Back in Pittsburgh in the late 1970s, when I roomed with Eric Johnson, I used to be amazed at how every time Earl Klugh or Henry Johnson (then playing with Ramsey Lewis) would come to town, at the first chance they’d get, they would be calling up asking: “Where is Eric Johnson playing!” I was so impressed that these great guitarists who’s LPs I actually purchased and enjoyed would come and sit at the feet of this master guitarist who just happened to be my buddy! One of the cardinal sins of the jazz media is how we consistently overlook the countless world-class, “regional” master jazz artists in favor of the hyped, so-called “big names”. The list is endless. These are the musicians who are the true lifeblood of the music, keeping it alive and vital in local communities across the country. And Eric Johnson has never been “hiding”. He is right in our midst in the NYC area, performing 5-6 nights a week in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Harlem and even at Dizzy’s Coca-Cola Club. It is a mystery why this man is not heralded more. But musicians and those in the know, know about Eric Johnson. Heck, he has played with just about everybody: Stanley Turrentine, Ramsey Lewis, Jack McDuff, Jimmy Smith, Jimmy McGriff, Hank Crawford, Grove Holmes, Willis Jackson, Jimmy Owens, Sonny Fortune, Walter Booker, Rufus Reid, George Coleman, Shirley Scott, to name just the beginning of a very long list that comes to mind; and he still continues to play and tour with his mentor the great Lou Donaldson. Just ask George Benson and Kenny Burrell about Eric Johnson. I can remember a night in early 1980 during his break at the venerable Village Vanguard, the great Kenny Burrell acclaiming to a group of fellow musicians and listeners that Eric Johnson is probably the greatest jazz guitarist of his generation, as he spent his entire break with Eric and I, pleased to see that Eric had finally moved to NYC. Fellow-Pittsburgher, George Benson has been a constant in Eric’s career opening doors for him and recommending him for gigs. It was Benson who recommended Eric to replace him in the “classic Jack McDuff era band’ featuring legendary drummer and saxophonist Joe Dukes and Dave Young back in the 1970s. As a result, I remember Eric traveling all over the country with McDuff flying on a TWA Youth Pass. Our society certainly was more civilized back then! I also have memories of Eric with another great jazz guitarist who also took Eric under his wing: the great Grant Green. My fondest memory is standing with Eric on the steps of Carnegie Hall in Pittsburgh waiting for Grant to show up with his station wagon and U-Haul trailer and being so fortunate as to carrying his prized and tattered stool into Carnegie Hall where he was opening for Grover Washington Jr. I guess I am going through all these reminiscences of Eric, because so much of jazz history is embodied in him. How many of the current jazz guitar stars can say they played with Dexter Gordon, Gene Ammons or Sonny Stitt when they were in their prime? Eric Johnson is a treasure that the jazz world can really utilize at this transitional point in jazz history.
For Clarion Jazz, Eric’s new CD Supahighway continues the tradition of his very first recording (which is also Clarion Jazz’s first CD) Bumpin’ In L.A. (1993). Bumpin’ was our biggest selling CD. We still get requests for it even after 16 years! Long out of print, we are planning to make it available as a download on iTunes, so look for it soon! On Supahighway, from the opening chords of the rarely played Erroll Garner composition, La Petite Mambo, one is transported back to an era of pure jazz authenticity. Listen to Eric’s sound, groove, soul and nuances. You can’t teach this kind of guitar playing! Only Eric Johnson could pull off such a successful jazz rendition of Neil Sedaka’s Laughter In The Rain. Truly classic! Every tune is a keeper on this CD, and all are classic jazz takes on American Pop standards in the tradition that Wes Montgomery made so famous. My personal favorite is the closers, Part 1 & 2 of the Isley Brother’s For The Love Of You. If this doesn’t get your ticker pumping, maybe you should see an undertaker!