We catch up with Eric Gales, a blues guitar virtuoso who has collaborated with artists like Mitch Mitchell, Eric Johnson, Carlos Santana, and Joe Bonamassa. He shares his wealth of energy and experience with us in this interview.
Eric Gales Interview
Originally published on Planet Guitar. Original Interview by Paul Rigg. Presented here for the first time in its original untranslated form.
Eric Gales doesn’t just offer near-unparalleled guitar wizardry but an entire emotional experience – incorporating love and redemption – that is hard to ignore. A child prodigy, Gales has played with stars including Santana, Hendrix’s drummer Mitch Mitchell, and Gary Clark Jr., and created his own brand of blues-rock along the way.
On a drizzly autumn day in North Carolina, Gales finds time in his hectic schedule to talk to Planet Guitar about the roots of his playing, his waltz with drug oblivion, and how his wife LaDonna sacrificed her own needs to help get him back to the top…
Gearnews: “My name is Eric Gales – any questions?” you say at the start of your latest album, ‘Crown’. So yes, Eric, I’ve got some questions!
Eric Gales: [Laughs] Nice!
GN: You’ve been playing live across the US recently; how is ‘Crown’ being received?
EG: It’s been received very well. A lot of energy, man, a lot of emotion, and the audiences have been loving it!
GN: I read online that your setlist includes a version of Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Voodoo Child’. Is that right?
EG: Yes, from time to time, I include it.
GN: And I guess you use your ’62 Strat to play that…
EG: Not always. I haven’t brought that out in quite some time, but you just gave me a good reason to do that. Yeah, that ‘62, I might need to brush it off and give it some love…
GN: Going back to your roots, you came from a musical family, started playing guitar at four and got your first record deal when you were 15 – has the epithet ‘prodigy’ been a blessing for you, or a burden?
EG: I look at all that has come my way – which is easier said than done – as blessings and burdens, because burdens are there to make you stronger and, at the end of the day, to learn from. It’s been both; I take both with a grain of salt and just keep pushing.
“I’m a heavily emotionally driven player…”
GN: You’ve talked openly about your personal struggles with addiction, and ‘Crown’ represents that. Do you feel you will always draw musical inspiration from that period?
EG: Yes, I think so. I’m a heavily emotionally driven player and I tap into things that have happened to me. Some of that is painful to reminisce about, but on the other side, it’s quite joyful to see the effect it has on listeners. So, I am always going to gravitate towards it.
Actually, I don’t have a choice in the matter because it’s something that helps drive who I am and what I am as a player.
“It can be hard to watch from the outside…”
GN: Your wife, LaDonna, said that ‘exposure is the best thing’. Have you always felt that yourself?
EG: Not at the beginning, of course, but, you know, it takes a while to see some things for yourself. A person can be blinded by the cloud and haze of addiction and can feel like everyone’s against you, when there were actually people, such as my wife – and at times, perhaps only my wife – who never gave up on me and helped me through some really dark, dark days, and kept encouraging me to know that there is a life out there and that I deserve it.
It can be hard to watch from the outside, when you have somebody that you truly care about down spiral, and you stay around and do everything you can to help them. She oftentimes quit things that she wanted to do to help make sure that I was okay. And that type of love is not too often seen. And it chokes me up to even sit here and think about it. I don’t think I’ll ever see that type of grace in my life ever again.
GN: Was there anything particular that helped you in that transitional phase?
EG: I involved myself with things that didn’t have anything to do with music. I just dug deep into the program and took it seriously for a change. And it turned out pretty well.
“…I might have been here in a previous life…”
GN: You transmit high emotion and passion in all your concerts and say that you ‘play your pain’ every night. Is your inspiration to play now very different to what it was?
EG: Oh, that’s a good question. When I was younger, I hadn’t gone through the pain that I now have, but still, there was some sort of drive, even as a kid… I think that my wife, and a lot of others told me that, I have an old soul.
I think that I might have been here in a previous life because I tapped into, even at six, seven, and eight years old, an emotion that was, now that I look back at it, mind-boggling in a kid, and the emotion and feelings are still somewhat the same. And for myself, some of the woes and troubles that have happened, I take from and utilize when I play.
GN: You’ve played with many great musicians like Mitch Mitchell, Eric Johnson, Joe Bonamassa, for example – do any of these performances stand out for you?
EG: All of them are memorable to me. Eric Johnson, for example, is one of my biggest influences, and Santana… It still seems like a huge dream that they happened, and I don’t take it for granted.
GN: You and Zakk Wylde, who played with you on ‘Steep Climb’, are obviously both gifted musicians, but you’re also known for your sensitivity, struggles, and faith: is one of those elements particularly important in your relationship?
EG: We relate on a few different levels, as you mentioned. And when we get together, it’s really about a lot of laughter, man… laughter is just as important as music if you ask me – they are two good means of meditation and communication. So those are the things that we have in common. And he’s just a good friend, man. I’m glad you mentioned him.
GN: In your 2019 gig with Larkin Poe, you said you wanted the Lovell sisters
to play on your next record – is that still on the cards?
EG: It’s still on the cards; I want to do some things with them for sure. I think they’re awesome. I feel the same way about Marcus King and Derek Trucks, and some of my other comrades in the music industry, that I feel quite connected to.
GN: You famously play your guitar upside down and backwards. Do you recommend all guitarists to start that way?
EG: [Laughs] I recommend whatever works for you. It just so happens to be
what works for me. And, you know, by the time that I came to this world and was told that I was “playing the wrong way”, it was too late. I was already playing; not that I would have tried to change it!
His DV Mark Signature Amplifiers
GN: Moving on to your amps, it’s very interesting to me that you work with the Italian brand DV Mark; how did that collaboration come about?
EG: I got a message from a good friend of mine, Fabrizio Grossi, who worked for Mark Bass that they were developing this guitar line of amps, and he put me in contact with Marco, the President, who flew me and my wife over to Pescara. Marco got the tone that I wanted and made my signature model, and it sounded great!
GN: Have you been to Italy many times?
EG: Oh, quite a few times. It’s great to visit, perform, and play, and I like it all. Italy is a beautiful place.
GN: Many feel that the world has speeded up – too much technology, too many demands, too many interviews: How do you keep your peace among all this?
EG: I just try to take it easy, man, not try to get too ahead of myself, even though that’s easier said than done. Take it one step at a time.
“Take it one step at a time.”
GN: Do you have any special things that you do to disconnect?
EG: Not really. I like watching TV shows, hanging around at the house with my parents, and maybe playing a little basketball. I recently got heavily into bowling, so I do that with my father almost every time I can. Regular things like that, nothing too intricate.
GN: What’s next for Eric Gales?
EG: More touring, and probably working on the next record.
Gearnews signs off by recalling that in 2021 Gales held a ‘big bash’ concert for his birthday and asks if he has any plans this year? “I think I’m going to do something cool and low-key with my wife and family, and just ring in 49,” he replies. Well, Happy Birthday, we hope you have a great time! “I appreciate it, man, thanks for having me!”
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