Ever heard of Eric Gales? Sadly, I hadn’t until this news story came my way! Gales’ story is an incredible one, he was a child prodigy and released his debut album The Eric Gales Band in 1991 as a 16-year-old on Elektra Records. It was the first of 10 albums on a major label through a blistering career, 16 in all. He has battled drink and drug issues and spent time in jail in 2009 for possession of drugs and a weapon. Gales proudly tells his story every night before every show, now over three years sober he is creating some of the most breath-taking music he has ever made.
In 2017, Gales released his fifteenth studio effort, Middle of the Road, featuring numerous artists, including Gary Clark Jr., Lauryn Hill and others, as well as his own brother and mother! The album became his first to chart on Billboard‘s Top Blues Album chart, peaking at No. 4, and Gales’ next album, The Book Ends, topped the chart at No. 1. On May 9, 2019, he won the Blues Music Award for ‘Blues Rock Artist of the Year’. In May 2020, Gales won his second consecutive Blues Music Award as the ‘Blues Rock Artist of the Year’.
If Middle of the Road was the rebirth of Eric Gales, then The Book Ends saw him knocking away his boundaries and taking flight on a voyage of self-discovery asking himself what he could do further and pushing that into the stratosphere. It’s no wonder why he is the guitarists’ favourite guitarist, counting fans in the likes of Carlos Santana, Dave Navarro (Jane’s Addiction, Red Hot Chili Peppers), Mark Tremonti (Alter Bridge), Joe Bonamassa, Tony Rombola (Godsmack) and Tosin Abasi (Animals as Leaders).
Since the release of The Book Ends he has toured almost non-stop; playing shows with Gary Clark Jr., Beth Hart, Gov’t Mule and working throughout Australia, Argentina, Chile, US and Europe. He played his first ever headline tour in the UK and Ireland to sold out crowds, took a starring role as part of Supersonic Blues Machine at the UK’s Ramblin’ Man Fair and also found time to play a one-off reunion show as The Eric Gales Band.
The advent of Covid-19 brought his touring to a temporary halt, but Eric has now rescheduled the UK leg of his 2020 tour to February 2021, and has added two extra dates at the Brighton Concorde (Feb 3) and the Dover Booking Hall (Feb 4), see main image poster. Special guest on these shows will be the critically acclaimed British Blues rock guitarist Danny Bryant. Hailed as “A National Blues Treasure,” Bryant recently released his 11th studio album Means of Escape via Jazzhaus Records to great fanfare (see Velvet Thunder review of the album and gig).
The challenge for making The Book Ends was for Gales to challenge himself. “As a guitar player it’s been established that I can play a little bit, just a little bit,” he smiles. But for this album he not only wanted to push himself as a musician, but also as a vocalist, to build up his vocal discography. Talking about his approach to song writing in this time he reflects. “I guess the songs would answer the question more or less, I definitely don’t have anything clouding my view and it’s definitely a much purer place where its coming from.” The notions of change and love are recurring themes throughout the album.
Written over a nine month period, it was recorded at three studios across California, but the day before he was due to fly to LA for pre-production the original producer David Bianco tragically died. Matt Wallace was suggested by a friend, and Eric has never looked back. “I heard his work and the kind of people he has produced such as Maroon 5, Faith No More and all these cats. When we met up together it was just perfect. I just trusted the guy and it ended up being great, I love Matt Wallace,” says Gales. Talking about being in the studio he elaborates; “The whole vocal thing was something I consciously wanted to push and Matt was on the same page, saying, ‘there’s gonna be sometimes you might not like me because I’m gonna push you because I feel that I know what you can do, and its more than just guitar playing’. It was just really powerful and moving.”
