Eric Johanson: 13 Albums That Changed My Life

Eric Johanson Interview

Feature Photo by Kaylie McCarthy

Hailing from Alexandria, Louisiana, Eric Johanson is one of the modern era’s premier blues guitarists and songwriters. He’s a bluesbreaker on the surface; if we dig deeper, Johanson harbors a deep love for heavy metal and alternative sounds, making his music inherently eclectic and electrifying.

Johanson’s first solo record, 2017’s Burn it Down, raised awareness, and the records that followed, such as Below Sea Level (2020) and Covered Tracks Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 (2021), put him on the map. But his latest effort, 2023’s The Deep and the Dirty, cemented Johanson as a premier talent.

His live shows on the backside of that record drove that point home, proving to fans that Johanson is a force to be reckoned with with his trusty Duesenberg six-string in hand.

During a break, Eric Johanson beamed in with ClassicRockHistory.com to dig into the thirteen records—in no particular order—that changed his life. Are any of these records your favorites, too?

 Electric Ladyland  –  The Jimi Hendrix Experience (1968)

Hendrix was one of those artists I was always into, no matter what phase of my life. As a guitarist, it’s not exactly surprising to list the album that “Voodoo Chile” came from, but my favorite track is probably “1983… (A Merman I Should Come to Be).”

That one is just a masterpiece. Obviously, his covers of Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower” and “Come on… Let the Good Times Roll” – written by New Orleans’ own Earl King- are also classics. I’ll admit I heard Hendrix’s version of these tunes before I ever heard the originals.

The Black Album –  Metallica (1991)

This is probably the least cool Metallica album to admit being inspired by, being the most widely known. I am a big fan of the earlier ones as well. But this one really ignited my creativity as a pre-teen guitarist and songwriter in a way that nothing had before.

The intro riffs to “Enter Sandman” and “Nothing Else Matters” are probably some of the first things I ever played. The acoustic melodies on “The Unforgiven” made me want to pick up my mom’s old classical guitar and learn fingerpicking. The super slow grooves on “Sad but True” and “Wherever I May Roam,” the eastern-sounding scales, all just grabbed me and made me want to dig deeper into music.

Burglar – Freddie King (1974)

One of my uncles had a cassette of this record in his truck, which blew my mind. It still does. First, if I had to pick a favorite blues man, it’s Freddie King. His voice is just huge, and the way he knew exactly how to phrase something so soft, followed by these big powerful notes – it’s just the damn Truth. What can I say?

This album, though, is so funky and so soulful. It’s probably my top favorite electric blues album. There are so many cool riffs in it, too, usually played by the piano, bass, or horns. Like the riff, the band is playing during the solo on “Pack It Up.” Coincidentally, this record also has a version of Earl King’s “Come on… Let the Good Times Roll,” it’s just killer.

Yellow Moon – The Neville Brothers (1989)

 I must credit my mom for having great records in the house, and this was one of them. I remember being entranced by the rhythms, the percussion, and the harmony of the vocals—Charles Neville’s mysterious saxophone lines in the title track. Something about the sound just had a magic to it.

The Neville Brothers were one of those groups where, even though I may have been listening to mostly rock or blues music, they cut through and moved me. I knew they were from New Orleans, and growing up in Louisiana myself, I always associated that sound with the city. Cyril’s voice was always my favorite, and eventually, our paths crossed, and I played guitar for him for a couple of years. I still consider him a good friend and someone from whom I’ve learned a ton.

La Sexorcisto: Devil Music Vol. 1 – White Zombie (1992)

I heard the riff for “Thunderkiss ’65” and was hooked. I got this album, the crazy artwork, the horror movie samples (I loved horror movies as a kid) – it was all so cool to me. It was around the time I started being able to pick out more riffs and was teaching myself guitar from listening to records basically. I pretty much learned this whole album and would play along with it from start to finish. It is so funky, so groovy. I picked it up on vinyl a few years ago and rediscovered how much I love it.

