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‘Guitars that rock’: Okanagan woman travels world to uncover music’s greatest stories

Lisa Johnson’s most recent book features more than 160 original photos of iconic guitars
Lisa S. Johnson’s new book, Immortal Axes: Guitars That Rock pays homage to the history of rock and roll. Johnson is an alumn of Penticton Secondary. (Photo- Courtesy of Lisa S. Johnson)

From Paul McCartney to Eric Clapton and even Keith Richards, Lisa S. Johnson has met and photographed just about everyone in the world of rock and roll.

After decades of travelling, with just her camera and curiosity for music, Johnson has documented all her experiences in a book titled, Immortal Axes: Guitars That Rock.

Johnson, who attended Penticton Secondary in the early 1980s, doesn’t necessarily photograph rock’s most recognizable faces — she photographs their guitars. And in her newest release, more than 160 iconic instruments are showcased, from Peter Frampton’s recently found guitar that went missing for years to Slash’s signature Les Paul six-string.

If there’s a story, Johnson’s on it. And she’ll do just about anything to tell it.

“When I take the photos, it immortalizes the guitar,” she said. “A lot of bands come through where I live but sometimes, for people like Paul McCartney, you have to go to them.”

Johnson, a resident of Las Vegas, Nevada, was born in Corning, Calif. but spent three of her high-school years at Pen High. Her mother still lives in the Peach City, hence the recent trip to the Okanagan.

But visiting B.C.’s Interior also meant she could reflect on the success of her most recent book, while spending time in a place where some of her fondest memories of music took place.

“I was on student council at Pen High and made so many friends here…we’d just sit around the campfire and crank our favourite rock and roll tunes,” Johnson recalled.

The foreword to Immortal Axes: Guitars That Rock was written by Frampton, whose missing guitar story is among the book’s headline pieces.

Along with the aforementioned rock and roll giants, Johnson’s release also documents instruments of B.B. King, Kurt Cobain, Tom Petty, Dave Grohl, Jimmy Page and Jimi Hendrix. The book won Guitar International’s Book of the Year for 2021.

“I want to document the history of rock,” Johnson said. “Like David Gilmour’s guitar that says Dark Side of the Moon right on it or John Lennon’s guitar that was used when he was sitting with Yoko Uno in the bed in Montreal.”

Penticton is more than Johnson’s second home. Since moving to Nevada, the author says she proudly visits B.C.’s Interior at least twice a year.

Spending an important part of her life in Canada isn’t something Johnson takes lightly. From Manitoba’s Randy Bachman from Bachman-Turner Overdrive to Penticton’s own Mike Reno from Loverboy, some of the dual citizen’s proudest moments are when she highlights some of the country’s most recognizable musicians.

“My very first rock concert was actually Kiss in Edmonton,” she recalled. “I just want to pay homage to my home and all the great people who showed me how to rock in Penticton.”

Johnson’s book is available for purchase here and at Mosiac Books in Kelowna. Immortal Axes: Guitars That Rock is a follow-up to her 2013 release, 108 Rock Star Guitars.

Lisa S. Johnson promoted her book, Immortal Axes: Guitars That Rock, in Penticton and Kelowna this past week. (Photo- Courtesy of Lisa S. Johnson)
Lisa S. Johnson promoted her book, Immortal Axes: Guitars That Rock, in Penticton and Kelowna this past week. (Photo- Courtesy of Lisa S. Johnson)

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