FRIDAY and SATURDAY SHOWTIMES: 7:30PM AND 9:30PM. During his first decade as an artist, Eric recorded four well received albums on Nova Records, his own label (S6 Jazz Records) and Ben Tankard’s Spirit Jazz, and earned a degree from Berklee College of Music. In 1998, he reached an exciting plateau when he was signed by legendary Warner Brothers Vice President Ricky Shultz to his new Warner distributed label, Zebra Records. Schultz, who helped develop the careers of contemporary jazz greats Pat Metheny, Al Jarreau, David Sanborn, Larry Carlton, Fourplay, Joshua Redman and The Yellowjackets, took a liking to Essix’s latest self-produced album Small Talk and gave the guitarist his first taste of national promotion and radio exposure. Eric’s single “For Real” was on the airplay charts for 25 weeks, reaching the Top 5 on several. Southbound, the guitarist’s second album on the label, included a re-imagining of the Brook Benton classic “Rainy Night in Georgia,” which likewise became a radio hit in 2001.
Since launching his own indie label Essential Recordings in 2002, Eric has scored numerous radio hits, starting with “Sweet Tea” from 2004’s Somewhere in Alabama and continuing with “Shuttlesworth Drive,” a musical tribute to the great civil rights pioneer, Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, which spent 7 consecutive weeks at #1 on Smoothjazz.com and over 20 weeks in the Top 10; “New Focus,” which reached #27 on the Billboard Smooth Jazz Songs chart; and “Foot Soldiers,” which hit #1 on the Smoothjazz.com Indie Chart and #9 on the Top Fifty chart among numerous other industry airplay lists. Five years after its release, “Foot Soldiers” remains in regular rotation on SiriusXM Watercolors.
In the late 2000s, Eric expanded his reach in the contemporary urban jazz realm, touring and performing with some of the top names in the genre, including Jeff Lorber, Gerald Albright, Ronnie Laws, Phil Perry, Boney James, Everette Harp, Peabo Bryson, Marcus Miller, Eric Darius, Alex Bugnon, Marcus Johnson, Peter White, Mindi Abair and others. His love for the genre and his deep connections therein inspired him to launch the Preserve Jazz Festival, the only festival in Birmingham exclusively devoted to jazz performers. As Founder and Executive Producer for ten years, Eric invited headliners like Brian Culbertson, Kirk Whalum, Boney James and Jeff Lorber to perform.
Though Eric admits his style is very different from that of Wes Montgomery, the legendary guitarist is another major influence. Ten years before the Jaco experience, Eric’s dad played Montgomery’s 1966 album California Dreaming for him. “I had never heard anyone play jazz interpretations of pop melodies until then,” Eric says. “I could hear that the guitar was actually “singing” the melody. That’s when I realized jazz was the natural style of music for an instrument to achieve the same emotions that a vocal could. I started playing guitar two years later and right from the start tried to make the guitar sing.”
“The most interesting part of this musical journey has been observing my own growth as an artist,” Eric says. “My mindset has shifted dramatically and is light years away from when I was a young guitarist first making records, focusing on being flashy and showing people how fast I could play. In those days, it was all about speed and lots of notes. As I have matured as a musician and as a person, I’d like to think I have found my niche as a composer and songwriter as well as becoming a better guitar player.”