The wild and crazy life of Eric Gales has been well documented, but through it all, his guiding light has been a passion for music. From humble beginnings as a child prodigy and talent-show winner in his hometown of Memphis to performing with Billy Cox on the Experience Hendrix tour, his desire has been unshakable. Record company woes, the tragic death of his brother, Little Jimmy King, jail time, and lack of hit singles have not tarnished his musical gifts.
At the age of 40, Gales remains on the radar because of sheer talent, will, and a tireless desire to express his artistry. Despite having a lower profile than his media-genic blues-rock competitors, Gales gives you the impression that he’d be making music regardless of his level of fame or notoriety. “You give me a Pignose amp and a Fender Squire, and I’m gonna make some music!” says Gales. “It don’t matter what I play. God has given me a gift and I play the same way for two people on a street corner or 10,000 at a festival.”
As a black guitarist who plays left-handed, he’ll likely never shake the Hendrix comparisons, but discerning listeners hear a much broader and deeper plethora of influences. It’s earned him projects playing onstage with neo-soul artist Lauryn Hill and recording two hard-rock albums with King’s X bassist Dug Pinnick and the band PGP.
“Don’t get me wrong. I love me some Jimi Hendrix, but I’m much more than that,” explains Gales. “I came up listening to Frank Marino, Robin Trower, and Stevie Ray Vaughan, but Eric Johnson is my all-time favorite.”
His partnership with producer Mike Varney bore seven albums and various group projects that displayed visceral guitar playing and down home sincerity, while maintaining an economic foothold in the blues marketplace. Gales and Varney made some killer records, but their business relationship eventually came to a close. “Mike and I are still tight, but he always told me that his label could only take me so far. I got an offer to go with Cleopatra Records, and I got his blessing.”
The deal with Cleopatra marks a new chapter. Given creative control of his music, they asked, “Who would you like to work with?”
“I’ve always wanted to work with Raphael Saadiq,” he said. “He’s a great friend and one of the most-talented producers and artists in the music business. I went to his studio and he played a bunch of stuff for me he was producing for other people. He works all the time. He told me to pick out whatever I wanted to play on. It was an honor to work with him. He helped me to make the best record of my career.”
Good For Sumthin’ is a diverse blues-rock album that delivers in the guitar department, but it’s also an honest reflection of Gales’ life and state of mind.
“I’ve had my share of being in trouble and going to jail, but that was then and I’m still here,” he said. “This is a record that I put my heart and soul into, and I’m very proud of it. I’m still standing. God has blessed me. The name says it all – I’m good for somethin’.”
An autobiographical record, Gales had help with lyrics from Varney and his older brother, Eugene Gales, along with backup vocals from his wife, LaDonna. “The song ‘1019’ is the story of my life,” he said.
With Saadiq’s encouragement, Gales explores his soul-rock influences in greater depth on songs like “You Give Me Life” and “Tonight (I’m Leaving).” Saadiq’s beautifully lush production and R&B pedigree pushes Gales further in this direction with its deep funk, while the acoustic “Show Me How” displays his softer side with all his signature guitar flourishes intact. He also covers “Miss You” by the Rolling Stones, embellishing it with a unique spin.
Good For Sumthin’ includes surprise guests and guitar head-cuttin’. “I’m a big fan of Zakk Wylde and I was honored to have him play on ‘Steep Climb.’ I also sent Eric Johnson a track called ‘E2 (Note For Note)’ and he put magic on it! I’ve been inspired by him for a long time.”
What’s next for Gales?
“I’m going to stay on the road and tour with this record for as long as I can.”
This article originally appeared in VG‘s May 2015 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.