distinction
of over being the first artist to have three instrumentals
from one album reach the Top 10 in any format. He spent
three years on the road promoting 'Ah Via Musicom' and
then toured with B.B. King and contributed to albums by
Chet Atkins and Dweezil Zappa.
In 1996, Johnson returned with 'Venus Isle' on Capitol.
Notable songs from it include "S.R.V." (a tribute
to his friend, fellow Austin native and guitar legend,
the late Stevie Ray Vaughan) and "Manhattan." This
album illustrated Johnson's growth as a songwriter, producer,
vocalist and, perhaps most surprisingly, keyboardist. He
promoted the album with the massively successful, first-ever
G3 tour, which also featured his friends and fellow guitar
virtuosos Joe Satriani and Steve Vai. The live album and
VHS home video 'G3 Live in Concert' followed in 1997; the
DVD home video reissue came along three years later. The
video has been certified platinum.
One of Johnson's favorite side projects, apart from his
own albums and guesting on other artists' albums, is the
blues trio Alien Love Child. The group's 2000 album 'Live
and Beyond' was Johnson's first project for Favored Nations,
Vai's label. The song "Rain" was nominated for
a Grammy for Best Pop Instrumental.
2002 saw the release of 'Souvenir.' This popular collection
of 12 previously-unreleased demos, outtakes and live recordings
spanning his entire career is available only through www.ericjohnson.com
or at his shows.
Johnson went on to surprise his fans, yet again, with
a solo acoustic tour in 2004 showcasing his acoustic guitar
and piano skills. He was also honored by Martin Guitars
with his own signature acoustic model. That summer, he
was also invited by Eric Clapton to take part in the Crossroads
A perennial favorite at the Austin Music Awards, Johnson
and his band members won a variety of awards in March 2005
for the 2004-05 time period. Johnson won Austin Musician
of the Year, Best Electric Guitarist and Best Acoustic
Guitarist, as well as placing high in male vocalist, keyboardist
and songwriting categories. Chris Maresh was named Best
Bassist and Tommy Taylor earned Best Drummer honors.
Grissom has toured and recorded with such artists as
The Dixie Chicks, John Mellencamp, Joe Ely, Storyville,
the Alman Brothers Band, James Taylor, Chris Isaak, Robben
Ford, the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Montgomery Gentry, Ringo
Starr, Buddy Guy, John Mayall, Martina McBride and Jennider
Warnes. His songs have been recorded by Trisha
Mayall, Lee Ann Womack, Shannon
Curfman and Storyville,
He has been featuredseveral times in Guitar
Player, Guitar World, Musician and Vintage
Guitar Magazine. His highly
acclaimed instructional book "A
Guide to Blues/Rock Guitar Soloing" is
published by Cherry Lane Music and exclusively distributed
by Hal Leonard.
He moved to Austin, Texas in '83
from Louisville, KY, and within a few weeks was playing
with Lucinda Williams. He hooked up with Lou Ann Barton shortly after, and from
there, was accepted in one of the most vibrant music scenes
"There was so much going on back then. At least 5
nights a week, I'd be at Antone's until way past closing
because the music went on all night. Jimmie and Stevie
Ray were there, Hubert Sumlin, Otis Rush, Albert King,
Albert Collins, Buddy Guy, Jimmie Rogers, Eddie Taylor
- all those guys were constantly in and out. It was just
such an incredible opportunity, to see those guys, hang
with them, and play with some of them. I still can't believe
how lucky I was to walk into something
Grissom spent six years with Joe Ely, and then joined Mellencamp's
band in 1991. "That was a whole
'nother experience!" he
was a bigger band than I normally played with, and I don't
think we ever played less than 15,000-seat halls. It's
one of the best bands in the business, and it was a really
good experience, but it was basically the
same thing every night. "Then,
in '93, I got to fill in for Dickie Betts in the Allman
Brothers for a few dates - my wife paged me and said, `The
Allmans want you to get on a plane in two hours,' and I
played a three-hour show with them the next night! The
Allmans were my favorite band when I was 16, and playing
with them was such a thrill, that it really made me think
about why I was doing this. I've always felt music was
a real gift and a priviledge, and to make a living at it
was way beyond what anybody deserved, and I just never
wanna get to the point where I take that for granted."