A Cat Stevens song with the type of six-string muscle that's normally associated with The Rolling Stones? It almost happened on Stevens' last Billboard Hot 100 single, remembers guitarist-singer Eric Johnson.
Long before he won a Grammy Award for his 1990 instrumental "Cliffs of Dover," Johnson played guitar on songs by other artists -- including singer-songwriter Stevens, whom Johnson still refers to by his original name, Steven Georgiou, and not his current Muslim moniker, Yusuf Islam. Had Johnson been calling the shots on those Stevens sessions, among the last before Stevens retired from music, at least one of the tunes would have turned out much differently.
Eric Johnson: "I cut a couple of tunes with Steve, and one was [1979's] 'Bad Brakes.' It was interesting because . . . we did a rhythm [guitar] track. And it was like, 'Yeah, that's OK.' He wasn't sure, and he wanted to try something different, so we ended up cutting five rhythm tracks -- kind of like power-rhythm, Keith Richards-type of deals. And we were like, 'Eh, this didn't really work.' It was OK, but it wasn't great.
"For some reason, [Stevens] told the engineer, 'Well, just put all five of them up,' and it sounded awesome. It was just great -- this huge, kinda Keith Richards [type of sound]. It was really, really cool.
"Unfortunately, and I don't know why, but the mix ended up taking all five of those guitars and putting them way in the back, and they overdubbed keyboards on them. I remember hearing [the record], and I thought, 'Man!' My feeling was that they should have gone with the way it sounded in the studio, because when they put all five guitars up, it was like 'Start Me Up' or 'Honky Tonk Women.' It was killer! And it was so different from anything Steve had done."
Eric Johnson is targeting a summer release for his next studio album, Bloom. He's scheduled to perform solo acoustic shows on March 23 (St. Louis), March 25 (Colorado Springs, Colo.) and March 27 (Boulder, Colo.). His official site is www.ericjohnson.com.
-- By Chris M. Junior