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Friday, March 22 , 2019, 6:15 am | Fair 44º


Jeff Moehlis: If You’re Ready, Check Out Eric Johnson in Ventura

Guitarist will perform breakthrough album Ah Via Musicom

It's a very sad time for our community, which has been devastated by the mudslide in Montecito that took so many of our beloved neighbors from us. We also mourn all that was lost in Ventura and elsewhere from the Thomas Fire.

Recovery will take different forms for different people, depending in large part on how directly they were affected by the horrible sequence of events that unfolded. Some will never truly recover.

But I'd like to highlight a bit of sage advice from CALM CEO Alana Wolczak at the Sunday night vigil for Montecito at the Sunken Garden of the Santa Barbara Courthouse: "Please give yourself permission to be happy."

It is in this spirit that I offer the following preview article for a concert by the amazing guitarist Eric Johnson, who will be performing at the Majestic Ventura Theater next Wednesday. If this sounds right for you and your situation — and Highway 101 let's you get there — you can have an enjoyable evening that offers the healing power of music, camaraderie with our neighbors in the 805, and the satisfaction of financially helping out a venerable Ventura venue. Tickets are available online here by clicking here.

While Johnson certainly has the ability to blow you away with six-string flash and speed, he's much more about feel, tone and serving the song. He will be playing his entire 1990 breakthrough album, Ah Via Musicom, which included his signature song "Cliffs of Dover" and other gems "Trademark" and "Righteous." Johnson will be joined at the concert by Kyle Brock on bass and Tommy Taylor on drums, both of whom played on the original album and toured with Johnson after the album first took off.

Johnson talked to Noozhawk about the upcoming show.

If you're ready, think about giving this one a try!

                                                                        •        •

Jeff Moehlis: I'm excited that you'll be playing Ah Via Musicom at your upcoming concert in Ventura. What are your reflections on that album now?

Guitarist Eric Johnson will perform “Cliffs of Dover” and the rest of his 1990 breakthrough album in Ventura next week.
Guitarist Eric Johnson will perform “Cliffs of Dover” and the rest of his 1990 breakthrough album in Ventura next week. (Max Crace photo)

Eric Johnson: You know, I don't listen to it that often, but I have been listening to it to relearn some of the songs and stuff. It's a cool record. It's definitely "guitar city." I think it was put together well. It's got a vibe. Kyle and Tommy added so much to it. Man, I'm lucky that they're going to be on this tour with me. It's cool. We're going to have a good thing happening there. It has a nice flow to it. It's interesting to listen to it because it's from so many years ago.

JM: What made this the right time for you to revisit that album on your tour?

EJ: We polled people on the website, and a lot of people were like, "You know, a lot of groups are going out and they're playing their favorite records live, back to back." And I said, "Oh, really?" Because I'd never done that before, and I said, "If I did that, what record?" And they said, "You should go out and do Ah Via Musicom." So I said, "OK, that's a neat idea. I can give that a shot." So that was how that happened. It was just asking other people what they'd like to hear.

JM: Of course that album has your signature song, "Cliffs of Dover." How did that song come together?

EJ: I had written that around the time of the Tones record, which was my first released solo record. We had recorded it, but it was decided not to release it. We had an outtake of it. So I already had the tune.

That was one of those tunes that was kind of a gift from the universe. I don't even know if I really wrote it. The melody's kind of reminiscent of some old Irish melodies, anyhow. I guess I'm fortunate I never got sued. It kind of came to me in five minutes, the whole song. It's like it dropped out of the sky or something.

We didn't use it on the Tones record, but it was a favorite live when we played around in the '80s, so I said, "I'm going to give it another chance." I spent a long time getting a complete version of it for Ah Via Musicom. I turned to the engineer after we listened to it and I went, "Nah, it's no good. I'm going to start over and redo it." [laughs] So I totally re-recorded it a second time, and that's the one that's on the record.

And then when we finished it, in the mix it was so bass-heavy that it sounded really bizarre. It was even hard to decipher the listenability of it. But when I gave it to Bernie Grundman for mastering, he totally re-EQ'd it and it came back and just sounded way better.

It was just kind of a destiny thing. It happened when it happened, and I re-recorded it to get the right vibe, and then Bernie saved the EQ. Things just fell in place.

JM: Since Ah Via Musicom, you've released about a half-dozen other studio albums. How does your approach to songwriting and recording differ now from how it did back in those days of the Ah Via Musicom album?

EJ: The songwriting still happens the same way. It's just stuff that comes to you naturally, and somewhat effortlessly and quickly. The hard part is trying to bring it into reality, the arrangements and working with the musicians and getting it on tape and get a good thing. But the actual composition — the best ones are ones that just come, they flow out of you. Every time I try to stress out about it or labor over it, it just sounds that way. Now, what I'm trying to do is pay more attention and respect to honor that mode and that transference, and really be a little wary of the other one. Because on a lot of my records I'm sitting there going, "No, no, this should be good. This should sound right." You sit there for weeks trying to make it, and then it sounds like you were stressing over it.

JM: What advice would you give to an aspiring musician?

EJ: Just to follow your heart, and become very focused and hardworking in whatever you find joy in, and the passion. Find the type of music that really inspires you and gives you joy, and makes you want to practice, and makes you want to work on. Don't step outside yourself and think about what you're supposed to do, or what somebody else is doing, because then you won't have the same energy to practice hard and to be focused. If you find whatever excites you and is your passion, then you're not really working. You might work really hard, but it's not work.

Click here for the full interview with Eric Johnson.

— Jeff Moehlis is a Noozhawk contributing writer and a professor of mechanical engineering at UC Santa Barbara. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his web site, music-illuminati.com. The opinions expressed are his own.

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