When Eric Gales first got his hands on a guitar, he turned it upside down and played it left-handed, something that would become a signature part of his technique as a player. By the time he learned that he was doing something that was technically wrong, there was no going back; it felt right to him so he stuck with it, which was a good thing, because even at a young age, the word of Gales' talents as a guitarist were spreading quickly.
At 16 years of age, he released his first album on Elektra Records in 1991 as the namesake behind the Eric Gales Band, a unit which also featured his older brother Eugene. The Memphis-based group's bluesy rock sound was well received and it ultimately released two albums on Elektra, receiving airplay on rock radio with tracks like "Sign of the Storm" and "Paralyzed."
Those were the opening steps for Gales, whose riffs would attract the attention of guitar gods like Eric Clapton and Carlos Santana. He's released 12 albums in the two decades that have passed since then. If you've fallen out of touch with his catalog of music, Good For Sumthin', his latest album which was released in October, is a really good place to pick up the story. Produced by Grammy winning producer and artist Raphael Saadiq, Good For Sumthin' finds Gales in a particularly solid creative space. As he told us during a midnight conversation from Poland, where he was on tour, he's really happy with how things came together.
"Everything in its entirety was written within a couple of months," he says. "It unfolded really quickly and the ideas were just flourishing. [I called] my brother Eugene, who was very instrumental in the lyrics for this record on a few songs. Musically, it was just coming out."
The songwriting collaboration between Eric and Eugene was a reunion of sorts. The pair hadn't written together since the Eric Gales Band days, but to hear him tell the story, it was like no time had passed at all.
"It's been a while and it was refreshing to have the collaboration with my older brother happen again and he hadn't lost it at all," Gales said. "You know, we wind up making this connection happen again and there's some great songs, man. There was some stuff that I already had that I sent to him and I told him, 'I think I want you to rewrite something for it,' and he said, 'You know what? I don't think this needs rewriting — this sounds great to me.' Songs like 'You Give Me Life': I sent him that one to rewrite and he said, 'Man, there is nothing wrong with this — this is a hit! I think you should keep what you've got.' Different areas of expertise were used in different ways on this album and the end result was amazing."
The choice to have Saadiq produce ended up being another strong move and he brought a lot to the table, both with his talents and as a longtime friend and fan of Gales' music. Gales says that Saadiq came equipped with "massive wisdom with all of his knowledge and expertise from the many different projects that he's done." Sometimes, all it took was an occasional moment of reassurance from his friend.
"You know, I'd look to my dude like, 'What do you think about this,' and I get that look, like, 'That's it, right there -- that's it!' That's all I needed to hear from him. I've been a fan of Raphael and everything he's done for a long time."
In recent years, Gales has been a featured player on the Experience Hendrix tour, and he nabbed a couple of his tour mates, Zakk Wylde and Eric Johnson, to play on the new album. As a lifelong fan of Johnson's work, Gales was particularly thrilled to get the chance to work with him on the instrumental "E2 (Note for Note)."
"I sat as a kid when I lived in my mom and dad's house and said, 'Man, I can't imagine ever being at that level.' Now, we share riffs and we share licks and ideas and now we're on a song together that's on my record. I never would have thought that in my wildest dreams. It's unbelievable."
It was October 1993 when Gales played his last Cleveland-area gig at the Draft House (which became the Odeon shortly after that). A December touring run in support of Good For Sumthin' will finally bring Gales back to town for a show at Wilberts, and because it's only been 21 years since his last show here, it's probably a gig that you don't want to miss. Gales promises that he'll deliver a show worth coming out for.
"I can't wait to hit the States over the head and show them what Good For Sumthin' means, and Ohio is going to be one of the ones that get hit first with this 8.9 blast on the Richter scale. I plan on shakin' 'em up and shakin' up real good. Ohio won't be the same."