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Interview: Eric Gales & Doug Pinnick - Gospel Grooves & Abnormal Blues

Photo by Ross Pelton

Eric Gales, King’s X bassist/vocalist Doug Pinnick, and former Mars Volta drummer Thomas Pridgen hole-up in the studio for two weeks and emerge with an album full of blazing blues-prog.

"Collateral Damage" by Pinnick Gales Pridgen

Catching a smoke outside a Southern California hotel (and looking badass with a single-coil pickup repurposed as a necklace), blues-guitar virtuoso Eric Gales reminisces about playing on the same bill with King’s X years ago. “I never thought that I’d have the opportunity to open up for them on my first tour ever,” he recalls. “As a kid, I’d go to see King’s X, and my head was blown away.” King’s X bassist and vocalist Doug Pinnick (aka dUg) elaborates. “Eric opened up for us when he was about 16. My impression of him was the same back then as it is now: He’s always been a freak of nature.”

Both men have since achieved cult status, and even though their paths crossed countless times over the decades, surprisingly they’d never collaborated on any music until now. “People had suggested it, but I never really gave it a thought,” says Pinnick, who is currently working on five separate projects. “I mean, I get so many opportunities and suggestions to play with people. It’s not something that I really think about.”

In 2012, Gales’ label president—the impresario almost single-handedly responsible for feeding the shred craze of the ’80s—reached out to Pinnick. “Mike Varney from Shrapnel Records called me up one day and asked if I’d be interested in doing a project with Eric and Thomas [Pridgen, ex-Mars Volta],” Pinnick says. “I said, ‘Sure, it sounds really good.’” Soon after the call, supergroup Pinnick Gales Pridgen was born. “I did it originally for the paycheck, but after I did it, I went, ‘Wow. That was a lot of fun. Let’s do it again,’” says Pinnick.

The power trio’s self-titled debut release Pinnick Gales Pridgen infuses Gales’ Hendrix-meets-Eric Johnson stylings with Pinnick and Pridgen’s prog-flavored twists to create a heavy, riff-laden masterpiece of mostly originals, with Gales and Pinnick sharing vocal duties. There’s also a low-tuned cover of Cream’s iconic “Sunshine of Your Love”—a ballsy move, given the song’s almost holy status among classic rock fans.

“I was like, ‘Everybody’s done it—now watch us [expletive] it up,’” says Pinnick. “Anybody can do that song, but nobody’s done it like we’ve done it. I thought what we needed on this record was to have Eric and Thomas do what they do best. I said, ‘Let’s just overkill. Nobody’s gonna tell you that you can’t—that’s what people want to hear!’ I just laid back and plugged along and sang, because Eric and Thomas are really killin’ it.”

Here, Gales and Pinnick tell Premier Guitar what went into the making of Pinnick Gales Pridgen and share their unorthodox approaches to their instruments and gear, including Gales’ signature Two-Rock amp and Pinnick’s 12-string bass—and the rare pickups that are the secret to his sound.

Eric Gales plays all of his guitars upside down and lefty, including his signature St. Blues Blindsider. Photo by Willem Kuijpers

Pinnick Gales Pridgen kicks ass like a band that’s played together forever. What’s interesting is that, as cohesive as it sounds, you’re coming from different musical backgrounds—Eric, you’re often labeled a blues-rock guitarist, and Doug, you’re often considered a bit of a prog-metal bassist. What was the common ground?
Eric Gales:
Man, you know that’s a really good question. I don’t even know if I have the proper words to say how or where it meets together. The one thing I know is that it does meet.
Doug Pinnick: We’re black. That’s what I think. It’s a 3-piece, all-black rock band. We haven’t had one of those since Living Colour. There’s camaraderie between the three of us because we all came from a heavy gospel background growing up—not gospel preaching, but gospel groove. That’s the thing that I connect with them on more than anything else, and on our next record I hope that we can bring that out more.

Did any of the material brought in for this album take any of you out of your comfort zone?
Never. Not for any one of us.
Pinnick: Y’know, I never even gave that a thought. The thing I enjoyed about it was that Eric just stepped up to the plate. It was nice to see his eyes light up when we played some of the songs that I brought in, which didn’t have “normal” changes. He found new things to do—and when he did, he always looked up and smiled. We knew that we were on the right track.

