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Eric Johnson will get Up Close on Friday at the Bluebird

Eric Johnson has only released a handful of studio recordings over the past three decades. Although hailed as a guitar virtuoso, Johnson has also been known as something of a perfectionist when he's in the studio, which might explain the four- and five-year gaps between albums.

Johnson took a slightly looser approach with his latest effort, Up Close, released this past December, and tried to be more spontaneous, sometimes using the first few takes in the studio rather than laboring over tracks for weeks, as he's done in the past. We talked with Johnson about the new album and the new approach.

Westword: You said you wanted to bare yourself a little further and show yourself more on Up Close than on previous albums. Can you expand on that?

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An Evening With Eric Johnson

An Evening With Eric Johnson8 p.m., Friday, July 22, Bluebird Theater, 3317 East Colfax Avenue, $35-$40, 303-830-8497.

Eric Johnson: I just want to try to let things take their own directions sometimes, because you kind of receive messages in the present that will take you into the future. And if you're so hard and fast on the agenda of the past, you miss some of the special magic things that can happen in the moment.

It's just a process of letting go a little bit and allowing yourself to be intuitive when you record. I've always kind of done that on stage when I'm playing, but for whatever reason, I've adopted this foreign policy that when I go into the studio, I have a different scope than when I'm just out playing on the stage — which I'm not sure why I ever decided was a great recipe, but I did.

Did it feel like a big transition for you, or was it more organic?

I think it's a process. I've not really gone as far as I would like to; I want to keep traveling more in that direction. I think it's really more that I've started that process on more of a, you know, really committed thing. So I'm still at the beginning of the path, I think. I have a lot more area to cover in that department.

Your guitar tone is instantly recognizable. I was curious about how you first developed it. Was it something you had in your head?

I think it's something I've heard in my head that's been both a blessing and a curse. It's nice because I think I get really close, and I probably feel like I'm closer now than I've been in many years. I'm really happy with it. But it's kind of a curse because you just keep going for that benchmark: To try to get an electric guitar with a lot of distortion to sing and be beautiful like a pure-toned instrument, it's almost impossible.

It's really like asking it to do a function that it was never really intended to do in that particular way, but it works better in other ways. It's the instrument I chose, and it'd be too late in the game to switch horses now and pick up the sousaphone or xylophone.

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