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Eric Gales: 'Middle of the Road' Full Album Premiere

Eric Gales plays his custom Magneto Sonnet upside down. It has Jason Lollar pickups and he strings it with Dunlop medium sets (.010–.046). Gales also paired up with DV Mark on a signature 100-watt amp called the Raw Dawg EG.
Photo by Nicole Weingart

Hear the untraditional blues-guitar beacon’s new collection of inspirational songs, which includes collaborations with Gary Clark Jr. and Lauryn Hill.

Tweets like Dave Navarro’s “How @EricGalesBand isn’t the hugest name in rock history is a mystery,” and Joe Bonamassa’s “One of the best if not the best guitarist in the world today ‪@EricGalesBand,” confirm what many insiders have known for years—Eric Gales is an absolute monster of a guitar player.

While he’s often classified as a blues guitarist, Gales’ unorthodox style goes far beyond tired I-IV-V boogie shuffle. Sure, like the best of the blues greats, with a soulful bend, Gales can make even the most stone-hearted person cry. But his unique signature style—which includes playing a regularly strung guitar upside down—also draws upon jazz, classical, and shred influences, and adds a virtuosic touch, uncommon to the blues. The magic here is that, unlike many of his chops-laden peers, Gales’ impossibly fluid runs never sound forced or out of place.

Throughout the years, Gales has battled addictions and run-ins with the law, but he’s recently turned his life around. “I feel really good about myself, which is something I haven’t felt in a long time. I cleaned up my life,” Gales says. “I just had enough and tried another way, and it’s working for me.” Middle of the Road, his latest release, reflects a newfound clarity, and showcases his eclectic style presented in the context of great songwriting (the cathartic, soul-searching “Been So Long” was a collaboration with Lauryn Hill). Guests include teen blues-phenom Christone “Kingfish” Ingram on “Help Yourself,” and Gary Clark Jr., who spars with Gales on a refreshingly reworked cover of “Boogie Man,” a song popularized by blues legend Freddie King.

Along with a new lease on life and a new album, Gales has many exciting things in the works. A collaboration with DV Mark sees the release of the signature Raw Dawg EG, a 100-watt, single-channel head (exclusive to Guitar Center).

Premier Guitar caught up with Gales, fresh off the Keeping the Blues Alive at Sea III cruise, where he took the stage alongside luminaries like Joe Bonamassa, Beth Hart, and Kirk Fletcher. Here he discusses more details behind the inspiration of Middle of the Road.

If Jimi Hendrix were alive today, what would he say about your playing?
I don’t know, man. It’s hard for me to get that perspective. I hope he would say, “Job well done, young man.” I just keep pushing forward. I think it’s going to elevate even more. Some people ask me how that could be possible, but I think it will. I think there’s going to be some great things to come.

Although you’re marketed primarily as a blues player, your vocabulary is a lot more diverse than that label might imply. The solo for “Change in Me (The Rebirth)” is a prime example of your unique approach.
I agree with you on that, and I leave it up to everybody else to figure that out. I just do what feels nice to me and what I’m inspired by, and how it comes out is how it comes out. It’s up to everybody else as to how to categorize it.

On Middle of the Road, Eric Gales documents his journey from a rocky road to a spiritual turnaround. “I feel the most free I’ve ever been in life, even more so than when I was a kid,” Gales says. Album guests include Gales’ older brother and mentor, Eugene Gales, Christone “Kingfish” Ingram, and Gary Clark Jr.

How would you describe your style?
I just like to think that it’s new. I don’t even have a category for it. Why not just classify it as Eric Gales? I kind of like that. It’s a fusion of everything I like, and this record here is a really great example of that.

Did you lock yourself in the practice room to get those long sequences you play tight and fast?
I’ve practiced quite a bit, coming up in life, and now it’s second nature. I never paid a lot of attention to it. It just comes out and I don’t have to think about it. It’s an extension of my soul.

What is the opening chord of the opener “Good Time?” It sounds like it’s got some open strings mixed with fretted notes.
I can’t tell you the name of the stuff. I just know it sounds good.

Your ultra-lyrical solo on the ballad “Help Me Let Go” sounds almost like you’re having a conversation with someone and we’re hearing your end of it.
Right, right, right. That was a song that was both easy and hard to do. Easy because the passion and emotion that comes from that song touches my own heart. This song had to make the record, there was no question about it. That could be a powerful single somewhere down the road as a song of inspiration. That’s the one thing we should all do—let go of whatever it is that we’re holding on to.

Gary Clark Jr. appears on “Boogie Man.” Tell us how that came about.
Me and Gary go back quite a way. I ran into him about a month-and-a-half before cutting this record, and I told him I had this track that I really would love for him to be a part of. I played him the original and he said, “Man, this is dope.” Actually that night, I was sitting in with him—he called me to sit in with him at his show in Raleigh (North Carolina) where he was opening up for Erykah Badu. He said, “Man, I’m absolutely a fan of yours and it would be a highlight of my life to be a part of this record.” We got together and it was amazing.

The trading section sounds like you two are playing with a lot of peer respect, trying not to step on each other’s toes, and more or less having a conversation with each other.
That was exactly the intention, and to have it fall into place like it did, at the end of the track, we were just sitting in awe. Quiet for like 15 minutes, like, “Wow, man. I think the world is really going to appreciate this.”

Yeah, there’s a part at the very end where you both are bending almost simultaneously in harmony.
Exactly. That kind of came on a whim, and we were like, “Man, that is so dope how we came together at the end and fused together to a climactic end.” In our lives, Gary and I have been doing things that are pretty powerful in our own way, but when you put us two together, it’s unstoppable.

“Repetition,” the track with your brother, Eugene, has a mysterious, almost jazzy vibe, with those diminished figures and chord swells.
That’s a bass riff that I came up with—I played bass on the whole record. I got my brother Eugene to collaborate with me on the lyrics and I said, “Why don’t you do the solo on it?” He said, “Are you serious?” And I said, “I think it will be very cool.” It has elements of Prince’s Sign O’ the Times. A lot of interviewers have been saying that to me. And why not pay homage to such a miraculous musician?

What was the idea behind the hypnotic, trance-like closer, “The Swamp”—the only instrumental on the album, and one without an actual guitar solo?
I tell you, if you have the opportunity to see it live, it’s mesmerizing. The crowd gives me, like, a 15-minute standing ovation and it’s very hard to calm them down after playing that song. I don’t close with it but maybe I should. It’s like at the middle end of the set and people lose their minds, man. It’s a song that brings about great joy, inspiration, and happiness. That’s the intention of the song. It’s a swampy groove where you can just let it all hang out and trust me, the crowd does.