Published in the Lake Champlain Weekly
November 13, 2019
By Joshua Miner
Photos by Laura Carbone
Eric Gales was only four when he first picked up a guitar. Guided by his older brothers, it quickly became apparent that the Memphis native was no ordinary talent. Gales had been born with something special. Absorbing everything his brothers Eugene and Manuel taught him – the younger Gales grew up in the style of Jimi Hendrix and BB King – emulating the greats while at the same time creating a sound all his own. The world had been searching for just this sort of psychedelic blues rock. and as Gales’ guitar licks quickly evolved, he burst upon the scene with a bang.
By the age of 12, Gales was competing in national blues competitions and soon thereafter was recognized by some of the most well-known musicians in the world. Backed by his brother Eugene on bass and Hubert Crawford on drums, The Eric Gales Band would release their self-titled debut album in 1991 with the single Sign of the Storm reaching # 9 on the U.S. Mainstream Rock Charts. That same year, Guitar World Magazine’s Reader’s Poll voted Gales the Best New Talent, and a spot on the Arsenio Hall Show created even more buzz around the young musician.
During his later teens, the band released their second album on Elektra Records, 1993’s Picture of a Thousand Faces – with Paralyzed putting Gales on the charts once more.
Soon the guitar wizard was discovered by Santana, who invited the young guitarist to join him on stage for his set at the infamous Woodstock ’94. As Gales star continued to rise, it seemed nothing could stand in his way.
Unfortunately, his immense talent and quick success was not without its pitfalls. Growing up in Memphis was a sometimes-dangerous prospect, Gales says, with temptations and influences that would ultimately put a stranglehold on his blossoming career. While drugs and rock & roll may be synonymous for some, Gales has explained in past interviews that it wasn’t the music and touring that brought him down, it was the down time in between where he felt the streets pull him back from the prosperous path he had found.
Gales was arrested for gun and drug possession and received probation in lieu of jail time. While he was permitted to leave the country for his Experience Hendrix tour in 2008, he was required to have regular urine screens sent to his probation officer to monitor his sobriety. Instead, Gales continued to use marijuana and ignored his probation.
Upon his return to the States, Gales was fully aware that a warrant had likely been issued for his arrest. Rather than looking over his shoulder in paranoia everywhere he went – or worse, risk being arrested on stage – Gales chose to turn himself in. After serving 21 months of a three-year sentence for probation violation, he was released in March of 2010 only to have yet another run in with the Memphis Police Department soon after.
Although he was thankful for his second chance at life and grateful to once again be free, the disease picked up where it left off. Only this time, the police had their eye on Gales. While unloading equipment for a performance, Memphis Police would arrest Gales under the suspicion his vehicle was being used to transport narcotics. After a search, police discovered Xanax and cocaine on Gales – derailing the guitar virtuoso’s career yet again.
In the wake of that arrest, Gales began to realize Memphis – despite its vibrant music scene and unique charm – was holding him back.
It was time for Gales to move on.
“I mean, it don’t have to be bad if you don’t allow it to be, I just got sucked into some bad things. I had to be ready myself,” he says of his hometown and its impact on sobriety. “Anything you do is not going to matter unless you’re ready.”
In the following years, Gales would meet his soon to be wife and have two daughters and by 2016, he quit drugs and alcohol completely. Finding a new lease on life, he refocused his energy on his family and craft. However, there truly was nothing left to hold Gales and his monstrous guitar back this time.
In 2017, Gales released Middle of the Road to critical acclaim. His first release since getting clean, the record reached # 1 on the iTunes Blues Chart and #4 on the Billboard Blues Chart – earning recognition from Classic Rock and Total Guitar magazines as Album of the Year. Gales was back in full force, proving to his critics that his brushes with the law did little to stop the creative typhoon within him – in fact, he was better than ever.
Recognizing his incredible return to the scene, Gales received the 2019 Blues Foundation Blues Rock Artist of the Year Award this May. While he says it’s possible, he could have won the award even during his most difficult struggles with substance abuse – he certainly wouldn’t have been able to appreciate it, or even be present at the ceremony in anything more than a physical sense.
“I probably wouldn’t have received it in the best way, fully there in the mind and aware of what’s going on,” Gales says.
Despite this, he feels that sobriety has made him an even better musician – though he had produced amazing music under the influence for many years. Every release is better than the last, he says, as he continues to evolve as both a person and a musician.
“I feel like there’s nothing in the way,” he says of getting clean. “The connection to the big man upstairs that flows through me, that [allows me] to give 100 percent.”
With Gales looking out on a bright horizon clear of the distractions and obstacles of his past, the virtuoso has decided to expand his musical resume beyond the face-melting guitar shredding that blew away the likes of Mick Jagger and countless other music legends. Nothing exemplifies the evolving artist better than his most recent album, Bookends, where he made a conscious effort to further explore his ability as a lyricist.
“I just tried to stretch the boundaries, man, do something different – put music out that I was inspired by.”
The song Somebody Lied captures the experience many of today’s youth struggle with, as they enter an economy lacking in good-paying jobs – all while still carrying the burden of seemingly endless student loan debt on their shoulders. While college for previous generations provided an almost surefire path to the American Dream, the song gives voice to the millions of young adults discovering they were fed a false hope.
“Social media has been a great tool as far as informing us,” he says, but has also given a voice to those with racist and oppressive agendas. “Especially when Trump got into office. I’m not going to blame him for it all, but I’m just going to say he has brought people to speak out loud about stuff that has existed for quite a while.”
While the inequality driving the demise of the American Dream has existed for some time, Gales says he was inspired to write the song to give a voice to a situation rapidly deteriorating for many in today’s America.
“That’s basically what it is, [I] just spoke about things that are happening in the world today.”
While Gales has dipped his musical toes in countless pools, Bookends represents a clear beginning and end to his musical evolution. Far from being just another album in his already large discography, the record represents a Gales with more energy, confidence and passion than ever before.
The final track of the album, Resolution, Is not only the perfect bookend for his powerful new album, the beautiful instrumental takes the listener on a sonic journey through the genius mind of an artist no longer encumbered by the demons of his past. At peace with himself and resolved to share even more melodic love with the world, the track not only serves as the perfect summation and epilogue of his powerful new record – but also as a euphonious snapshot in time of the new Eric Gales.
“[It’s] something that soothes you, calms you. It’s just the end song that closes the book,” he explains of the album’s concluding track. “You read a good book [and] the last chapter, it basically just calms you down from everything that happened in the book and puts your right to sleep.”
Presented by Plattsburgh Blues & Jazz, Eric Gales will be performing at the Strand Center for the Arts Theatre on Saturday, Nov. 23 at 7:30 p.m. Opening for Gales is special guests the Paul DesLauriers Band. Tickets are $20 in advance and $25 the day of the show and can be purchased by calling (518) 563-1604 (ext. 105) or online at strandcenter.org.