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Interview: Eric Gales - Alive and Relentless

October 5, 2010


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.





So you broke probation by not checking in while on tour?

Right. My probation order allowed me to still leave the country, leave the city, go tour, and play and all that. I was just supposed to send in a UA from out of town occasionally, and I didn’t do it.

And you turned yourself in rather than deal with the warrant. They would have come looking for you.

Exactly. It wouldn’t have been comfortable for me to go play anywhere without them being able to easily find me.

You’d have to run off the stage after you finished playing the last note.

[Laughing] Right. And nothing would’ve stopped them from coming to get me onstage while I was playing! I didn’t want to go through all that.

Do you think this was all for the best?

No doubt, man! I’ve got some things in my life that are going really great. I’m in a place called Christ Recovery Center out here in Minnesota. I’m doing really well, grasping on and ascertaining the tools that I need to get out there and be a productive person and great musician that God intended for me to be. I’m going to be here until the beginning of November. I came July first and I will have been here four months by then. I will have met all the requirements and graduated from the program. Mid-November is when the tour and all that stuff starts.

I have a lot of people still in my corner that are waiting for me to graduate so I can go on the road and take care of business. With this new record, there’s a whole lot of buzz going on about the comeback of Eric Gales. I’m here for the long haul. I’ve come to the realization that there were a lot of things that went on in my life, and I’m very fortunate to even still be here. I’m just going to take that and channel all that through playing, and just giving back the best way I know how, and that’s through music, and just doin’ it different.

Being sober is the “in thing” now to me. There are countless other artists out there that are doing the sober thing. There are a lot doin’ it the other way too, but I know it doesn’t work out for me that way. So, I’m very excited about the new album and the way I’m choosing to view it. I just want everybody to know reading this that Eric Gales is very well and alive. Look out for me coming to a city or town near you, starting in November.

It takes a lot of strength and support to overcome drug addiction.

It’s not only me, it’s all the friends I have that are supportive. It’s a “we” thing. It’s a lot of support that I got from my friends, my wife, my family, my daughter, and my assistant. The people that I have working for me, they’re all about checking and making sure that everything is going how it’s supposed to go. We’re looking forward to this new launch and it’s going to be a major one. A lot of anticipation is coming behind when I get out and hit the road. I’m so stoked.

What led you to drugs?

It had nothing to do with the music industry. It was when I got to chillin’ and just being idle. It was when I got off the road and wasn’t doing much of anything, and being intrigued with the street life. That’s what it was. It was me wanting to be a people pleaser and hang out in the street. Hang out with those “partners” that were supposed to be my friends, but they really weren’t.

They were hanging around Eric, and knew he was going‘ to have something [drugs]. Now it’s a whole other avenue. I’ve got people that want to hang around me because of what I’m doing for myself, and how I’m living my life, and want to be around me because of the talent that I have. I had people who wanted to do that before, but I was clouding that in my mind with all kinds of other stuff. I don’t have to do that, and it’s so much clearer now.

I have people like Two Rock looking at me. These are guys that deal with John Mayer, Joe Bonamassa, Robben Ford, and all these other cats. I am so very proud of myself and very thankful to have people like this in my corner. Jimmy Dunlop, St. Blues Guitars—all the way across the board. They’re there because they see something. They believe in me and I believe in myself. When I sit back and listen to this record, I listen to it as though I’m not the one that recorded it. By far, it’s a fast and amazing record.

Your guitar sounds bigger than on your past releases.

I agree. I like everything I put out, but when I can say that each record sounds better than the one before, that must mean I’m continually doing something better. I’m going in the right direction.

What is it about Two Rock amps that you like?

Two Rock brought the whole arsenal, dude! They brought everything they have up to Prairie Sun Studios in Cotati, and I just started plugging in. They’re predominately known for a different sound than I use.

What sound is that?

Like the Dumble sound that John Mayer has on his more recent stuff, Robben Ford—those type of sounds. When he heard me doing what I do, he went back to the drawing board and said, “Dude, I wanna make you an amp, and I want to incorporate more gain.” It still gets clean, too, and that’s exactly what I was looking for. You get the woody tone coming out of the amps, along with a nice crunchy rhythm, and a boost that enhances the solo sounds.

That video [Two Rock shot with Gales] is semi-instructional, if you ask me. We were just talking and they said, “Can you just play a little bit so we can put this online to show how you feel about this amp?” I said, “Sure.” Even through the mic on the video camera, you can still hear the tone coming through the video. You can hear exactly what I’m talking about at any volume—I couldn’t ask for anything better. I’m so content with them.

Your signature amp is a two-channel amp?

Two channels—clean and dirty.

What’s the clean like?

