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Action Figures (1987-1989)

universalericAction Figures was the name attributed to the largely solo four-track recordings of Eric Johnson from 1987 to 1994, and beyond.  All of the recordings under the Action Figures moniker were originally recorded at what was to become known as SlowBurn Studio –at his parent’s home in suburban Chicago, Illinois.  Johnson started recording with a four-track in 1985, but it wasn’t until summer of 1987 when he realized he could now create collections of songs –in effect creating his own albums.  This realization spurred on a flurry of creative activity during this initial recording period. The initial recording period, between 1987 - 1989 made big jumps in the development of not only performance and writing but also studio engineering and mixing.  Throughout the evolution of this period, Johnson developed from having a largely garage-rock sound influenced by The Who and Cream into a more esoteric, sound track-like direction that is more difficult to define.  During these years, six cassette projects were completed. The masters from the first three projects all were lost --only the original mixes survive. The first project loosely explored the concepts of birth and death. “Blind Child And The Garden” (1987) was the first project completed under the SlowBurn Records imprint. The following project, “Drone” (1988) was a transitional collection heading in a decidedly more experimental direction.  Recording during a period when Johnson was seriously ill with pneumonia, the material on “Drone” is not always so easy on the ears.   Sampled whale songs, microphone-in-the-pillow drums and long passages of delay pedal feedback pepper the project throughout and do little to help focus the loose songwriting and performances. “Sandstone” (1989) combines the songwriting of “Blind Child” and the experimentation of “Drone,” presenting material in a concise and ultimately more successful folk/psych rock sound.  The fourth project “Structure” (1989) was recorded as an experiment for Johnson to relearn the piano.  Little time was spent on recording techniques for the project but it did plant the seeds for the soundtrack-like piano material that would become the majority of the “Oceans” project.  A break-through occurred in 1989 for both Johnson and SlowBurn, a new four-track recorder was purchased.  The superior Tascam Porta-Two replaced the cheaply designed Ross 4x4 recorder allowing Johnson to have more choices during the recording and mixing process.   The improvement in sound quality is obvious. Icy Lucifer” (1989) showcased the new technology with a fuller, ensemble-like sound, as well as a more developed compositions.  The Universal period came to a close withOceans” (1989) a largely instrumental collection of mostly piano compositions.  However, the real highlights here are the epic guitar tracks, “The Path Forgotten,” and “Easy Journey to Other Planets,” featuring Young Arnold on bass guitar. In September of 1989, Johnson left home in suburban Chicago to attend college, closing the chapter of  recordings.  In 2007, SlowBurn Records release Universal "Recordings 1989-1992," a collection of best recordings from the period. In March of 2018, SlowBurn Records began to officially release these recordings, all remixed, remaster and including bonus track.  (March 2018)

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