Time For A Couple of Instrumentals

(Pictured – Eric Johnson)

You know how you get in a mood? Musically, that is if not otherwise. For some reason, I keep hearing instrumentals lately and am digging them. Well, I always loved them but lately, I’ve just been in that state of mind. So here are a few for your dining and dancing pleasure.

There are three guitarists whom Guitar Player magazine has nominated to its guitar player hall of fame – Steve Howe, Steve Morse, and Eric Johnson. It was my privilege to jam on stage with Morse and I got to do a video call (along with some other fans) with Howe. (Boy he likes to talk.) And I saw Eric Johnson in concert, just before COVID hit. The thing these three guys have in common is not only their monster chops but also the fact that they don’t sound like anybody else.

Wikipedia: “Eric Johnson (born August 17, 1954) is an American guitarist, vocalist, composer, and multi-instrumentalist. His 1990 album Ah Via Musicom was certified platinum by the RIAA, and the single “Cliffs of Dover” won the Grammy Award for Best Rock Instrumental Performance.

Best known for his electric guitar skills, Johnson is also a highly proficient acoustic, lap steel, resonator, and bass guitarist, as well as an accomplished pianist and vocalist. He plays many musical genres, including rock, blues, jazz fusion, soul, folk, new-age, classical, and country.”

I don’t even know how to classify “Cliffs of Dover.” As a guitarist I know I am much more of a conventional blues and Chuck Berry-influenced guy and none of these licks would ever even occur to me:

I hadn’t heard this next song in years and hadn’t even planned on including it. But it came on the radio and I thought, hmm, perfect for my instrumental thing. Young-Holt Unlimited were a Chicago-based band. A couple of the guys were veterans of jazzer Ramsey Lewis’ band. “Soulful Strut” was a pretty big hit for them…

… sort of. It turns out that, well, here’s what Wikipedia says:

“Although Barbara Acklin recorded the song first, a producer removed her voice from the track, replaced it with a piano solo, and released the track in November 1968 as “Soulful Strut” credited to Young-Holt Unlimited.

It became a gold record. Neither Eldee Young nor Red Holt is believed to have played on the track, which was the work of session musicians identified only as the Brunswick Studio Band. Acklin’s version was released in February 1969 and reached #33 on the R&B chart, crossing over and peaking at #79 on the pop charts. (Wacky, wacky music business.)

If you’ve read this blog for more than five minutes you’ll know that I kinda dig the Allman Brothers Band. This song, “KInd of Bird,” is a Warren Haynes/Dickey Betts tribute to Charlie Parker. It’s from the 1991 album Shades of Two Worlds during what I would call their renaissance period. LIke all the best ABB stuff, it swings:

One of my favorite jazz tunes is by saxophonist Oliver Nelson. It’s from his classic album The Blues and the Abstract Truth and it’s called “Stolen Moments.” I had the rare pleasure of butchering this once or twice in a half-assed jazz band long ago. Couldn’t even tell you what key it’s in anymore:

9 thoughts on “Time For A Couple of Instrumentals

  1. Great choices, Jim. I was fortunate to see Eric Johnson in the 400-seat Bottom Line in NYC (my favorite venue for live music that has long since closed down) on the tour for Venus Isle, so probably 1996. I think my jaw has never recovered from hitting the floor that night. He’s one of the rare instrumental virtuosos whose vocal tracks I love just as much. As for Young-Holt, I’m really glad you highlighted them here. For the past 23+ years my day job has been label manager for Brunswick Records, and they’re one of my favorite of our artists.


    1. Yeah, as mentioned, the EJ concert was the last one I saw prior to COVID shutdown. It was theater but no bad seats. It was packed, which is no small feat as the guy is not exactly a household name. As to Young-Holt, huh, how about that? I just happened to be listening to the radio and that was one of those “Haven’t heard THAT in a million years” tunes. If I recall it was the soul station on Sirius.


  2. Nice selection. I listen to a lot of instrumental stuff – mainly prog rock and modern jazz. Sometimes the music and mood needs to come first. The Oliver Nelson track is so cool. The Young-Holt track – pure timeless quality soul.


  3. Nice picks, Jim. I’m getting more into instrumentals myself these days, as I know you’ve noticed – it was a surprisingly easy transition, given I’m a huge fan of great vocals, especially harmony singing.

    Eric Johnson just sounds dynamite. There’s another cool track in Spotify that is no. 2 in the artist’s “popular” (tracks) section. It’s called “Manhattan” – just like “Cliffs of Dover” it’s got a great sound. I want to check him out further.

    I also dig the Allman Brothers track you featured – that harmony guitar action sounds really sweet. While I guess every now and then I can be fine without vocals, freeing myself from the harmony concept seems to be different! 🙂


    1. I didn’t know “Manhattan.” Nice sound, more smooth jazz. As nice as it is to listen to vocals, sometimes it’s nice to just let the music course through you. Different experience. Funny, but I had you pegged as a “Soulful Strut” guy.

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