Featured Interview – Eric Gales

ericgales1For the past 25 years, Eric Gales has handled a slew of potentially-damaging setbacks the same way that Mike Tyson handled his opponents inside the boxing ring back during his prime.

By knocking them flat on their butt and then moving on to the next one.

Despite Gales’ weapon of choice being a right-handed guitar turned upside down and played lefty style, the end results have been every bit as lethal as the thunderous uppercut that Tyson favored during his hey-day.

Those requiring proof of Gales’ impressive skills have only to listen to his soon-to-be-released new album – Good For Sumthin (Cleopatra Records). And from the way Gales talks, this album may be the one to finally send his career into hyperspace.

“Man, I am so proud of this new album. I really put everything that I have into this one,” the Memphis-born and raised guitarist said. “It’s produced by Raphael Saadiq and has got guest spots from Zakk Wylde and Eric Johnson on it. It’s really unbelievable.”

Just the very thought of Wylde and Johnson lending their formidable talents to the smokin’ hot stew that Gales normally cooks up on his own has got to make guitar lovers everywhere drool from both corners of the mouth.

“Yeah, you know I’ve never had anyone make a guest appearance on one of my records before … out of 13 records … nobody,” Gales said. “I told Cleopatra that this record was not going to be anything like what they’ve heard on some of my past records. And that’s just what they wanted. Brian (at Cleopatra) said, ‘Great. You do what you want, we don’t have any expectations of what you’re going to give us; we just want you to give us a great record, whatever style it may be.’ And that’s just what I did. A lot of people that know my work may think that I’ve gone mainstream with this one, but man, it’s a good one.”

Gales has long been heralded for the scalding way that he burns his way up and down a fretboard. One only has to hear a couple of licks from him to understand why he’s rightfully recognized as a special talent. He’s bluesy, he’s psychedelic, he’s funky and he rocks harder than a cement mixer set on ‘high.’ He’s all that and more, but the one thing that Gales is not, is predictable.

“I play the blues, but I also jump borders and boundaries. Every track on the new album is like that, too. It jumps around, but at the same time, it also fits into one package, which is the way that I play the guitar,” he said. “I’m not the kind of artist that wants to be boxed in by one style or one genre of music. That would be a terrible feeling.”

This past calendar year, Gales has been immersed in a progressive rock supergroup of sorts, along with bass player dUg Pinnick (Kings X) and drummer Thomas Pridgen (Mars Volta), fittingly labeled as Pinnick, Gales, Pridgen. Hot on the heels of the trio’s self-titled debut last summer came PGP2, issued this past July. In today’s musical climate, two studio albums by the same group in the space of 12 months or so is a rarity.

ericgales2“That was the record company’s call; they wanted us to get right back in there and do another one,” Gales said. “So we said, ‘OK.’ But it was kinda’ quick to have two out so close together. I would love to be touring to support that project, but due to circumstances beyond my control, we just can’t. dUg has got so much stuff and a whole lot of other bands going on right now … so that’s just how it goes. What we did was a really amazing project. I just wish we could have ridden the momentum it’s created by touring behind it, to give it all it really deserves. I mean, the first one really blew people’s minds when it come out last June (2013).”

Despite the record label that it may be on, and despite whether it’s with his power trio, or whether it’s a solo project, a tribute to Eric Clapton or with PGP, the one constant hallmark of a recording that Gales plays on is the way it virtually bursts at the seams with insanely-high levels of intensity and energy. In other words, it’s not for the faint of heart.

“That type of energy is all natural for me. I try to get that point across (high energy) regardless of what kind of style I may be playing,” he said. “That’s something that the big man upstairs gave to me and I really try and put that into anything that I do.”

One of the biggest and most successful tour runs the past handful of years has been the Experience Hendrix Tour, a celebration of the amazing music of Jimi Hendrix. Gales is a veteran of several of those jaunts and he rightfully relishes the chance to get up on stage and cut loose on a number of Hendrix’ tunes. But like everything else he does, audiences should expect a good chunk of Gales’ personality to shine through, even though he may laying down tunes that Hendrix made famous.

“I could get up there and do the songs the way that Jimi traditionally did them and not have a problem with that. But when I do someone else’s material – or even my own – I tend to do it my way, so the audience is still getting me,” he said. “I’m still being me. That’s the only thing I know to do. You may have cats up there that play the songs just like Jimi Hendrix did, and that’s OK, that’s what people want to hear. But when you hear comments like, ‘Wow. I’ve not heard that song played like that before,’ that’s what I like. And all I’m doing is just trying to be myself.”

As if he didn’t have enough to do, what with the new PGP, Good For Sumthin, his solo tour and the Experience Hendrix Tour, Gales somehow also found the time to squeeze in some guitar on several tracks off Lauryn Hill’s upcoming CD.

“Yeah, I’ve been pretty saturated lately, but that’s OK, that’s how I like it,” he laughed.

With social media being what it is in 2014, it’s not hard to imagine that a little-known musician today could become the next big thing tomorrow. When Gales first burst out of Memphis and onto the national radar – hailed as a child prodigy when he was barely 15 years old – Twitter, Facebook and Instagram probably still seemed like far-fetched ideas. However, without all that fancy technology, Gales became one of the most-talked about guitarists on the planet and in rapid order, signed a deal with Elektra Records, was named Guitar World’s “Best New Talent” and played for a national TV audience on The Arsenio Hall Show. Head-spinning stuff for a teen-ager, right?

ericgales3“Well, I had friends and still played ball and did that normal kind of teen-aged stuff, but, yeah, it was predominately music for me at that point. So even though it might have seemed crazy (all the things that happened so quickly, at such a young age) to the outside world, that was just my normal world,” he said. “I mean, it was a little wild at times, but I was just trying to soak in everything that was happening. I was just happy to be recognized for what I was doing and for trying to perfect my craft. I was just really just doing what I loved to do, which was play the guitar, and the next thing you know, major labels were knocking at the door.”

