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Eric Gales brings The Hendrix. He’s that natural breed of guitarist who can pick up anything and sound good playing it. Born into a family with an innate sense of musicality and soul, his playing has always been miles beyond mere mechanics and licks. Even as a teenager he was talented beyond his years. He understood what it was all about, while backing it up with a freakish ability to play the hell out of a guitar. He feels the music, serves it back, and we absorb every note. We experience his soul.
His story reads like a great American novel, full of successes, tragedy, downfall, and redemption. Through it all, Gales‘ art mirrors his life. His albums are personal diaries of his tumultuous life and times in the grand tradition of the great bluesmen of old. He plays every note like he means it, and his life and music are synonymous.
Eric Gales was gone for a while but now he’s back. His latest album Relentless, is an intense and hard-hitting record reflecting his recent incarceration and his road to overcoming his personal demons. It’s about his tenacious fight to survive dark places and move forward into the light.
How have you been?
I’m ok man. I’m living a new life and everything is going good. I’m really proud of this new record.
What was your state of mind while you were recording?
I was really excited. I had just come from a year and a half hiatus. I had to go lay it down for a little minute. I came straight out [of prison], went to San Francisco, and started recording. I think it’s the best thing I ever did because we went in full throttle and pumped out a great record. It took fifteen days to do this record.
The songs were written beforehand?
No. We got into pre-production and worked the songs up. We had general ideas, but between me and Mike Varney, we wrote all the songs together. We belted them out and had some really great musicians. Aaron Haggerty and Steve Evans played drums and bass.
You were in the joint for a year and a half.
Yeah, on a three-year sentence. I served all of my time—21 months taking care of a three-year sentence. You only do a percentage.
I bet you were ready to play some guitar when you got out.
Oh yeah. One of the interesting things that happened while I was in there is that the warden found out who I was. While I was in there, I was the start of him creating a prison band. We were able to go out to different places and play for the last seven months of me being there. So it really wasn’t like I was incarcerated.
Where did you play?
We didn’t play clubs. We played for the mayor, the city, festivals, and stuff like that. It got to be a big rave in the papers about how Eric Gales is doin’ his time, but he’s payin’ back by performing, givin’ his time to contribute back to society, and things of that nature. It was something that had never been done. It was kinda like a Johnny Cash Walk the Line thing.
How was your prison band?
Man, it was a really great group of guys that had to audition to be in the band. They came together and we were doing everything from R&B to rock ‘n’ roll to gospel—everything. It was just a great avenue to get out and see the free world. Our loved ones could come and visit us. It wasn’t all a bad thing while I was there. It wasn’t jail—they called it a penal farm [Shelby County Division of Corrections] where I was, and I was the penal farm celebrity.
So you had to return to your cell every night, but they would let you out so you could play guitar.
Oh, yeah. St. Blues Guitars is who I’m endorsed by, so they came and donated some guitars to the place. The guys that are still there are playing those guitars. That was cool of them to do that—instruments, drums, amps, and everything.
You never really lost any ground, then? You were playing guitar the whole time.
Yeah. I wasn’t doin’ my music, but I was keeping my chops up.
Basically, you paid your debt to society by being in a cover band.
[Laughing] Yeah. I kind of didn’t have a choice because the warden knew what kind of accolades that I had and it was like, “We can use this to your advantage while you’re here, and make your time be a whole lot easier.” Every other day we were going out somewhere to play, and if we weren’t going out somewhere, we were rehearsing every day. It was a cool thing. If you go do some time, that’s how I would suggest it be done.
Was this experience good for you?
Oh yeah. When you got nothin’ to do it just weighs on you heavy, man. It was a great outlet every day to be able to go in and put that towards music. I’m just really appreciative to all the people down there at the penal farm for what they allowed me to do, and channel what I do—even in the confines of gates and brick walls.
Take me back to what led you to being incarcerated.
What originally happened was that I was caught with a gun. I was caught with some coke, some pills, and a few other things that I originally got probation for. I had got a nice chunk of money from a record advance, and I went out feeling ten feet tall and bulletproof. I was behind the wheel, and the cops got behind me and I had all kinds of stuff in the car. So when I was doing the Experience Hendrix tour, I was supposed to report to the probation officer and do a monthly UA (Urine Analysis) and stuff like that, and I didn’t do that. There would have been a warrant out for me, so two days after I got off the tour, I turned myself in—not knowing that I was going to have to do the remainder of my time, but that’s what wound up happening.