42. “Trademark,” Eric Johnson

Eric Johnson

I’ll just start off by apologizing to the guitar nerds out there, of which I am indisputably one, for the relative lack of guitar geekery you’ll read here.* Because Eric Johnson is like the god that guitar nerds bow down to. But when I hear this song, I’m not reminded of guitar geekery, I’m reminded of the early ‘90s Toronto Blue Jays.

Weird, right? But I think the reason for this is because I’m assuming that whoever was in charge of the between-innings music was a fellow guitar nerd. I think every game I went to during that time – and I went to a lot – this song soared through the speakers at some point, as Roberto Alomar ran back to the dugout to prepare for another thrilling at bat or Jimmy Key strolled to the mound for the top of the fifth.

That music curator just had to be a guitar nerd because how else would they have had any awareness of this pristine instrumental guitar track? Okay, a quick search tells me the album that brought us this song, Ah Via Musicom, reached No. 67 on the Billboard chart, but it was not exactly a Much Music and MTV staple. Eric Johnson’s immaculately-toned guitar wizardry, laced with some blues, a dash of country, and a whole lot of his own thing, was, and is, a bit of an acquired taste – one acquired through every guitar player’s knowledge that they’ll never be able to nail the combination of style, tone and virtuosity that came from those fingers, that brain, that Strat, and that gear. And that just doesn’t describe your average music fan.

I feel like I heard it at the SkyDome (now the Rogers Centre, unfortunately) for a few seasons, which takes me back to a really transformative time in Blue Jays history, from the blah 1990 season, to the arrival of Alomar and Joe Carter boosting them back to the postseason in ‘91, and finally reaching the pinnacle and capturing Canada’s first World Series in ‘92. I went to so many games back then, in my mid-late teens, with school friends, my dad, and my baseball buddy Shawn and his band of wonderful weirdos (it would’ve been during this time that I went with Shawn’s crew as an “official” group, in order to get a discount, which we called The Porpoise Foundation, and we cheered and laughed like maniacs as our moniker flashed on the Jumbotron alongside softball teams, corporations, and scout groups – we even made a “Porpoise Foundation” sign that we taped to the façade in front of us in the 500 level).

I still hold the hopeless hope that I’ll hear this song whenever I get to a game these days. It’s one of just two songs that I closely associate with Jays games, the other being U2’s “Where the Streets Have No Name,” as they used The Edge’s inspiring guitar intro to really effectively get people pumped up during the late innings in the early 2000s, when there wasn’t a ton to get excited about Blue Jays-wise.

For the guitar nerds out there, when I hear any Eric Johnson song I can’t help but think back to the one time I saw him play live, in 2001 at The Phoenix in Toronto. I went by myself because I didn’t want to drag anyone to see someone who’s kind of an acquired taste, and I got right up near the front and watched a true perfectionist at work, so focused on his tone and preternaturally precise with his fingering.** It was a master at work. Kinda like watching a young Alomar roaming second base at the Dome 10 years earlier, as this song soared through my brain.

* Here’s a little something for the guitar geeks. I used to write every night in a notebook and I managed to find the entry from February 22, 2001, at 1:51 am. It starts by recounting the pre-show words of a “weasel-faced beret-wearer” who stood in front of me and cemented Johnson’s reputation for being a perfectionist almost to a fault, who could tell you the brand of batteries in a pedal just by the sound: “Yeah, he did an hour-and-a-half sound check, he must’ve heard something. I didn’t. I had him sign my Tube Screamer. I asked him if it was the one he uses but he uses the three-dial. Yeah, I have forty-five grand tied up in guitars.” Forty five grand?
** It’s funny how memory and reality differ. It seems my memory of the show was a lot more positive than how I actually felt afterwards. Here’s what I wrote about the show that night. The weasel-faced beret-wearer I mentioned above told me I’d be mesmerized by the show. I wrote, “Well, I have to say, I wasn’t exactly. Maybe it was just the physical discomfort involved in standing for 4-½  hours and trying to crane around the head in front of me. Yeah, I give the show a thumbs up and there were moments of mesmerisation and awe and maybe even jealousy, but the fretboard gymnastics, I thought, got a little boring. It seemed like the same licks in every song or at least that any solo could have been transplanted into any other song. But it was fun to finally hear and see those songs I’ve been listening to for 10 years.” I don’t know. Maybe I was a little cranky that night, because I still love to listen to his stuff.

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