Eric Johnson revisits the classic ‘Ah Via Musicom’ in Aspen
IF YOU GO …
Who: Eric Johnson
Where: Belly Up Aspen
When: Sunday, Feb. 11, 7 p.m.
How much: $35/general admission; $60/reserved seating
Tickets: Belly Up box office; http://www.bellyupaspen.com
The guitar virtuoso Eric Johnson is revisiting his Grammy-winning 1990 classic album “Ah Via Musicom” on a tour that comes to Belly Up on Sunday.
The Texan, frequently called one of the greatest living guitarists, has put the band back together from the original “Musicom” sessions — drummer Tommy Taylor and bassist Kyle Brock — for the first time since they made the iconic record.
Johnson recalled in a recent phone interview that, leading up to making the album three decades ago, the Warner Bros. label dropped him and he decided to defy the dominant sentiment of the record industry to follow his vision for what would become “Ah Via Musicom.”
“I’d been told over and over, ‘Don’t do instrumental music,’ ‘If you’re going to do the guitar thing, then you’ve got to do heavy metal,’ ‘You can’t do what you’re trying to do,’” he recalled from a tour stop in Santa Cruz, California. “I never believed in any of that.”
Instead, he forged ahead with largely instrumental guitar-driven songs like “Cliffs of Dover” and “Trademark.”
“It’s great to work with producers, but all the time everybody was trying to change it,” he added. “So I just made my own record and did it the way I believed. I thought, ‘If I do that, then I’ve got to do the best I can.’”
Until this tour, Johnson hadn’t previously gotten on board with the recent trend of artists revisiting classic albums and taking them on the road. But last year, he polled his fans on social media and got an overwhelming response that they wanted to see “Ah Via Musicom” in full.
He and the band will open the show with a set of material from other albums, unreleased material and songs from the new record, “Collage,” which came out in November. After an intermission, they’ll play “Ah Via Musicom” straight through.
“Collage” includes reinterpretations of the surf-rock band The Chantays’ “Pipeline,” B.B. King’s “Rock Me Baby” and songs by The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Wonder. Choosing covers, he said, is about finding something new to say.
“If it speaks to you in a way that’s harmonically universal and that resonates with you, I enjoy doing a different version of them,” Johnson said. “The original versions are always my favorite, so there’s no reason to do it note for note.”
Doing the throwback set in conjunction with “Collage” has provided Johnson and his fans with an interesting juxtaposition. For the new record, Johnson did a quick studio session and didn’t tinker much with the live recording. That process is on the opposite end of the creative spectrum from the famously meticulous, lengthy production of the “Ah Via Musicom” sessions.
Known for his extreme perfectionism, Johnson said that on the new record he “used the music to try to change direction in the procedure that I use to make music.” Digging back into his best-known work after these decades has made him rethink some of his creative choices in the intervening years and to think deeply at how the magic of “Musicom” happened.
“I’m realizing that some of my moving on has been beneficial, and some of it has actually been not as good as what I did then,” he said. “It’s made me take a hard look at what I do now.”
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