To watch Jacob Johnson play guitar is to watch someone do what he was born to do. Johnson glides up and down the fretboard with total confidence in a way that reminds one of Leo Kottke, barely looking at the instrument as he weaves delicate, dazzling melody lines with the occasional percussive thump on the strings. His sense of melody is a strong as his virtuosic playing, and his songwriting reveals a modestly bemused look at the world.
Johnson began playing when he was 10 years old, thanks primarily to his grandmother. She taught him the first three or four chords he ever learned and said, Jacob, if all you ever learn on the guitar is these three or four chords, you will always be able to pick up a guitar and play songs for people.
After that initial introduction, Johnson progressed quickly through his teen years. There was a period of a couple of years where he went from zero to 60. He started out listening to Johnny Cash and then got into the old rockabilly like Carl Perkins and Gene Vincent, then it was the blues and Stevie Ray Vaughan, Clapton, and Hendrix. By the time he was 18 or 19 he started getting into Phil Keaggy and Michael Hedges, who he consider the Jimi Hendrix of the acoustic guitar. He was one of the first players who got into two-handed tapping, alternate tuning, that kind of stuff. At a certain point he decided to focus on the acoustic guitar because there was just something about it. It seemed like this was the instrument that was going to give him his voice; that would allow him to develop his singing and songwriting in a way that his electric playing didn’t.