Obscuro: Mariani – Perpetuum Mobile (1970)

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by Pico

When I first read about an album by Mariani called Perpetuum Mobile from 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 favorite 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).

And 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 15-16 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 hadn’t been reissued and remains a rare find. The road to “The Cliffs of Dover” starts right around here.

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