Did you write any of the songs together?
Some of them were written together. We would go in and put grooves together and write lyrics over them.
Pinnick: I brought seven or eight songs in that I had previously written to see if the guys would like any of them. We took five of those. We collaborated on two, Eric brought a song in, and Mike Varney wrote two songs and brought them in.
Gales: Me, Doug, Thomas, and Mike all worked together. We went in and didn’t waste any time. The whole project didn’t take more than two weeks to do—two weeks. The core tracks were done live. I like to predominantly work that way. Once you know the direction you’re going in, it should be a continuous driving force, and the people you’re working with will help you refine it. I don’t think it should take six months or a year to do a project. You can lose the freshness.

What inspired the cover of “Sunshine of Your Love” ? Are you guys just big fans of it?
I guess I am a fan. I don’t know … I never really tried to learn it before. I think there’s just a vibe about it that’s cool and soulful, like a “You Really Got Me” kind of thing. I think that was my idea. We tuned down really low on that one. I figured it would be really intense, because I know what Thomas can do—especially when he’s got a lot of space to do it in. And Eric can do leads for three hours straight without repeating himself.

Eric, in your solo, you imply parts of the original Clapton solo.
Exactly—you’re a smart dude [laughs].

Did you learn the whole solo at some point in the past?
I did. Me and my brothers used to play that song, and I played the solo note-for-note. For this recording, I was like, “Well, why do it exactly like the original?” That’s why we dropped the key to D♭.

Did the strings get floppy when you detuned that low?
It’s not the whole guitar, just the bottom string. I usually like to play tuned down to E♭, so I just transposed the bottom string. It’s a little bit looser and it’s lighter on the vocals. It’s not confusing—it’s grown to be very easy for me to do.
We’re in a few different keys on this record. Doug likes to do tunings like low C and low B♭. Some of the songs are in standard tuning, which I rarely ever do.
Pinnick: I always play in dropped-C. When I play with other people, if they don’t want to tune down that low, I’ll tune up to them. Or maybe I’ll stay in my tuning anyway and make something up around it. I’ll transpose if I need to. Whatever fits. Every now and then, there are certain songs where you just have to use the open string, so I’ll tune to whatever the guitar player’s tuned to. It doesn’t matter to me really.

Tell us about “Me and You.” That one has some interesting chords.
I like that one because it incorporates a lot of clean stuff. It gave me a chance to throw in a lot of the Eric Johnson-y stuff that I like to do.

How did you come up with those chords—by ear or from a theoretical approach?
Whatever comes to my head, man. I say, “Put the track on and let me do something.” The chords were already there, but the clean stuff takes me back to my days of listening to things like “Little Wing.”

Bassist Doug Pinnick uses a rare Seymour Duncan “domino” pickup with three switches, powered by 9V batteries.

Who were some of your early influences?
My older brother would put on Robin Trower, Frank Marino, Eric Johnson, Stevie Ray, Beck, or Clapton. I was five or six years old and I was digging all this stuff. The early days of listening to Albert King is where that influence of the wide bends I do comes from.

Doug, in your various projects, do different guitarists ask for different things from you? For example, you’re also involved in a project with George Lynch, who has a totally different playing style than Eric.
Actually, I’ve been trying to change my bass playing, period. I’ve always been one to play really simple and stay in the groove, but lately I’ve been trying to get into this John Entwistle thing every now and then, and start overplaying. It’s fun. The thing with Eric and George—or any guitar player I’m playing with nowadays—is that I’ve decided to never follow them, or to follow them as little as I can, and make up my own bass lines. Sort of like the approach of James Jamerson, or even the old Stax records with Donald “Duck” Dunn playing. The bass lines were the things that you would remember. I’ve been trying to go back to that sensibility. It’s been interesting for me, because guitar players play more now than they used to because we’ve forgotten about the bass. The challenge for me is to see if I can come up with something that complements the guitar part, and sometimes those guitar parts can be pretty busy. It’s been a challenge but it’s been fun. The only feedback I get is that it’s really, really good. Hardly anybody has ever said that they didn’t like it. I know that there are people out there that don’t, but I do so much stuff that if one album sucks, the next one will be good [laughs].

