|Growing up as a third-generation Louisiana musician certainly gives you a leg up and insight into the depth of American roots music. Guitarist/singer Eric Johanson, a native of Alexandria LA, now resides in the Crescent City making a living as a music man since his teens. He has long been a protégé of Tab Benoit and spent time in the bands of Cyril Neville and Terrance Simien. Johanson released his debut album, “Burn It Down,” (Whiskey Bayou Records) in 2017 and recorded an acclaimed album with his cousin Tiffany Pollack, “Blues In My Blood,” (Nola Blue Records) in 2019.
For his solo Nola Blue Records’ debut, “Below Sea Level,” Johanson teamed up with two other scions of southern rock and blues, Luther and Cody Dickinson. Sessions at the famed Zebra Ranch Studios in the North Mississippi Hill Country captured the raw energy of the music in a fresh and timeless way that the Dickinsons refer to as the sound of the Memphis Underground. The combination of Luther Dickinson’s production skills with Johanson ‘s earnest song writing, embracing vocal style and formidable guitar skills mixed with the joyous bombast of Cody’s drumming and the deft bass playing of Terrence Grayson from the Victor Wainwright band, created a sumptuous sonic stew. These young guns were infants or a twinkle in their mothers’ eyes when guitar heroes like Johnny Winter, Pat Travers and Gary Moore ruled the FM airwaves, but somehow they were inoculated with that big 70’s blues rock gestalt and are bringing it back to life.
Johanson opens the set of twelve original tracks with the raucous ‘Buried Above Ground’ that has Cody matching Eric’s rolling and tumbling guitar riff, while he declares his New Orleans pride. A sizzling slide guitar intro pulls us into the swaggering shuffle ‘Down To The Bottom’ and Ray Jacildo layers in Hammond B3 behind Johanson’s smooth lead guitar and soulful vocals on the swinging power ballad ‘Changes The Universe.’ The headbanging riff and foot stomping sing-along of ‘Never Tomorrow’ is a bit of arena rock indulgence, before we dive into the stoner rock deep end epic ‘Hammer On The Stone’ in all its Hendrix-meets-Black-Sabbath glory. Johanson details the harsh realities of life on the street and his beloved Crescent City in the industrial tinged ‘Have Mercy’ and recounts the horrors of addiction on the heavy lament ‘River Of Oblivion,’ bearing witness to the many tragedies he has seen in his young life.
You somehow feel the spirit of Chuck Berry coming through on the Hill Country two-beat romp ‘Nowhere To Go,’ with its ripping lead guitar and cockeyed optimistic “Hail Hail Rock N Roll” feel. He then channels Freddie King on the slinky funk number ‘Open Hearted Woman’ that has a groove as thick as knee-deep shag carpet. The fella’s instrumental skills are on display during the jagged Led Zeppelin styled opening of ‘Dose Of Forget,’ building into a power trio fury. Johanson delivers a treatise on our divisive world on the acoustic driven ‘Love Is Rebellion’ boldly making his own statement on the nature of freedom. He closes out the session by picking up his resonator guitar for a solo reading of ‘Riverbend Blues;’ the plaintive tome paints a picture of simpler times and bitter-sweet memories.
This strong sophomore release, “Below Sea Level,” from Eric Johanson, will surely cast him as a rising star in the blues and southern rock scene and help secure his place in the next pantheon of guitar gods.
Rick J Bowen
Guitarist, singer, and Louisiana native Eric Johanson makes music with authentic roots in the dynamic tapestry of New Orleans. Putting the vivid personality of the guitar at its center, his work is inspired by the blues, Americana, and straight-up rock n roll. He transforms improvisational riffs, harmonies and rhythms and his up-front vocal style into a sound that evokes the mysterious hidden wonders of the Louisiana bayou, the vibrant heat of the city and all the lively spaces in between. Performances showcase Eric on slide guitar and bluesy lead guitar, backed by his energetic rhythm section; together, the power trio reimagines tunes each night, creating a communal experience for audiences. Lyrics unfold as shared conversations about relationships and the challenges of the human journey that are both universal and personal to his own life experiences and embody his belief that music has the power to forge meaningful and enduring relationships between people.
Eric’s spark for music was ignited by the contagious energy of emotionally driven blues and rock music with big, soulful guitar sounds that surrounded him as a young boy in the south. The moment he got his first instrument, he was fascinated by its ability to become a part of his body and mind and experimented with it as a vehicle for deep expression. By the time he was ten, he was writing his own melodies, harmonies, lyrics and transforming them into sophisticated songs, already familiarizing himself with big stages throughout Louisiana before he graduated from high school. His talent caught the attention of well-known blues artist Tab Benoit, who signed him as the first guitarist/singer to his label, Whiskey Bayou Records. Benoit produced, engineered, and played drums on Eric’s 2017 debut album, “Burn It Down,” and invited him along as the opening act on a two-year-long nation-wide tour.
A growing force in the blues and southern rock scene, Eric has also toured worldwide as the lead guitarist for the renowned Cyril Neville, Grammy-winner Terrance Simien and has also been a featured special guest with JJ Grey and Mofro, Eric Lindell, Mike Zito, Anders Osborne, the Neville Brothers and many others. “Burn It Down” was followed in early 2019 by the duet “Blues In My Blood” with New Orleans blues and jazz vocalist Tiffany Pollack. The track stayed at the top of Roots Music Report’s Blues Rock chart for many months after its release and won an Independent Music Award for Best Blues Song as well as a Blues Blast Magazine award for Best New Artist Debut Album.
Eric brings a fascination with the puzzle of existence and an appreciation of the beauty that lies within the simple details to his work as he continues to evolve as a musician and songwriter. His latest opus, “Below Sea Level,” produced by Luther Dickinson (North Mississippi Allstars), pulls Eric into the high-energy darker world of delta blues.