Joe Bonamassa calls him “one of the best, if not the best guitar player in the world.” Carlos Santana calls him “absolutely incredible.” Yet Eric Gales, who, as a child prodigy released his first album at 16, is more modest about himself. About the release of his 2019 album, The Bookends, Gales acknowledged a challenge: “As a guitar player, it’s been established that I can play a little bit, just a little bit,” he said.
For this album, he wanted more, to push himself as a musician and a vocalist. Joined by B. Slade, Doyle Bramhall II and Beth Hart, The Bookends topped the charts and Gales won the Blues Music Award for Blues Rock Artist of the Year. It was a, well, “Bookend” to an amazing journey.
Gales grew up in Memphis in a religious household and while his mother was at church, brothers Eugene and Manuel, later known as Little Jimmy King, blasted out Hendrix, Cream, Muddy Waters, Albert King, John Lee Hooker, Kings’s X and Stevie Ray Vaughan. He was only 4, but he soaked up a grounding in the blues, hard rock and psychedelia. A right-handed player, he learned his distinctive left-handed upside down style from his brothers.
At 16, Gales’ talent attracted Elektra Records, which released his debut album, The Eric Gales Band, in 1991. He released two more albums in the 1990s, Picture of a Thousand Faces, and Left Hand Band and then worked on a variety of projects including performing as Lil E with hip hop collectives Prophet Posse and Triple 6 Mafia.
In the 2000s, the prolific Gales released albums almost yearly. In 2009, he spent time in jail for possession of drugs and a weapon. It was a turning point. “While I was in there, all the officers and guards were like, ‘Bro, you know this isn’t where you’re supposed to be. When you get out of here, go take the world by the horns and ride it all the way out.’ It took a couple of years after but I’m here. ‘”
Gales continued recording and touring, including a turn as part of the Experience Hendrix Tour, holding his own against some of the greatest guitarists in the world. “The tours were a great experience, but ultimately what they done for me is to help me get myself back together so I can go out and pack out those venues myself, that other artists on the tour were packing out.”
His 2017 album Middle of the Road, reached Number 1 on the iTunes Blues chart and Number 4 on the Billboard Blues chart. As he tours with The Bookends, he proudly tells the story of several years of sobriety and how it has affected his work. “I guess the songs would answer the question,” he said, “I definitely don’t have anything clouding my view and it’s definitely a much more pure place it’s coming from.”
As for performing live, Gales gives it everything he’s got. “I try to push myself as hard as I can, especially live,” he said. “It’s like an extreme work out for me. It’s like something else takes over. When I hit the stage, some other person is on that stage for some reason. I’m there physically as a witness, but mentally, it’s another person.”
Gales is known as the guitarists’ favorite guitarist, and for one night, you can hear an artist at his peak.