Richard Leo Johnson is one of the most innovative and inspired acoustic guitarist on the current American scene. Amazon.com's editors hailed him as "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 Jimi Hendrix." A passionate and intuitive player, he is often compared to such masters of the 12-string as Bruce Cockburn, John Fahey, Michael Hedges, Burt Jansch, Adrian Legg, Leo Kottke, Steve Tibbetts, Ralph Towner, and Pete Townsend. 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 Missippi 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 prson playing this stuff! The initial impact was that it was somewho possible to make something happn that fused th linear liquidity of McLaughlin and the dense harmonic structure and drive of Kottke." Practicing on his own, and alternating between 6, 12 and 18-string guitars, Johnson created his own system of (30 different!) tunings, and developed an idiosyncartic playing style that utilyzed all parts of the guitar and combined plucking and strumming.
Johnson has released six albums, all of which received a tremendous amount of attention in the music press. Two of them, Fingertip Ship and Language, came out on Metro Blue, a subsidiary of major-label Blue Note. Cuneiform released three others: The Legend of Vernon McAlister, featuring Johnson solo; Who Knew Charlie Shoe, a duo recording of Johnson and percussionist Gregg Bendian (who leads The Mahavishnu Project), and Poetry of Appliance, by the Richard Leo Johnson Trio.
In addition to his work as a musician, Johnson is also a filmmaker. His new film, Estancia (Stay), is a poetic gem that uses music and visuals and avoids dialogue to weave a gorgeous, nostalgic story of change and loss in the Mexican village of San Cristano. Johnson directed the movie and created the complete music soundtrack; it was filmed by Johnson with Skip Terpstra and Russ Powell.
Besides his music and film work, Johnson is reknowned as an architectural photographer.
A scrape across an acoustic guitar takes on otherworldly dimensions via intensified harmonics and passing gusts of ambient noises. [Tempo: no fixed tempo]
Stray guitar harmonics and slide tones pop out against the gentle but insistent background of a simple, sprightly rhythm guitar pattern. [Tempo: Mid-tempo]
Simple, plaintive acoustic guitar arpeggios stand in stark relief against a minimalist landscape where harmonics and the physical attack of the instrument itself tell the story. [Tempo: no fixed tempo]
Rapid acoustic guitar picking patterns are the engine driving a series of slashing slide movements that carry this track’s harmonic momentum along. [Tempo: Up-tempo]
Bluesy/folky acoustic guitar fingerpicking provides the basis for an elegantly uncomplicated melody on this earthy-sounding track. [Tempo: Mid-tempo]
Low notes pop out like jail-cell doors slamming shut against the background of syncopated acoustic guitar picking. [Tempo: Up-tempo]
Spacey, atmospheric sounds are generated seemingly from the natural tonal qualities of an acoustic guitar, as legato swoops of sound emerge from a sparse, ambient background. [Tempo: no fixed tempo]
The feeling of a carousel gone perilously off its axis is evoked by the angular rhythms of an acoustic guitar punctuated by almost comically abrupt low tones. [Tempo: Mid-tempo]
Staccato bursts of acoustic guitar harmonics execute a quirky kind of dance atop dischordant harmonies for an offbeat, idiosyncratic feel. [Tempo: Mid-tempo]
The poignantly melodic development that occurs over the course of this piece, mostly amid visceral but precise acoustic guitar picking, is a perfect evocation of the title. [Tempo: Mid-tempo]
A dusty, desert-like feel emerges as plangent acoustic slide licks are played while low notes are being unceremoniously tweaked via the tuning pegs for an innovative, off-kilter vibe. [Tempo: no fixed tempo]
The feeling of travel comes to the fore via the steady, almost percussive pulse of an acoustic rhythm guitar, with intermittent slide licks providing melodic color along the way. [Tempo: Mid-tempo]
An eerie, almost otherworldly feel is evoked by minimalist splashes of acoustic guitar picking for a hazy, hypnotic, dreamlike effect. [Tempo: Down-tempo]
Quickly picked acoustic guitar harmonics provide a fragile but resonant, music-box-like effect. [Tempo: Mid-tempo]
Plenty of forward motion is generated on this track by a combination of steady rhythmic patterns and carefully placed melodic moments, for a searching, yearning feel. [Tempo: Mid-tempo]
The thin, harp-like tones implied by the title are the fragile framework for a track that concentrates more on the percussive qualities of acoustic strings than the melodic ones. Anglo-American folk meets Far Eastern sensibilities. [Tempo: no fixed tempo]
Subtle-but-insistent knocking and trickling tones of dischord add up to the kind of anxiety-soaked setting that comes in the tense moments of a horror film leading up to some terrifying revelation. [Tempo: Mid-tempo]
Rapidly picked acoustic guitar arpeggios are repeated long enough to pick up steam, dragging electronically enhanced versions of the instrument’s natural tones along in their wake for a rich, almost oceanic feel. [Tempo: Up-tempo]
It’s possible to imagine some kind of drunken, shambolic folk dance being attempted during this piece, with it’s slip-sliding harmonic movements and stomp-along rhythmic insistence. [Tempo: Mid-tempo]
A pastoral, melodic piece full of folk and blues shadings, sounding like the perfect aural companion for a back-porch sunset. [Tempo: no fixed tempo]