Since 1991, the Memphis-born Gales has redefined the language of blues guitar with stunning virtuosity and on-the-edge musical daring, combining the influences of Albert King and Jimi Hendrix with an infusion of the harmonically complex sounds of jazz and classical music, all delivered with a combination of emotional intensity and masterful precision. When he was just 16, Gales released his Elektra Records debut, The Eric Gales Band , instantly earning high praise as a guitarists’ guitarist. Over the course of 30 years and 18 albums, his passion for the guitar and his boundless desire to keep his music vital has never waned. But like so many before him, the track of his career was derailed numerous times due to substance abuse. “I put myself in the backseat through my drug addiction,” Gales says candidly. In 2009, he hit bottom and served jail time at Shelby County Correctional Center outside of Memphis for possession of drugs and a weapon.
Now five years sober, a rejuvenated Gales is set to release Crown [January 28, via Provogue/Mascot Label Group], the strongest album of his career in terms of songwriting, singing and his signature explosive guitar playing. Produced by Joe Bonamassa and Josh Smith, Crown showcases Gales sharing his feelings of positivity and dedication as well as his reflections on the fraught state of the world today. The album was recorded in Nashville at Ocean Way and Sound Emporium studios.
What led up to making this new record with Joe Bonamassa as producer?
Back in 2019, Joe had invited me to join him on a blues cruise, where we did an impromptu jam during his song “The Battle of John Henry.” A video of the performance hit social media and within 10 days, it was up to 3 million views! The world took to that very, very well.
You and Joe became friends way back at the start of your careers, yes?
Yes. Our history as friends and musical compatriots goes back over 27 years. At that time, he was playing in a group called Bloodline, with the sons of Robbie Krieger, Miles Davis and Berry Oakley [Waylon, Berry Jr. and Erin, respectively], and I met Joe when they opened up for me.
On the blues cruise, Joe and I did an interview together. Beforehand, I had said to my wife, “Babe, I’m just going to throw this at Joe: Will you produce my next record?” The worst thing that could happen is that he’s going to tell me “no” — but he’s going to have to say “no” in front of a thousand people! I sort of backed him into a corner, but the truth is I couldn’t have gotten him to do something he didn’t already want to do. He said to me, “You have no idea how long I’ve been waiting and watching. You are a badass guitarist; it would be more than an honor for me to help you get your rightfully deserved seat at the table.” And we cried when we talked about it. He said, “I am going to do my part to lift you up where you’re supposed to be. I think your head is in the right position for the crown to properly fit.”
It was a great day. I asked, “What would it cost me to get you to produce my record?” he said, “First of all, I’m not cheap.” I said, “OK, name the price.” He said, “All I require is two Diet Cokes.” I went back to my suite and said, “Babe, let’s get two Diet Cokes right fast!” I took them back to him and said, “Deal!” We shook hands and that was it.
Something that comes through on many of the tracks on the new album is autobiographical stuff about your personal struggles as well as the nature of the world today. Songs like “The Storm,” “Stand Up,” “Survivor,” “My Own Best Friend” and “You Don’t Know the Blues” represent you revealing different aspects of your life, along with your feelings about the world.
My brother Eugene, who was with me in the original Eric Gales Band, was my mentor. He taught me that the best thing I can do is to write about what I know about. I could make up something, but there’s no better material than personal experience.
There’s a world out there that’s being heavily consumed by addiction, of many types and many forms. I think it is a large enough subject for the world to relate to — if not directly through one’s own struggles, then indirectly through the struggles of those around us. Many of us have close family members or best friends that are going through the stuff I am talking about.
Now, there’s that stuff. But there is also a heavy cloud that’s been hanging over the United States for quite some time in regards to race relations and the politics of race relations. I was overly compelled to touch on things of that nature because the day before we started writing for this record was the day George Floyd died. That event, as we all know, caused a cataclysmic, epic circumstance of events that not only affected Minnesota, it affected the USA. And let’s go bigger than that: it affected the entire world. To look on CNN and see people across the globe saying, “I’ve had enough of this,” I think George Floyd’s death brought attention to other countries that have been dealing with the same issues forever.
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