Written by Jim Bille
Jan 29, 2011 at 08:00 PM
Guitar brilliance was displayed Saturday night when the Guitar Masters Tour that included Eric Johnson, Andy McKee, and Peppino D’Agostino made the final stop of their tour at Warehouse Live in Houston.

I‘ve been an Eric Johnson fan ever since seeing him many times in the late 70’s with his band the Electromagnets and throughout his career, but I will admit to never hearing of the two other musicians on the bill.

Opening the show was Peppino D’Agostino, an Italian born 6 string phenom who was voted Best Acoustic Guitarist of 2007 by Guitar Player Magazine as well as winning the

Acoustic Guitar’s People’s Choice Awards Bronze medal award for best acoustic album of all time entitled Every Step of the Way in 2002.

I found out quickly why these accolades are well deserved as D’Agostino demonstrated some of the best acoustic finger style and traditional flat guitar picking I’ve ever heard. From D’Agostino’s first number until his last of the 30 minute or so set this guitar master captivated the hushed crowd.

If there is such a thing as Italian down home or Italian home spun humor, D’Agostino was a master of this as well. He endeared the crowd with stories based around his music and his now 25 plus year American odyssey since arriving in this country. Compositions such as Why Not and Grand Canyon were both introduced with short stories describing his inspiration for the songs.

Especially impressive was his performance of Why Not as he fingered the fret board while keeping rhythm by tapping the body of the guitar making it sound as if he had additional accompaniment.

D’Agostino has been known to draw much inspiration from other guitar greats such as Leo Kottke and Paco de Lucia. His performance was evident of that and he definitely can stand shoulder to shoulder with these two when it comes to composing and performing his type of incredible stringed music. His standing ovation from the seated audience would be the first of many throughout the evening.

Andy McKee was up next with his trio of guitars that included a baritone acoustic as well as an odd double neck instrument called a harp guitar. The harp guitar incorporates a hollow arm or extension, in addition to a standard guitar neck, with six strings that are played open essentially as a harp.

The harp guitar was featured on a few numbers during McKee’s set. A number called Away, from his new CD entitled Joyland, was especially incredible. A Michael Hedges influence was evident as McKee strummed, picked and finger tap the instruments neck and body brilliantly throughout this part of his set.

Andy McKee has been a You Tube favorite for some time with over 78 million plays. At one point he held the No. 1 position for Top-Rated Videos of All Time on the site. Two of the You Tube fan favorites, Drifting and Into the ocean, were featured during the set for the audience’s pleasure.

McKee mentioned that he grew up in the 80’s listening to pop music and enjoys reworking some of these numbers to fit his style. That being said, McKee treated the crowd to the 80’s Tears for Fears hit Everybody Wants to Rule the World which prompted the second standing ovation of the evening.

As mentioned earlier, I’ve seen Eric Johnson on numerous occasions but this was the first time that I’d ever seen him unplugged so I wasn’t real sure of what to expect. Johnson seated himself center stage and proceeded to convince any electric fans in the audience that this night would not be about volume but more about the musical craftsmanship and tone of the acoustic guitar. Johnson’s acoustic playing was what you might expect from the perfectionist he’s known to be and for me was refreshingly different since I was one of those electric fans. After his first number I knew very well what to expect.

Over the years Johnson has had a penchant for writing tribute songs to some of his favorite players and influences. The two greats that he paid tribute to this night were Jerry Reed and Les Paul. The World is Waiting for Sunrise: Tribute to Les Paul was truly amazing as Johnson incorporated many of Paul’s old songs and melodic style into one. Tribute to Jerry Reed was also penned and played in a similar fashion paying homage to another great guitarist.

About half way through his set Johnson set his guitar down took a turn on the grand piano. Originally schooled in classical piano at a young age Johnson charmed the crowd with his playing. The Joni Mitchell song he chose to perform, For Free, was played like it was his own.

Returning to the guitar Johnson finished his set with other notable numbers like Promised Man and Once Upon a Time in Texas, to name a few.

After Eric Johnson received his standing ovation from the awe struck crowd McKee and D’Agostino joined him on stage for an incredible finale set.

It was evident that the three guitarists had been down this path before as each took their turn in out fingering or strumming the next in a three way guitar duel performing Johnson’s tune, On the Way from his new release Up Close as well as the D’Agostino penned Nine White Kites and Paul Simon’s April Come She Will.

Having the opportunity to see three musicians of this caliber performing together was priceless. Hopefully the Guitar Masters will tour another day.