Performer: Eric Johnson
Songwriter: Eric Johnson
Original Release: Ah Via Musicom
Definitive Version: Anything from a 1991 bootleg when he toured with Rush
A few days ago, I wrote about warmup acts in general. My first few concerts, the warmup acts were at best forgettable and at worst hideous.
In 1978, the worst band I ever saw warmed up for the worst band I ever saw as a headliner. Dad took me to see Bread at Vets. Bread was lame. Even before I discovered my love of really heavy, loud rock, they held no appeal to me. But I was 14, and it wasn’t as though I was being asked to go to a lot of concerts, so I took what I got.
Bread’s warmup act that night was a band called, wait for it, Jelly. (I kid you not.) I remember that they were kind of a sing-songy wannabe-pop band that featured an oversized leisure-suit wearing goofus and his Olive-Oyl-lookalike-with-a-Dorothy-Hamill-haircut wife/girlfriend/partner on vocals. It was so bad, I actually remember them more than I do Bread. It was brutal.
So that was the trough of my experiences with warmup acts. There was only one way to go—up. However, most of the next shows I saw during the ‘80s—The Doobie Brothers, Genesis, Pink Floyd, The Who—had no warmup acts. That was fine with me. Two of the shows I saw that did, I went more for the warmup act, including Steve & Garry with Joe Walsh and Stanley Jordan with Kenny G. The third show, The Romatics warmed up for Adam Ant. I was all in favor of that.
The first show I saw where I knew nothing about the warmup act and didn’t hate them was when I went to see Midnight Oil at Pine Knob in 1990. The warmup act was Hunters & Collectors, who were similar in genre to Midnight Oil, and pretty good. That started a run of shows where the warmup act was at least decent.
The culmination came in November 1991 when I went to see Rush at The Palace of Auburn Hills. Dave and I went, and not being big partiers, we decided to get there early, get a good parking spot and check out the warmup act. It was a guy I’d never heard of before. His name was Eric Johnson.
Scott had seen Rush about a week before I went, and I asked him about Johnson: Is he any good? What’s he like? Scott said, yeah, he was pretty good. He just came out and jammed on guitar. OK, sounds good to me, or, rather, acceptable.
Dave and I had seats in the upper bowl close to the lip. Actually, our seats were in the first row behind the tunnel into the arena in our section, so even when we sat, we had no one in front of us for an unobstructed view—not bad seats given my typical lack of luck when it came to buying tickets. Dave asked about Eric Johnson, and I said I didn’t know anything about him, but my brother says he just comes out and jams.
And that’s just what he did. First song out of the box was this jaunty blues-rock instrumental, complete with a little Ah Via Musicom intro. Hey, this guy is pretty good. He DOES jam. Next song was High Landrons (Good ol. No. 387). Woah. Who is this guy? He really IS good! The third song was 40-Mile Town.
After I picked my jaw up off the floor, I told Dave, Man, I am going out and buying this guy’s album TOMORROW. And so I did. As I mentioned, I played Ah Via Musicom almost exclusively for the next week until I went to see Rush again in Cleveland, at least as excited to see Eric Johnson again as I was Rush.
The rest is history. I’ve seen warmup acts since that night that I loved and became a fan of, but no other act ever has gone from zero to hero as fast as Eric Johnson did, and it all began with this song.