Music Outpost

Licensing Music on The Sonic Frontier

Richard Leo Johnson & Gregg Bendian - (USA)

Richard Leo Johnson and Gregg Bendian create a new, hybrid, acoustic Americana that merges rural roots music with urban avant-garde. Expanding from an austere focus on a single guitar, and brightening the mood from a dark, eerie atmosphere, the duo play an entire salvage yard of instruments and found objects. The duo should appeal both to new generation acoustic music fans, attracted to the edgy solo acoustic guitar music of Harris Newman, Steffen Basho- Junghans and Jack Rose, as well as to fans of such established geniuses as Robbie Basho, John Fahey, Michael Hedges, John McLaughlin, Steve Tibbetts and Ralph Towner.

Richard Leo Johnson is one of the most imaginative, innovative and inspired acoustic guitarists on the current American music scene.’s editors called Johnson “perhaps the next in a short line of guitar greats – a line that includes [Michael] Hedges, Derek Bailey, Pat Metheny, Sonny Sharrock, and a few others,” while Playboy touted him as “the most innovative guitarist since Jim Hendrix.” A passionate and intuitive player, he is often compared to such masters of the steel-string acoustic guitar as Bruce Cockburn, John Fahey, Michael Hedges, Burt Jansch, Adrian Legg, Leo Kottke, Steve Tibbetts and Ralph Towner. But Johnson’s style, characterized by complexity, exhilarating speed and hauntingly unfamiliar harmonies created through ‘found’ tunings marks this self-taught player apart from any other musician.

Johnson was raised in a small Arkansas town in the Mississippi Delta. He began playing guitar at age 9, briefly taking lessons from a hard-drinking oil field worker before deciding he’d learn more on his own. Johnson recalls that his “real jumping off point” was a cassette he received as a teenager, including John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra’s Inner Mounting Flame on one side, and Leo Kottke’s Greenhouse on the other: Says Johnson: “I thought it was one person playing this stuff! The initial impact was that it was somehow possible to make something happen that fused the linear liquidity of McLaughlin and the dense harmonic structure and drive of Kottke.” The distinctive playing of Oregon’s guitarist, Ralph Towner, also impressed Johnson. Practicing incessantly on his own, he developed an idiosyncratic playing style which combined plucking and strumming, alternating between 6, 12 and 18-string guitars, using all parts of the guitar, and employing 30 tunings he devised. (

While Johnson was recording Language for Blue Note, the CD’s engineer, Jay Newland‚ introduced him to percussionist Gregg Bendian. Johnson recalls: “He said he thought Gregg and I were made up of the same DNA strand. The chemistry was obvious and the first rehearsal was a blast. Gregg could work effortlessly with my lack of formal training and we arrived at a mutual musical dialogue almost over night.” The two began touring together to support Johnson’s 2nd Blue Note release, doing short tours with Tony Levin’s Band and King Crimson and opening for Bela Fleck & the Flecktones and the California Guitar Trio. Sharing a love of music beyond genre, Johnson and Bendian continued touring independent of Blue Note, until Johnson left the tour road to settle in Savannah, Georgia and balance his music career with renewed photography interests.

Bendian was based in NYC, where he was respected in both the New Music and jazz communities for his talents as an improviser, composer and player. He had begun his music career at age 9 with drum lessons and was formally trained in classical music (percussion & composition) at William Paterson and Rutgers Universities. Privately, he cultivated interests in progressive rock, jazz and improvisation, sparked by hearing the Mahavishnu Orchestra. At age 19, Bendian was performing with jazz great Derek Bailey, and a few years later, touring and recording with Cecil Taylor. During the 1980s, Bendian was a key player in NY’s Downtown music scene, leading a chamber jazz/New Music group, the Gregg Bendian Project (2 CDs), while working with John Zorn, Tom Cora, Bill Frisell and others. Bendian’s subsequent collaborations included working with world-class free-jazz improvisers such as Peter Brötzmann, William Parker and Wadada Leo Smith, and especially, with numerous adventurous guitarists including Nels Cline, Gary Lucas and Pat Metheny. Bendian has appeared on countless recordings, and has released 18 CDs under his name, including a solo percussion CD, Definite Pitch (1994); shared collaborations with Nels Cline (a 2000 CD of John Coltrane’s music), Derek Bailey, Paul Wertico, Alex Cline and Paul Plimley; and bandleader recordings, on Atavistic, CIMP, Truemedia, Cryptogramophone and Aggregate (his label, begun in 1993). Currently, Bendian leads Interzone (3 CDs), The Open Aspects Ensemble, Trio Pianissimo (3 CDs) and The Mahavishnu Project (3 CDs), a highly-regarded repertory group that performs the music of John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra and in 2007 released a critically acclaimed double CD with an 11-piece lineup, Visions of the Emerald Beyond, Bendian’s 1st CD on Cuneiform. Bendian is also drummer for the popular Genesis repertory band, The Musical Box.