Gales’ first album – 1991’s The Eric Gales Band (Elektra Records) sprang out of the gates with purpose and filled a void for blues rock lovers who were still mourning the untimely death of Stevie Ray Vaughan less than a year before.

“Well, at that time, that wasn’t even in my awareness. But looking back on it, it seemed like the right time for me to come on the scene and play the kind of music that I played,” Gales said. “I wish SRV had still been around, even with what I had going on. I wish he was still with us today. I guess it’s ironic that he passed right before I came onto the scene. It was like he was the last of one generation of blues guitar players and I was the first of the next. You just never know what the plan is going to be, but the man upstairs sure has one in mind.”

Older brother Eugene was a central part of The Eric Gales Band, then, in 1995, Eric and Eugene teamed up with brother Manuel (known in blues circles as Little Jimmy King), to record The Gales’ Brothers’ Left Hand Brand (House of Blues). As evidenced by that album, jaw-dropping musicianship certainly runs in the Gales’ family. It was Eugene and Manuel that helped influence young Eric’s passion for blues-based rock.

“Yeah, man, my brothers were hipping me to all the different styles and all the great guitar players from the 70s. I know there weren’t a lot of kids my age listening to that kind of music, but man, I sure was,” he said. “They turned me on to cats like Jeff Beck, Robin Trower, Frank Marino … you name it.”

Even though he was born and raised in the Mecca of the Blues – Memphis – the city’s musical climate really didn’t have much of a dramatic impact on Eric Gales’ genre of choice as a budding guitar player.

“Honestly, I don’t think growing up in Memphis had anything to do with the music that I chose to play. I mean, most of the guitar players I grew up listening to and wanting to play like weren’t from Memphis,” he said. “I am certainly not downgrading where I come from by any means. And as I grew up, I realized that Memphis is a great breeding ground for all kinds of music. All the inspiration and influences that that city had – and is still having – is amazing. But when I was coming up and learning to play, I was really unaware of any of that.”

A couple of his chief influences on the guitar – namely Jeff Beck and Robin Trower – either didn’t sing back then (Trower) or basically didn’t have much use for a vocalist (Beck). However, that didn’t quell Gales’ own desire to sing. And as much press as his guitar playing receives, his vocals – ranging from silky smooth to fiery passionate – deserve equal billing.

ericgales4“Yeah, everybody does talk about my guitar playing, but I take a lot of pride in my singing, too. Being around my brothers – and my whole family, really – made me want to sing,” he said. “We listened to a lot of gospel music and that had a bearing on my singing. That and the early traditional blues, cats like John Lee Hooker, that’s kind of the ingredients that go into my vocals. Coming up, my family played in the church, so there was always music going on. And at some point, that was bound to come out.”

Thanks to the modern miracle known as Skype, a guitarist that wants more insight into what makes Eric Gales tick, or one that just wants to learn some blistering hot licks, can take lessons from the man himself, over the internet.

“They’re one-on-one lessons. When I have time off, or when I’m in between tours, I stay busy that way,” he said. “I get all kinds of guitarists and I love the fact that I have the opportunity to pass on a little bit of what I know.”

More information on those lessons – or all things Eric Gales – can be obtained at: www.ericgalesband.com.

Gales’ guitar pedigree needs no bolstering – it speaks for itself. But if it ever did, the mere mention of Carlos Santana on his resume would be more than enough to secure its place among the pantheon of great axe-slingers. The Hall of Famer himself invited Gales to be his special guest and play with his band at Woodstock ’94. That was an evening that Gales will never forget.

“That was mind-blowing. That’s about all I can say about that whole Woodstock ‘94 deal with Carlos. To play with somebody that was actually at the first Woodstock … man. I was just around 18 or so at that time,” he said. “I was trying to soak it all in. I just feel so fortunate to have been at that space in that time and to be asked to play that event with a Godfather of mine. I mean, that kind of opportunity doesn’t come around all the time, you know?”

Even though he was still a teenager and was standing next to one of the all-time greats, Gales sure didn’t seem to be one bit awestruck by his surroundings at Woodstock ’94. Instead, he just did what he does – tear up the guitar.

“That’s how you have to do it. You just have to get up there and dive on in; you’re either going to sink or you’re going to swim,” he said. “You can’t hold back or be scared. That’s how it goes, even with a million people out there. Really, at the end of the day, it’s just another performance. You either deliver or you call in sick.”

It’s safe to say that base solely on his resume, Eric Gales has never ‘called in sick’ a day in his life. Day-by-day, step-by-step he has always managed to show up for work and turn in his hours, despite any circumstance that might have tried to block his path. That’s the kind of dedication and determination that has gotten him to this point in his career, and he has no plans on changing his plan of attack at this stage of the game.

“Things are climbing great for me right now and I’d like to see that continue. I’d like to get to the point where I don’t have any worries and am playing to sold-out crowds anywhere I go,” he said. “One of these days, I’d like to get to the point that I can turn down gigs if I want to. When you’re doing well enough that you can turn down a gig, that’s where I want my career to be at. I want control over what I choose to do … and have all the trimmings that come with that. You know, I may have been close to that crossroads earlier in my career, but life has a way of dealing you cards. And you can only play with the cards that you’re dealt.”

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