Eric Gales’ new release, Crystal Vision, is an autobiographical blues-rock tour de force with inspired twists and turns. Long labeled by myopic music critics as a Hendrix knock-off, Gales actually has a closer affinity to Little Jimmy King or the Tone Ranger himself, Eric Johnson.
Crystal Vision is Gales’ turbulent continuing saga, told through impassioned songwriting and jaw-dropping guitar virtuosity. It’s the release his fans have been long waiting for.
Vintage Guitar: How did Crystal Vision come about?
Eric Gales: I’d done eight months of some intense s***, laid up on my back in order to look up to the big man upstairs. Mike Varney president of Shrapnel Records was very interested in sticking with me. We went in with no prior material. I arrived and stayed for four weeks. All pre-production was done in one week. I had one tune and another one that was mainly grooves.
Had you worked with Varney before?
Never met him, or better yet – never even heard of him! He’s worked with some great guitar players; Greg Howe, Tony MacAlpine, Paul Gilbert, Yngwie Malmsteen, Robben Ford – all the way across the board! While we were doing the session and getting tones together, we felt a direct connection.
Did you co-write the songs with Varney?
Oh, yeah! Lyric-wise, it basically summarizes my autobiography, to be quite honest. Musically, I’m very hands-on about arrangements, composing, and construction. As far as ideas for melodies, I don’t mind having a collaboration with anybody who’s savvy enough to help bring out words I might lack, or help me sing something I’m trying to talk about. There wasn’t a decision made that Mike didn’t make sure was okay with me. He listened to what I had to say, because I’m the artist and I have to be the one living with this for the rest of my life. I have to be happy with it.
It’s the best association in a relationship. I’m rubbing elbows with a record company president, as opposed to having to go through an A&R person who has to go through their vice president, who has to have approval from their president. F*** the middleman! I’m right there with the powers that be, one on one! A man with a connection!
He’s a great dude, he was there for it, and we put a fantastic collection together. I couldn’t be happier about it.
What does the album’s title mean to you?
Crystal Vision is an autobiography of where I come from. It’s a great overall title of my whole outlook on approaching this record. I’m talking about this record like it ain’t even me – it’s like an out-of-body experience, especially when I’m playing live. It’s like going through a phase of astroplaning, when you’re standing outside yourself and can actually observe yourself doing what you’re doing.
It sounds kinda psychic, Ouija board, hoodoo, Hindu-type s*** [laughs]! But it’s really amazing. I give praise to the big man upstairs for giving my moms and pops some special juice that not only allowed me, but my fellow siblings and my whole family, to play with Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters back in the day. It’s rare to have, in one family, three different record deals.
It’s a lot more blues-based than your last record. Was that natural for you?
It’s natural to me to be eclectic. This is the most satisfactory eclectic record that I’ve put out. Each CD I put out is supposed to be a step up the ladder to the next level. On the song “Trouble,” I’m telling the f***ing truth! “I don’t want no trouble, trouble always looking for me.” The first line says it all. If I died today I would be a happy man because of the things that I’ve done. Knock on wood to say this, but a cat don’t have s*** on me as far as having nine lives! There’s definitely something left here for me to do because there’s been many times where I shoulda’ and coulda’ been outta here. This is through things that have been happening by way of doing time, by way of being killed, by way of being hurt, by way of being maimed, or being afflicted.
What kind of gear are you using?
Man, all I use is a Fisher Price and a Sears Silver Tone [laughs]! I almost want to swear by the rackmount POD. It can simulate any sound, any tone! On the record, I used Amp Farm, a vintage ’59 Marshall half-stack, and a Fender tweed Bassman, back and forth on different songs. The majority was Amp Farm because it emulated at least 10 different guitar sounds that I’d want to emulate.
For guitars, I use Fender Custom Shops. I use to have my own model, a left-handed bottom and a right-handed neck. I’m left handed and I play upside down. I like those old Fender Relics because I like the old beat up guitars. I’ll put some Texas Special pickups in there or some Van Zandts, but it’s what you do with it. You could have a Sears Silvertone and a Pignose, and you got to get the job done. It’s what you got, so you got to make the best of it.
Photo: Steve Jennings.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Sep. ’06 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.