Texas guitar legend Eric Johnson performs Friday at Tupelo in Derry

Union Leader Correspondent
March 08. 2018 6:44AM
Eric Johnson's latest album, 2017's “Collage,” includes a handful of original tunes as well as a handful of renditions of tunes made famous by Stevie Wonder, Jimi Hendrix, B.B. King and the Beatles. (COURTESY)

Legendary guitarist Eric Johnson has served as a rock & roll guide to the Cliffs of Dover for nearly three decades, although he has never set foot on the famous site along the English coastline.

The guitar-shredding sherpa first unveiled his instrumental sensation in 1990, an improvised, rip-roaring electric solo on his Gibson ES-335 that snagged Johnson a Grammy.

But the 63-year-old Texas native admits the closest he’s come to the White Cliffs of Dover, overlooking the Strait of Dover toward France, is on the ferry.

“We sailed right passed it. I’ve seen them, but I’ve never been on them,” he said of his most acclaimed composition.

“People usually ask me why I named it ‘Cliffs of Dover’ and actually, I didn’t.”

His friend suggested it after Johnson played him the track.

“That song was really quick, almost like it dropped out of the universe,” Johnson said, referring to the fact he wrote his signature song in about five minutes. “I was at the right place at the right time, I guess.”

The success of the song — “Cliffs of Dover” skyrocketed into Billboard’s mainstream rock singles chart — helped his landmark album, “Ah Via Musicom,” sell more than 700,000 copies.

Translating indirectly as “communicating through music,” “Ah Via Musicom” generated three Top 10 singles.

The record ricochets between styles, touching on Johnson’s country and blues roots and his spine-tingling guitar riffs.

His stature has grown since its release, and his guitar skills are heralded by critics and fans alike, the latter providing so much feedback he decided to embark on a nationwide tour to homage to his platinum album in its entirety and those musicians who helped inspire it.

“It was definitely a real important part of my journey, making that record. A lot of people ... it’s their favorite record, and it’s good for me to revisit it, recapture a lot of what I was doing at that moment,” he said.

In the middle of his extensive U.S. tour is a pit stop at Tupelo Music Hall in Derry at 8 p.m. Friday. He will share the stage with Arielle, a singer-songwriter from Austin. Johnson will be performing with Tommy Taylor and Kyle Brock, original members of the “Ah Via Musicom” era. In the second set, they will play the entire record.

Although he has played “Ah Via Musicom,” and specifically “Cliffs of Dover,” for more than a quarter century on stage, Johnson said he has found ways to keep it fresh during a time when the guitar has become oversaturated. There are little twists that are absent in the record, he said, openings in the song for improvisation and fooling around with the melody.

“Sometimes that’s not such a good idea because I get too far away from it, but I try to reinterpret it subtly here and there,” he said.

“I love playing for people. To me, it’s one of the things I enjoy the most; just trying to make people happy or feel some bit of joy here or there.”
Guitarist Eric Johnson, photographed in the Max Crace Studio in Austin, Texas, last year, is returning to the “Cliffs of Dover” in a tour that celebrates his seminal 1990 album, “Ah Via Musicom.” 


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