Clean is like a Marshall. Like “Hey Joe.” [Sings the guitar intro to Hendrix’s version of “Hey Joe”]. It doesn’t have Celestions, but it has a Celestion sound. They make their own Tone Tubby speakers. I haven’t had a chance to take them out on the road because I came here to get myself together.




I know it’s the delay, but your records never sound dry.

It’s because of the delay on there. I love delay. It’s gotta be set right though. I like playing something and having it answer back to me in a slow pace. It makes it better for me to be able to channel. That’s the best way I can describe my enthusiasm for delay.

Tell me about your number one guitar.

My number one is the black one that I was playing in the Two Rock video. It’s a St. Blues and it’s patterned off a Strat. It just gives me what I’m looking for. I like my action as low as I can get it without fret buzz. I tune down to E flat, I use 10 – 46 strings, and I just go for it.

The way I grew up, it don’t matter what [the gear] is. It could be a Sears Silvertone and a Pignose amp. It ain’t what it is, it’s what you can do with it. St. Blues is from Memphis, I’m from Memphis, so why not go with a hometown place. They are waiting on me to graduate from treatment, and they’re already putting together the schematics and the layout for the Eric Gales model.

What’s going to be different about the Eric Gales model?

It may be a left-handed body with a right-handed neck—maybe. I’m still not sure yet. It’s going to have my flaming guitar logo on it, and it’s going to have some really damn good sounding pickups in it. I’m talking with Seymour Duncan right now to see what they’ve got as far as vintage-sounding single-coils. I use a diversity of pickups. Whatever sounds great is what I roll with.

What are you using on the floor?

I’m using a Dunlop Jerry Cantrell Wah, a Dunlop Jimi Hendrix Octavio, and a Chandler Digital Delay. I go stereo out of that into the Two Rock. My feed out goes into two Two Rock 100-watt heads. It’s not necessarily for the volume, but the volume is there if I want it. It’s there for the fullness. I have two 2x12 cabinets, but they’re going to start making me some 4x12 cabinets.

You’ve gone through some heavy shit. How has this influenced Relentless?

It tells the story. I was able to channel. I was hungry and ready to get what I was feeling out. I believe we captured a really good vibe of intensity and relentlessness. I think Relentless is a great title for this album. I think it describes exactly how the intensity of this record came about.

Any advice for anybody struggling with drugs?

I’m really glad you asked that question because this is what I really want to promote. I would like for people coming up who are going through the circle of what I’m going through, to see that you can overcome these obstacles in life. I want somebody to say, “If he can do it, I can do it.”

I never thought I would have been that person. I’m just keeping myself on the straight and narrow, for the powerful message for the next person to be able to say, “That’s who I look up to.” Not for my skills or talent, but me as a human being addressing things that are going on in my life. I’m standing up to them, and I’m handling it in the right way.

After interviewing Eric Gales, I wanted to get the lowdown on his new signature amp. I got in touch with Two Rock Guitar Amplification and spoke to tone guru Bill Krinard.

How did you meet Eric Gales?

He was recording at a local studio. I was working on a prototype amp that I thought would be good for Eric. I met him working on the previous album when he used a different Two Rock amplifier. I brought an amp down that had a similar architecture. He really liked it a lot and used it on the album. After that we decided to do a signature model together.

What did he want on the signature model that wasn’t on the prototype?

He wanted less stuff. Our amplifiers have a lot of options, switches, and different EQs. Eric was not into that. He just wanted a live performance amplifier with the same vibe, but all the controls on the front. He wanted a clean tone, an overdriven chunky chord thing, then he wanted full on. He wanted the amplifier to have three different possibilities.

Tell me about the features.

The Eric Gales amp is really not about features. It’s more about his signature sound. It’s an EL34-based amp with a special transformer made for it. It has some of the prettiness of some 6L6 amplifiers, but more controlled and a little more of a compressed EL34 thing. It’s pretty explosive compared to a Marshall, and real responsive.

How many models are there?

We make three versions: A 100-watt, 50-watt, and then a 50-watt with dual rectifiers. Eric uses the 100-watt. On the album he used the 50-watt with dual rectifiers. When we figured out all the different things he wanted, we built him some prototypes. He played them all, then we further tweaked the one that he liked. He liked the 100-watt better.

Tell me about the channel switching.

It’s a two-channel amplifier with no reverb but there are separate tone controls for both channels. It’s pretty versatile. It’s not three channels, but when you hit the tone bypass it does some re-EQing at the same time. He uses the lead channel for his rhythm tone, and the lead with the bypass for his high-gain tone. When you hit the bypass it bypasses the tone circuit. It changes some EQ, opens up the bass and treble controls, and adds a little something back in.

You can go anywhere from a real clean tone to pretty nasty. It maintains a sweetness even at high gain, but maintains harmonic structure. It doesn’t get so compressed that you can’t tell one note from another, or one guitar from another. It still has that clarity.

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