Eric Johnson has been traveling on a prolific odyssey over the course of more than four decades. Along the way, his creations have encompassed repertoire that cross pollinate genres which include rock, blues, jazz, fusion, soul, folk, new-age, classical and even country. Inevitably E.J. says it best himself in sharing. “It really boils down to the music and the song at the end of the day,” he explains. “If it doesn’t have that it gets boring for me. The most important thing for me is to grow musically and make a more expansive and meaningful artistic statement with every new project.”
Among Johnson’s many accolades are a Grammy award for “Cliffs Of Dover ” (a track from his Platinum certified Ah Via Musicom), lifetime induction into the Guitar Player Gallery of Greats, his listing among the “100 Greatest Guitarists of the 20th Century” by Musician. In his hometown of Austin TX, a city full of guitarists the readers of the Austin Chronicle have voted Johnson the city’s “Best Electric Guitarist” and “Best Acoustic Guitarist” in their yearly poll year after year. They also named him “Electric Guitarist of the Decade” and one of the top five “Musicians of the Decade”.
During the pandemic, some people baked, others indulged in TV binge-watching. Eric Johnson emerged with two albums–The Book of Making and Yesterday Meets Today—featuring nine songs on each LP. The Grammy-winning, multi-genre guitarist took inventory—both emotionally and musically—delving into the many unfinished tracks, outtakes, demos, and sonic ideas in his archive to compile the 18 songs that ultimately ended up on the albums.
“I started pulling these recordings out of the vault at my studio. Some were professionally done, some were just scratch tapes, some were rehearsal recordings on cassette,” Johnson explains. The music spanned 25 years of “personal creations, thoughts and ideas that remained unfinished for many years.”
The vast amount of work occupied Johnson’s time and mind during the darkest days of 2020-21, and six of the resultant 18 songs are being released prior to the two LP’s shared July 29 release date. In some of the deeply personal music Johnson discovered a “certain personal magic” and decided to allow song cuts to remain as they were initially created. Others were embellished; a few songs are new.
The Book of Making’s opening song, the dramatic, dynamic instrumental that is “Soundtrack Life,” is the first single released. ”Soundtrack Life” began in about 2017, but the orchestration was created last year. It sounds like “’classic me,’ I think,” says Johnson. “What people might expect from me. While some of the other stuff is a little off the beaten path, it’s always been in my heart and in my repertoire since I was a kid. But that doesn’t necessarily mean people associate that with me.” As a companion single, the lush pop-oriented, radio-ready title track from Yesterday Meets Today, featuring Johnson’s warm vocals and rich solos.
“Every time I make a record, I usually end up making two records; stashing away some of the pieces I didn’t use in the vault,” Johnson explains. But rather than make a Souvenir Volume Two collection of outtakes, he was inspired to rework, embellish and otherwise turn the songs into something more meaningful and complete. And he had the luxury of time. He started with 28 pieces of music, pared those to 26, then chose the 18 best for the two albums. (He plans to release the remaining five or six “interesting” outtakes on an upcoming EP.)
The songs on both records are literally a “meeting of yesterday with today.” Since the source material for some songs was decades-old tape and other tracks were cut digitally within the last two years (including the song “Yesterday Meets Today”), bringing the past and present together aurally was important. To that end, Bernie Grundman mastered both albums. “Bernie is wonderful. He made it a little bit more cohesive.”
Over his storied career, Johnson has learned to let go of perfectionist tendencies if something more raw might serve the song better. “Most of the pieces are a combination of older recordings with new work on them for “a rainbow of different moments from past to present,” he says of the songs on The Book of Making and Yesterday Meets Today. Johnson was able to leave intact “some performances that I felt captured the moments… though they weren’t as polished as they could’ve been.”
With the collection of 18 songs across two albums, Johnson tried to suspend the binary judgment of “good” and “bad” for his own work. With The Book of Making and Yesterday Meets Today he tried to “let the songs flow through your spirit and go out there.” It’s not easy to do, he says, admitting “sure, there are certain sections where I maneuver my musicality, which is a little too in that land of the mind and judgment.” A goal? “Let’s try to keep it as less. Not too many fingerprints on it. It can be scary, it’s unknown territory.”
That said, Johnson is embracing his fear, doing his best to let go of any tried and true approaches. He’s long established his instrumental, lyrical and vocal bona fides, but he doesn’t want to rest on any of his laurels. “You kind of have to remake a part of yourself, beliefs you’ve had for a lot of years. It’s very empowering, and very good,” he says, admitting, “But it can be kind of scary.”
He’s making that leap of faith for The Book of Making and Yesterday Meets Today, and any fear is tempered with the excitement of coming out the other end a changed person. “I want to expound upon the emotional and personal impact of making music,” Johnson states. “It was very therapeutic for me to let go and get out of the way and leave certain things that I normally wouldn’t accept.”
As Johnson concludes, “As life’s road over the last couple of years has been unpredictable for all of us, I truly believe it leads to a brighter road of possibilities.” The singer/guitarists’ personal goals are now closer, thanks to The Book of Making and Yesterday Meets Today. His hope? That the “thoughts, aspirations and revelations I had in making this project will help bring me closer to tuning my direction to trying to make my future music as emotionally positive and uplifting as I can.”
In February 2023, he will launch a 62-date tour and is set to wrap up in October, hitting every major city across the U.S. The 2023 tour titled “Treasure” features material from the new albums alongside selections from his prolific career.