“If Seven Worlds had come out at the time it was ready, instead of being held back, he would have been as big as Jeff Beck”: Stevie Ray Vaughan details his friendship with Eric Johnson

Eric Johnson (left) and Stevie Ray Vaughan perform onstage
(Image credit: John Atashian/Getty Images, Robert Knight Archive/Redferns)

Stevie Ray Vaughan and Eric Johnson are both electric guitar legends, but you won't typically hear them both talked about in the same sentence.

Vaughan, of course, was the man who re-energized blues guitar playing, bringing a swaggering, Texas-sized approach to familiar material that inspired countless guitarists worldwide. Johnson, meanwhile, was a virtuoso whose technical skill and melodic prowess similarly upended the world of guitar instrumentals.

Johnson and Vaughan, however, were both based in Austin, Texas, and – as fellow up-and-coming guitarists – developed a fast friendship in the 1970s and '80s.

“Eric is a wonderful cat,” the late Vaughan told Guitar Player in 1986. “He's always been one of my favorite people in the world, as well as one of my favorite guitar players. 

“The guy has done more trying to be the best that he can be than anybody I've ever seen. He plays all the time, and tries to get his instruments in perfect shape all the time. He works hard on his tone, sound and techniques. He does incredible things with all kinds of guitars – electric, lap steel, acoustic, everything.”

Though both Vaughan and Johnson were linchpins of the Austin scene by the late '70s, it would be years before either would achieve their commercial breakthrough.

From 1976 through 1978, Johnson recorded what was supposed to be his debut album, Seven Worlds. Due to various business-related holdups, though, it would be two decades – long after Johnson's commercial breakthrough – before the album came out. 

Vaughan was a great fan of Seven Worlds, and maintained that the album would have been a breakthrough for Johnson – and the guitar as a whole – had it come out in the late '70s as originally planned. 

“If the record that he made years ago, The Seven Worlds, had come out at the time it was ready, instead of being held back for the reason of dollars and pennies – someone besides Eric was holding out for too much money for a deal – he would have been as big as Jeff Beck,” Vaughan told GP in 1986. “He would have been very much in the public eye for modern jazz, rock and fusion. 

“The guy deserves a lot more recognition than he's ever gotten. Eric is an honest human being, and he cares about everything. Just listen to him and learn.”

Jackson Maxwell
Associate Editor, GuitarWorld.com and GuitarPlayer.com

Jackson is an Associate Editor at GuitarWorld.com and GuitarPlayer.com. He’s been writing and editing stories about new gear, technique and guitar-driven music both old and new since 2014, and has also written extensively on the same topics for Guitar Player. Elsewhere, his album reviews and essays have appeared in Louder and Unrecorded. Though open to music of all kinds, his greatest love has always been indie, and everything that falls under its massive umbrella. To that end, you can find him on Twitter crowing about whatever great new guitar band you need to drop everything to hear right now.

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