Three-time Grammy-nominated and Emmy Award winning vocalist B. Slade appears on two songs on The Book Ends – Something’s Gotta Give and bonus track Pedal to the Metal. “When he came in during pre-production and we were writing, it was so intense. At first, I was a little afraid to sing in front of this guy, because this is what this dude does, he’s a phenomenal person and he just brought it out of me,” he says before continuing. “I don’t know if he was really aware of who I was before we met, but the day that he walked in and he heard the songs, his mind was blown. That was before he even saw me playing guitar, so when he saw me playing, he said ‘in my life I ain’t never seen nobody that can play like this.’”
Gales’ friendship with Doyle Bramhall II dates back to the 1990s, and Eric Clapton’s right-hand man features on the triumphant Southpaw Serenade. And then powerhouse vocalist Beth Hart joins Gales on a rousing rendition of With A Little Help from My Friends. “Why that song? Well we both have similar stories,” he says. “We’re survivors you know, drug addiction and her from depression. If you’ve got the right support and you can have help from your friends, it will all be awesome. It is such a powerful piece.”
When the previous album Middle of the Road, was released in February 2017, it made Classic Rock Magazine and Total Guitar albums of the year – with the latter saying it was “the album that should define his career.” Classic Rock said “the notes drip from Gales’ fretboard like warm honey”, The Guitar Magazine exclaimed it’s “the injection of danger and unpredictability that the blues-rock scene desperately needs” ; Blues Matters professed “truly the man is blessed”, whilst Powerplay said “the more you listen to it the more the brilliance of Eric Gales becomes apparent.” Some powerful support there!
Catching up with Eric during this period of isolation, I ask whether it has got him back into writing mode. Eric confirms that there is actually a new record being worked up that will be recorded in September, together with a couple of other things that he’s keeping up his sleeve for now – stay tuned! I went on to point out that on his last UK tour it certainly seemed to bring the crowds out, and that it proved his fan-base is actually much wider than blues – ie many mainstream rock fans also appreciate the quality of his playing, along with his high quality song compositions and band performances. Eric confirms that they truly enjoyed the Rambling Man crowd in particular, and that they were looking forward to a repeat performance this year. They’ll now wait for the 2021 show!
I ask how Eric would describe how his style might have changed over the years? Eric says “I’m very pleased with how the vocal stretching turned out and I plan on stretching them even further on the new record. As far as my style changing – absolutely, to me it’s been constantly evolving and I love that”. I then said, having come to the album as a “newby”, I was genuinely and pleasantly surprised by the notably wide variety of styles on it. Eric agrees “Yeah, it does actually shine a light on the many different styles and genres that I’m into. The list of influential people in my life is huge!”. Sort of linked to that, I ask whether it was fair to say your brothers might have been his earliest influences and whether he still gets to play with them. Eric says “My brothers have been and remain big influences on me in general. They are doing okay. We get together every now and then”. I had been trying to avoid the next query, but I couldn’t help myself, and comment that he does sound so like Jimi Hendrix at times. Eric replies “So about Hendrix, no, I don’t on purpose try to write riffs or songs to sound like Hendrix. I just try and let what’s flowing out of me flow”.
I then ask Eric about his recording and touring colleagues: “I have a very well-seasoned team that play together in my band. My wife Ladonna (percussion and background vocals), Nil Jones (bassist and vocals), and Nick Hayes(drummer). We vibe off of each other very well.”
Lastly, coming back to the album, I said how my personal favourite is Reaching For A Change, it’s just a cracking rock song with sumptuous guitar work but great vocals, a great band performance! – and followed by Somebody Lied, completely different, almost 80’s-style stadium rock. Then again Resolution is just beautiful, it sums up how he’s cutting boundaries, appealing to a much wider audience than “traditional blues folk”, it also highlights to me how radio-friendly much of his material is, with a great production, mix and overall live sound from the “back room team”. Eric looks pleased, and says yes, the album wouldn’t have been what it is without his good friend Matt Wallace.
Eric Gales tours the UK in February 2021 with special guest Danny Bryant. Tickets via www.thegigcartel.com/Artists-profiles/Eric-Gales.htm. I’m looking forward to it!