Eric Johnson was born in Austin Texas and began taking guitar lessons at the age of 11. At the age of 15, after learning songs from Chet Atkins, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, Jerry Reed, Eric Clapton, and a wide variety of other artists, Johnson joined a psychedelic rock band named Mariani. After high school, Johnson joined another band, a fusion group called the Electromagnets. Johnson, with his Clapton and Hendrix inspired playing, brought a more mainstream appeal to the Electromagnets, who previously played more heavily on the jazz side of the jazz-rock spectrum. When the Electromagnets disbanded in 1977, Johnson formed a new band called the Eric Johnson Group. The band featured Bill Maddox on drums and Kyle Brock on bass. The band had quite a bit of success in the local music scene in Austin.
Johnson made a living performing as a session guitarist. He played for several popular artists of the time, including Carole King, Cat Stevens, and Christopher Cross. During this time, he remained active in the local club scene and got his big break when he appeared on the public television show, Austin City Limits. Superstar recording artist Prince saw Johnson’s performance and recommended him to Warner Brothers records. Singer Christopher Cross, with whom Johnson had worked, had also been talking up the guitarist to the label and they decided to sign him. He released his debut album with the company, “Tones”, in 1986. “Tones” opened up door’s for the artist; his proficient guitar playing landed him on the cover of Guitar Player magazine despite the fact that he was a relative unknown. The reputation he gained from the coverage landed him a recording contract with the independent label Cinema Records and a distribution deal with Capitol Records.
Johnson’s first album with Capitol, “Ah Via Musicom”, was his first large commercial success. The album went platinum and its second track, “Cliffs of Dover” won him a Grammy Award for Best Rock Instrumental in 1991. Johnson’s second album for Capitol wasn’t released until 1996. The album, dubbed “Venus Isles” sold 250,000 records by the time Johnson was dropped from Capitol Records.
Although best known for his electric guitar skills, Johnson is also a highly proficient acoustic, lap steel, resonator, and bass guitarist as well as an accomplished pianist and vocalist.
Johnson has mastered a wide array of musical genres evidenced by the many different styles incorporated in both his studio and live performances including rock, blues, jazz, fusion, soul, folk, New Age, classical, and country and western.
Guitar Player magazine has called Johnson "one of the most respected guitarists on the planet".