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Obscuro: Mariani – Perpetuum Mobile (1970)

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The Obscuro series looks at some long forgotten, little known records that rate as curiosities today. Sample tracks are ripped at low bitrates and will remain available for only a few days.

When I first read about an album by Mariani called Perpetuum Mobile, released in 1970 and featuring Eric Johnson, two thoughts immediately came to mind. Either the "1970" part was a typo and "1980" was intended, or this was a different Eric Johnson than the Austin, Texas-based axe virtuoso known and worshiped by legions of electric guitar enthusiasts around the globe. After all, EJ didn't record as a leader until 1985 and he was barely 30 at the time. Ten years earlier he was the guitarist for the rock fusion group the Electromagnets. Something doesn't compute.

But as I quickly confirmed, it does.

This was sho 'nuff the same Johnson who later gave the world Ah Via Musicom, and if you do the math, you'll conclude he was 15 or 16 when he laid down these tracks as a sideman for a psychedelic blues rock band led by its drummer. Holy Jonny Lang, Batman!

Mariani, by the way, wasn't named after a popular dish at The Olive Garden; it is the namesake of said drummer, Vince Mariani. Mariani was a good enough drummer to seriously audition to be Mitch Mitchell's replacement in Jimi Hendrix's band. Instead of landing that coveted gig, he was persuaded by Austin producer and label owner Bill Posey to form his own band. Having jammed with Johnson previously, he enlisted young Eric to be his guitarist, and along with bass player/vocalist Jay Podolnick, they soon began to compose several songs together. (A fascinating, more detailed history of this short-lived band can be found on the website of Posey's record company, Sonobeat).

ericjohnsonoutdoorshot300And the music itself? It's more than a little bit like Cream. Being that this is Vince's band, he and his drums do get the spotlight most of the time, but Lil' Eric was given plenty of space to shine. He wasn't in Clapton's league yet, as you might expect, but he was already more than halfway there. In the opening track "Searching For A New Dimension", he shows a nice mastery of the wah wah pedal, which was nice thing to be good at in 1970. In "Re-Birth Day", which was edited down for a single release, Johnson shows off some flash in his guitar break that provides a strong hint of the solo career he would launch many years later. The instrumental "The Unknown Path" is largely a Hendrix exercise. In many other spots he shows yet more of that promise; maybe there's not a distinctive style yet as he had just recently absorbed Wheels Of Fire. Oh, but did I tell you he was only 15 or 16 years old at the time?

Although the band went on the road to promote their album, touring with the likes of Deep Purple, Perpetuum Mobile didn't make much of an impact. After a few years the band fell apart without recording another album and the individuals pursued other interests. It's probably safe to say that the band's guitarist went on to do pretty good for himself.

Regrettably, this album hasn't been reissued and remains a rare find. In the meantime, below are a few appetizers for the curious. The road to "The Cliffs of Dover" starts right around here.

Listen: Mariani "Searching For A New Dimension"

Listen: Mariani "Re-Birth Day"

Listen: Mariani "The Unknown Path"

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  • Ken Voss

    Review of Mariani from Jimi Hendrix fanzine Voodoo Child:
    Eric Johnson
    Mariani (Sonobeat HEC 411)
    Mariani (Anthology 4.11)
    “One Rainy Wish”
    “Love Or Confusion”
    “Third Stone From The Sun”
    “Little Wing”
    “Are You Experienced?”
    Unauthorized Italian disc, featuring Austin-based guitarist Eric Johnson who was being heralded as “the guitar player of 1990″ by major guitar magazines. The 14-track disc closes with a 26-minute concert of Johnson “in memory of Jimi Hendrix” live in Texas circa 1990. Johnson, just like another Texas-bred guitarist by the name of Stevie Ray Vaughan, have done the best to capture the spirit and energy of Jimi Hendrix while imposing their own personality and musical tastes into their interpretations. Johnson takes a more direct attempt at the replication of Jimi’s electronic effects without “cloning” Jimi’s sound.
    Mariani featured Johnson along with drummer/vocalist Vince Mariani and bass player Jay Podolick in a power trio format. Johnson was only a 16-year-old kid but he sounded years beyond capabilities as a lead guitar player.
    Mariani only commercial release was Perpetuum Mobile in 1970 for the Sonobeat label, re-issued in 2001 on the Italian Akarma label and in the U.S. by Grooveyard Records in 2005. The psychedelic album was originally released as a limited-edition (only 100 copies reported as pressed) with a hand-stamped cover release on the Sonobeat label.
    Rolling Stone magazine writer Jas Obrecht comments, “Very few post-Hendrix guitarists can match Eric Johnson’s six-string magic. There’s no hint of anger, angst, or sloppiness in any of his playing; instead, each note, each phrase, demonstrates his obsession with tone. Joyous celebrations, his solos seem to grow more magnificent with each listening. For years esteemed players proclaimed Eric Johnson one of rock’s most imaginative and tasteful guitarists. Despite the praise, Johnson labored in relative obscurity in Austin, TX, until the 1986 release of Tones. His goal was to produce music that entertains and heals, and his playing married deep emotion to mind-boggling finesse. The album’s collage of guitar tones ran from purest-of-pure Strat to Hendrix-approved psychedelia and majestic, violinlike textures. Johnson spent nearly two years producing his 1990 followup, Ah Via Musicom. Full of fire, light, and swirling thunder, it’s an artistic triumph, as powerful a statement for Eric Johnson as Electric Ladyland was for Jimi Hendrix.” Obviously, Johnson has gone on to fame, that album is hailed as one of rock guitar’s defining moments. (1970)

  • Karen Turner

    Vince Mariani was a friend of mine, who I met around 1970 and he invited me to listen to he, Eric and Jay play. I still see Eric once in a while and remember how he was already talked about at that time as to how fast he was. Vince was a great drummer as well and I agree, the band was tight. Several times I went to hear them practice at both Vince’s dad’s house and in the basement of an obsure florist shop in Austin. I recorded via cassette a recording as I heard it being played on their reel to reel and think these were the at least some of the same songs. Gotta get that out and see if it can be put into a highter quality condition. Amazing!

  • larry plotsky

    You have the name wrong in the article.
    Josey, not Posey. Bill Josey had Sonobeat and recorded in a studio in his house’s lower level. I lived down the street and listened when they recorded Mariani. Actually made a tape myself on an early Sony recorder. If anybody has a record or recording, would love to hear it. Still remember some of Eric’s early licks back then— he was great at 15 or 16!!!!