Eric Gales is a blues firebrand. The man Joe Bonamassa calls “one of the best, if not the best, guitar player in the world” has continued to reinvigorate the blues with a personal revelation of his struggles in his lyrics and bold stylistic twists in his guitar playing and songwriting. In a career of more than three decades, he has produced 18 albums and earned the respect of some of the greatest guitarists in the world, including Carlos Santana, Dave Navarro and Mark Tremonti. He is a guitarists’ guitarist.
Gales was a child prodigy who released his first album at 16. He 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 and Stevie Ray Vaughan. He was only 4, but he soaked up a grounding in the blues and hard rock. A right-handed player, he learned his distinctive left-handed upside-down style from his brothers. At 16, his talent attracted Elektra records, which released that debut album, The Eric Gales Band, in 1991. He continued recording through the 1990s and performed as Lil E with Hip-Hop Collectives Prophet Posse and Triple 6 Mafia.
In the 2000s, Gale 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 there, all of 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, but I’m here.”
Gales continued recording and touring. His 2017 album, Middle of the Road, reached Number 1 on the iTunes Blues Chart and number 4 on the Billboard Blues chart. His 2019 work, The Bookends, topped the charts and Gales won the Blues Music Awards for Blues Artist of the Year. He credits his hard-won sobriety for the clarity of his work.
Now Gales has a new work, I Want My Crown, released in January 2022. He opens up as never before, sharing his struggles with substance abuse, his hopes for a new era of sobriety and unbridled creativity and his personal reflections on racism. The songs ring clear and true and feature Gale’s hope for positive change. The 16- track collection boasts his finest singing, songwriting, and signature guitar playing. Produced by Joe Bonamassa and Josh Smith, this is Eric Gales at his most confident, vulnerable and political.
I Want My Crown comes out of notes he and Bonamassa made of their thoughts after the George Floyd murder. “What made George Floyd any different from me?” he asked. “As I began to chat about this and that to Josh and joe, raw and unnerved emotion came out of me and Joe furiously wrote down notes. These songs came from those outpourings. They’re about my life and what’s happening in the world right now. When it came time to sing, I had to take breaks between vocals to cry and let it out. I was sharing my experiences as a Black man and my private struggles. This is me letting the world know what I’ve been through.”
Gales is known for giving his all, whether recording or for live performances.
“I try to push myself as hard as I can, especially live,” he said. “It’s like an extreme workout for me. It’s like something else physically 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.”
You can hear that person celebrate both triumph and tragedy as he gives everything he’s got and then gives some more. Other guitarists love to hear him play, and for one night, you can, too.