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NEW KIDS IN TOWN

The 'Tones' Of Johnson

May 11, 1986|TERRY ATKINSON and FO

Artist: Eric Johnson.

History: Johnson is the latest "underground legend" to surface from the Austin music scene. Born in Austin, Tex., 31 years ago, the physician's son began taking music lessons when he was 5, switching from piano to guitar at age 11. At 15 he played in his first group, Mariani, a high-energy rock band named after its drummer, Vince Mariani. A year later Johnson was jamming with Johnny Winter and being befriended by Stevie Ray Vaughan. In 1974, he joined the Electromagnets, a locally noted Austin fusion outfit that released an album on the EGM label. His own Eric Johnson Group recorded an album-length tape that wasn't picked up by any label. In the early '80s, he did session work for Carole King and Christopher Cross. A couple of years ago, he teamed up with bassist Roscoe Beck and drummer Tommy Taylor for a demo tape that persuaded Warner Bros. to sign him to its Reprise label. His debut album, "Tones," has just been released.

Sound: After all the hubbub--raves from fellow pickers like Vaughan, Jeff Baxter and Steve Morse, a cover story in Guitar Player magazine--"Tones" is a surprisingly uneventful album. It's far less interesting than last year's debut by that other trumpeted Austin guitar flash, Charlie Sexton. On this mixture of instrumentals, ballads and very mild rockers, Johnson's fretwork is sometimes admirably speedy but uninventive, and he attempts no unusual techniques nor extraordinary effects. There are some nice moments--a few kotolike notes in "Bristol Shore," the muted harmonics that open "Trail of Tears," a pretty classical guitar solo called "The Desert Song"--but nothing many skilled session players couldn't offer. Despite his background in rock and fusion, elements of those styles only appear in snatches. For once, a heralded guitar wizard seems aimed toward mainstream--even middle-of-the-road--listeners rather than the rock or jazz buff.

Show: The Palace, Thursday.

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