In the Beginning – Stevie Ray Vaughan (1980)

This record came out in ’92, but it’s actually a live recording of Stevie from 1980. There is something so raw and real about this recording. It’s just undeniable. His tone, playing, and voice are probably less polished than on the studio records, but it’s my favorite thing of his to listen to. There is such an energy to it. “All Your Love I Miss Loving” and “Tin Pan Alley” are my favorite tracks.

Joe Satriani – Joe Satriani (1995)

I went through a phase of instrumental guitar, as you do when you’re an aspiring guitarist, and I always loved this self-titled Satriani album. It’s still my favorite by him. It’s very organic. It might be one of the only ones he made where he just played with a live band in the studio and kept mostly live takes. The song “Down, Down, Down” is truly beautiful, and “S.M.F.” is an extremely tasty blues instrumental. Joe is a great player, technically, and with a great feel and sense of melody.

King of the Delta Blues – Robert Johnson (1936)

Someone introduced me to this album when I dug deeper into the blues; it was the first old delta blues I’d ever heard. Something was entrancing and haunting about it. It sparked my interest in slide guitar, but I didn’t know where to begin, let alone try to sound like Robert Johnson. After discovering him, I broadened to Mississippi Fred McDowell, Son House, Bukka White, and other Delta blues artists, but this classic Robert Johnson record is still one of my favorites.

Buddy Guy & Junior Wells Play the Blues – Buddy Guy & Junior Wells (1972)

I guess I’m a sucker for blues records made in the early ’70s, but this is another that is super funky, and I’m a big fan of Buddy and Junior. There is an expanded version, like a two-disc version, which I’m thinking of. My favorites are “Man of Many Words,” “The First Time I Met the Blues,” and “Bad Bad Whiskey” – all of which I’ve paid tribute to over the years.

Gov’t Mule – Gov’t Mule (1995)

Discovering Gov’t Mule was like seeing all these different styles I had long been into coming together. My uncle brought me to see Buddy Guy in New Orleans, and Gov’t Mule opened. They had the honesty and emotional expression of the blues but with bits of heavy rock and other tonalities mixed in. Having been a massive fan of heavier music and blues, it’s like they just broke down a wall between the two in my mind. I’ve been a fan ever since. Warren Haynes is one of my favorite guitarists, singers, and songwriters.

Out of The Madness – Derek Trucks (1998)

Derek is easily one of the best musicians ever to walk the face of Earth. Not just the best guitarists, but the best musicians’ period. He seems to tap into something beyond himself when he plays, which should always be the goal. I think this was the first record of his I picked up before he formed Tedeschi Trucks Band.

The opening track, a cover of Son House’s “Preaching Blues,” is just such a slamming, straight-up dirty blues rendition, and the song “Pleasant Gardens” immediately drew me in with the eastern scales and odd timings, which, of course, always seem to grab me. Jimmy Herring also appears on a few of the album’s more fusion-sounding tracks, and his playing is very creative, too.

Lateralus – Tool (2001)

I remember seeing this record on the listening wall at a record store in New Orleans and putting on the headphones. I was taken in. I listened to the whole record, staring blankly into the store. What I heard in it was the power trio sound I always seemed to gravitate to but incorporating the odd timings and scales that had always piqued my interest when I heard them pop up in other bands.

At the same time, the blues were in there. A lot of the riffs are based around pentatonic structures. I related to many lyrical concepts, too, as I was just getting immersed in my philosophy studies at the time, and this album seemed to fit right in with that time in my life.

Tidal – Fiona Apple (1997)

I can’t draw a line from this album to anything I do, but it really impacted me. The emotional depth in this record is staggering, and it almost tears me up every time I hear it. Fiona is such a powerful songwriter, and the fact that she was 19 when this came out is mind-blowing. It connects me with a time and a part of myself that I felt I needed to remember.

Eric Johanson: 13 Albums That Changed My Life article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2024

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