On Stage: Eric Johnson brings it back to Philly

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By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times

Eric Johnson

Texas guitar ace Eric Johnson played the area back in the spring on the first leg of his “Ah Via Musicom Tour.” Now, he is returning to Philly on the second leg for a show on October 22 at the World Café Live (3025 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, 215-222-1400, www.worldcafelive.com)

Johnson is a highly-acclaimed guitarist from the Lone Star State. His 1990 album “Ah Via Musicom” was certified platinum by the RIAA, and the single “Cliffs of Dover” won the Grammy Award for Best Rock Instrumental Performance.

While Johnson is most famous for his electric guitar skills, he is also a highly proficient acoustic, lap steel, resonator, and bass guitarist, as well as an accomplished pianist and vocalist.

He is also extremely versatile in the genres he plays including rock, blues, jazz fusion, soul, folk, new-age, classical, and country. Guitar Player magazine has called him “one of the most respected guitarists on the planet.”

At the end of 2017, Johnson released a new album, “Collage,” that combines five new original songs with five covers that reflect both his inspirations and range. It features an acoustic version of Jimi Hendrix’s “One Rainy Wish,” The Beatles classic “We Can Work It Out” in a Caribbean groove, B.B. King’s “Rock Me Baby,” the surf rock classic “Pipeline” and Stevie Wonder’s 1966 hit “Uptight (Everything’s Alright).”

Then, Johnson announced plans to perform “Ah Via Musicom” in its entirety at dates across America in 2018.

“I never planned on doing a tour like this,” said Johnson, during a phone interview from his home in Austin, Texas. “I really never even planned a tour for ‘Collage.’

“People were talking about artists touring old albums that were fan favorites. I said – well, mine would have to be ‘Ah Via Musicom.’ Then, I thought about doing a tour for ‘Ah Via Musicom.” I called Tommy and Kyle and they were available. We all thought it would be fun.”

When Johnson recorded ‘Ah Via Musicom” in Austin in 1988 and 1989, Tommy Taylor was his drummer and Kyle Brock was his bass player.

According to Johnson, “I listen to the fan feedback and comments as I plan my projects and tours. That’s how I got into the recording and subsequent tour with Mike Stern. Same thing with the acoustic recording and tour because I kept hearing ‘Hey when are you gonna do that acoustic record you’ve been talking about for years’.

“But by far, the most feedback I’ve been getting from fans is to play the entire ‘Ah Via Musicom’ record live so I figured I’ve put this off for too long.  The time is now.”

Johnson will also be in the present with live performances of songs from “Collage.”

“I spent six months recording ‘Collage’ at my studio here in Austin and finished it in October,” said Johnson.

“When I’m writing, usually the melody and the chords come concurrently and then I keep working on it. Most of the time, the lyrics come last – but not always. If it’s a vocal tune, lyrics are really important. When I was making the album, I actually sang and played at the same time. I played live in the studio. I just tried to keep it as organic and natural as possible.

“I tried to cut ‘Collage’ more live. We did a lot of songs in three takes. I didn’t want to make an album that was pieced together. I wanted to make everything more soulful. I wanted to create a human experience.

“Recording it live made a difference. We just went in and did whatever felt like it would be fun –to see what was working and what wasn’t. We recorded twice as much as was on the record. And, there is a jazz track that is a bonus track on the Japanese release.”

Video link for Eric Johnson — https://youtu.be/safVhk-Jnkg.

The show at the World Café Live will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $45 and $55.

Wilderado

Another show in Philadelphia on October 22 will feature another guitar-driven act with its roots in Texas.

Wilderado, who will co-headline a show with Sure Sure on October 22 at the Foundry at Fillmore Philadelphia (1100 Canal Street, Philadelphia, 215-309-0150, www.thefillmorephilly.com), haven’t always been Wilderado. And, the music the band made when it became Wilderado is different than what the band is cranking out in autumn 2018.

Wilderado — lead singer/guitarist Max Rainer, bassist/vocalist Colton Dearing, guitarist/vocalist Tyler Wimpee, and drummer Justin Kila – is touring in support of its new EP “Favors,” which was released in May on Bright Antenna Records. The group released two EPs in 2016 and several singles in 2017. “Favors” takes the band’s music up to another level.

The band was initially called Bird Dog.

“Bird Dog is what we called ourselves when we first started writing songs together,” said Rainer, during a phone interview last week. ‘Then, a Brooklyn band called Bird Dog sent us a cease-and-desist notice. So, we changed our name.”

