Arts & Entertainment

Press Pass: Eclectic Guitars featuring Eric Johnson and Mike Stern

Eric Johnson and Mike Stern (Photo: Max Crace)
Eric Johnson and Mike Stern (Photo: Max Crace)

Guitarists Eric Johnson and Mike Stern, who are touring as Eclectic Guitars starting tonight at The Birchmere in Alexandria, hit it off easily when they first collaborated on Stern’s 2009 album Big Neighborhood.

“Eric was one of those guys that I wanted to play with for years and we had already talked about it and he said ‘Yeah, I really dig your stuff’ and we liked each other’s music from a distance,” Stern said.

Johnson heard Stern in the 1980’s when he played with Miles Davis’ comeback band and Stern first heard Eric when his hit “Cliffs of Dover” blew up in 1990.

“And then we did these two tracks on my record. It felt so good that we said maybe we should tour together at some point.”

Johnson and Stern eventually toured together. Stern said it felt so good that they decided to make a full-length album and tour together some more.

Now they’re touring in support of Eclectic, a joint project they released last Tuesday, Oct. 28, with Heads Up International.

“It really was a fun record to make,” Stern said. “We kept a lot of the live interaction and so it’s basically live and then we fixed a couple of things that we needed to fix and then we added a couple of rhythm parts. But it’s basically a rhythm section and two guitars. That’s what it is.”

Both musicians have long careers in different musical genres – Johnson is known as a rock guitarist and Stern as a jazz guitarist. But their sonic roots intertwine.

Johnson is a big fan of legendary jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery, who Stern said is very blues-influenced. Stern actually started out playing in a rock band before shifting his focus to jazz. And, Stern said, that both of them have diverse musical tastes and a keen interest in blues music. So despite their seemingly separate music specializations it wasn’t hard for them to mesh in the studio when they started working on Eclectic.

“It was like a cool vibe right away,” Stern said. “It was a good sound; we had very compatible sounds in the way we played together. And then also stylistically even though we were coming from different places it just sounded like good music when we were playing together. It was really fun.”

There are pop, funk, blues and jazz-influenced pieces on Johnson and Stern’s new record. Guitar heads from all over the musical landscape can appreciate the sound the two make as they exchange licks on Stern’s funky “Roll With It” and Johnson’s pop anthem “Hullabaloo.” They also have sort of an ode to Benny Goodman and Charlie Christian on “Benny Man Blues.”

Now, guitar fans, jazz and rock fans or just plain good music fans will be the first to see the fruits of Johnson and Stern’s labor live at The Birchmere. The show starts at 7:30 p.m. and tickets are $45.

Stern said The Birchmere, which famously hosts legendary rock, jazz and blues musicians, is an appropriate venue to kick off the tour.

“We’ll have a ball and I just hope people show up and enjoy it because I think it’s a really fun vibe. We’re definitely having fun and that’s first and foremost. Music’s supposed to be fun,” Stern said.

“It’s gonna be a fun tour and I’m glad we’re starting at The Birchmere.”

• For more information about Eric Johnson and Mike Stern, visit ericjohnson.com or mikestern.org.

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