So after struggling for days with one of the Eric Johnson licks I narrowed down the issue to my left hand.
At some point in my life someone taught me to play most things with one finger per fret in box positions, in particular the classic minor pentatonic first position.
However I think can be quite unhelpful - the pinky and ring fingers are much less independent than the others and I think it becomes a problem when playing fast on the G and B strings.
I had noticed that @Troy mostly relied on his first three fingers for a lot of these licks and sure enough on that pattern ( https://troygrady.com/seminars/cascade/clips/sitar-blues/ ) he actually doesn’t use the pinky at all. I tried it and found it instantly faster and more controlled.
So I’m thinking I should relearn to play my pentatonics this way, although of course it’s not always possible on the lower frets ( or at least not comfortable ).