It was a smart move – especially since an internet search for “Wilderado” yields better results than a search for “Bird Dog.” And, unless the name “Wilderado” has already been claimed by a strip club in Denver, the rock quartet from Texas should be fine with its second choice for a name.

“Our first two EPs – ‘Misty Shrubs’ and ‘Latigo’ — were recorded at the same time in May 2015,” said Rainer, during a phone interview last week. “We released ‘Misty Shrubs’ in early 2016 and then put out ‘Latigo’ in July of that year. After that, we put out a group of singles in 2017. Ever since we started, we haven’t gone more than six months without putting out music.

“We first got together in 2015 and started touring in January 2016. Three of us – Tyler, Colton and me — met in Texas and moved to L.A. We were the only ones we knew out there. Then, we got our friend Justin Kila to play drums. Now, two of us live in L.A. – Tyler and Colton – and the other two live in Tulsa.”

“Favors” was recorded with production mastermind Phil Ek (Father John Misty, Fleet Foxes). The songs herald a new era for the L.A./Okla. rockers as they take their epic sound into a more mature territory. The album was recorded at two legendary Seattle Studios – Hall of Justice and Avast!

“We made the EP in Seattle and it shows how the band is evolving,” said Rainer. “It’s like rock and roll with bigger guitar, drums and vocals. It’s the way we like our live shows to be.

“It’s been a very natural evolution. We just shaped it to a higher level of energy. It’s definitely more bombastic. And, we’re releasing an acoustic version of the EP in December. The first single from the EP – ‘Siren’ – is out now. Then, we’ll have something new out in the spring.”

Wilderado has already built a fan base in Philly with two previous shows in the city – including a gig at the Theater of the Living Arts.

“We have a pretty large demographic,” said Rainer. “The strongest is the college-age group. We gained a lot of fans from touring with Lindsey Buckingham. People seem to really connect with our harmonies.”

Video link for Wilderado – https://youtu.be/UneycLzuU1A.

The show at The Foundry, which also features Sure Sure, will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15.

Other upcoming shows at The Foundry are ALO on October 20, “Counterparts & Being As An Ocean – Private Room Tour,” on October 21, Big Data on October 23, and Elise Trouw on October 24.

Keller Williams

Keller Williams has built a large fan base in the Philadelphia area over the course of a career that has spanned a quarter-century.

After a prolific career of 22 studio albums, Williams recently announced his first-ever, all-instrumental album – “Sans.”

The new album was officially released on October 19. One day later, Williams is introducing the songs to his Philly audience with a show at the Ardmore Music Hall (23 East Lancaster Avenue, Ardmore, 610-649-8389www.ardmoremusic.com).

Williams released his first album in 1994 – an album titled “Freek.” He has since given each of his albums a single syllable title –

“Buzz” (1995), “Spun” (1999), “Breathe (1999), “Loop” (2001), “Laugh” (2002), “Dance” (2003), “Home” (2003), “Stage” (2004), “Grass” (2006), “Dream” (2007), “12” (2007), “Rex” (2008), “Odd” (2009), “Thief” (2010), “Kids” (2010), “Bass” (2011), “Pick” (2012),  “Keys” (2013), “Funk” (2013), “Dos” (2014), “Vape” (2015), and “Raw” (2017).

Each title serves as a concise summation of the concept guiding each project. “Grass,” for example, is a bluegrass recording cut with the husband-wife duo The Keels. “Stage” is a live album, and “Thief” is a set of unexpected cover songs. “Raw” is a solo acoustic album. Throughout his long and highly successful career, Williams has been able to seamlessly crosses genre boundaries.

According to Williams, “Each record is a little snapshot of history. I like to think of it as a period piece for an artist. Each record is a little bit different but all of them have some kind of common thread, which is my musical ability as far as I can take it. I enjoy making records. In some people’s eyes, they’re a dying breed, but I’m very passionate about it. They document where my head is at that time in my career and where I am in my songwriting.”

“Sans,” which means “without” in French, offers a fresh take on his previous work with a collection of eight re-imagined tracks plus one new song. Williams injects new life into some of his favorite songs that were once presented as solo acoustic guitar pieces. These invigorated renditions have been enhanced with bold acoustic bass and live and sampled drums, woven through futuristic soundscapes to create what Williams has dubbed “acoustic dance music.”

Video link for Keller Williams – https://youtu.be/5JwL_qRQGG4.

The show at the Ardmore Music Hall on October 20 will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25 and $35.

Other upcoming shows at the venue are Anderson East with special guest Savannah Conley on October 21 and Parsonsfield and Sawyer Fredericks on October 24.

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