July/August 1999

Richard Leo Johnson

Creative types will invariably reinvent the wheel, given the luxuries of time and solitude to pursue their visions. That is precisely what Richard Leo Johnson has done with the 12-string acoustic guitar. With no other guidance than his own ears and inner voice, the 43-year-old Arkansas native (a world-class photographer whose work is on display in numerous public and private collections) developed a whole lexicon of expression on the instrument that defies conventional wisdom. While guitar has been his private passion since the age of nine, Johnson finally comes out of the woodshed with Fingertip Ship, his inspired solo debut on Metro Blue.

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Richard Leo Johnson

From the rampaging opener “Hearts Of Palms” to the ethereal closer “Empitsu No Uta” with its koto-like effects, Johnson’s dazzling fingerstyle virtuosity leaves listeners with the stunned impression that there are indeed two guitarists playing together in the studio. “If you play by yourself, you have to learn how to play all the parts,” says Johnson of his highly innovative style which brings together alternate tunings and frantic arpeggios, simultaneous moving basslines and chords, ringing harmonics and hammer-ons (“Jaco Morocco,” for Jaco Pastorius), aggressive two hand tapping on the neck (“Prometheus Meets The Digital Age”) and all manner of percussive effects on the the body (“Get Funked”) into an organic whole.

“For better or worse, my stuff is a process of natural invention,” he says. “I have almostno theoretical knowledge of chords and scales. But I’ve spent millions of hours practicing and found something I think of as my own.”

He may be doing it all wrong, but it sure sounds alright. Fingertip Ship resounds with more power, passion and beauty than most solo guitar albums. It’s the calling card of an intuitivegenius.

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