“Since the beginning, I’ve been told that I play abnormally. Who’s to say that everybody else isn’t wrong and I’m right?” —Eric Gales

Eric, “For Jasmine” is a solo guitar tour de force inspired by “Für Elise.” Was it Mike Varney’s idea to include that?
I often play that live, and Mike was, like, “I think you should make that an interlude track.” That one’s for my daughter.

Are you hybrid-picking the wide triad shapes you play on that cut?
Yes, exactly. I do a lot of that. I can’t particularly label what all of it is. It would take somebody like you to say, “He’s using this technique or that technique.” I do whatever feels comfortable to me. Since the beginning, I’ve been told that I play abnormally. Who’s to say that everybody else isn’t wrong and I’m right? [Laughs.]

Speaking of “abnormal,” you also play your guitar upside down but strung normally.
Yeah, I don’t re-string it or anything like that. I just take a right-handed guitar and flip it over. I don’t reverse the strings. Doug does. He plays left-handed but he plays an actual left-handed bass. When I first put it like this [gestures holding the guitar upside down], that’s what felt comfortable to me. Before I knew it, I was off to the races. I write with my right hand but play guitar left-handed, upside down, so my little string is up top. When I bend it, I pull down.

Do you use a pick or your fingers, Doug?
I use a pick mainly. I can use my fingers, but I’m not as accurate as I am with a pick.

You’re known for using 12-string basses, too.
I only have one right now. I sold the rest of them to pay some bills. They were my old, old 12-strings, so I don’t feel bad about selling them. Although I would have loved to keep them.

Did you get a pretty penny for them?
I don’t think I really got a lot for them, but they’re in good hands. It’s a Hamer collector who has them all, so I know where they’re at. The Yamaha, which I use live, was made specifically for me. John [Gaudesi], the guy that built it, made it for me in his spare time. There are people in high places that are King’s X fans and are really good to me and give me things and help me out. People in these companies appreciate what I do, and I appreciate them. Most of them aren’t going to make a lot of money off of me, so they’re not going to make a signature anything. I’m using Schecter basses now. I’ve been with them for a couple of years, and they told me they’re going to make me some 12-strings.

What are your main axes now then, Doug?
I used my Schecter Model-T bass in the studio, but I also have a Baron-H bass, which looks like a Telecaster and is kind of a hollowbody. They just started making that for me.

Is it prone to feedback because it’s hollow?
I don’t know—I like the way it looks [laughs]. Whatever I play, it’s more because I like the way it looks than how it plays. I get pretty much the same tone no matter what I play because of the pickups I use.

What are those?
It’s a Seymour Duncan pickup with three switches on it. There’s no name on it, but it’s the only bass “domino” pickup with three switches on it that you’ll ever see. I have it rigged up with two 9V batteries.

Does that get you super-high output?
Yeah, super high. They stopped making them about 15 years ago. I have five of them, and I’ve been taking them out of my old basses and putting them in my new ones, so I have a garage full of basses with no pickups in them. Maybe someone will come along and be able to make me something comparable.

Eric Gales’ Gear

Fender ’62 Strat, Magneto Sonnet Raw Dawg, Xotic XS-1, St. Blues Blindsider

Two-Rock signature model

Tech 21 Boost D.L.A., Dunlop EVH Phase 90, Mojo Hand FX Colossus, EWS Brute Drive, TC Electronic Nova (for delay), Dunlop Cry Baby wah

Strings, Picks, and Accessories
Dunlop .010–.046 strings, medium-gauge custom Dunlop picks, custom leather strap with straplocks, Shure wireless

How about you, Eric, what are your main guitars?
I have an original ’62 Strat that I take out on the road. I also have a number of different guitars from companies that I’m endorsed by, and they’re all based on the three-single-coil configuration. I don’t particularly like to choose one that’s exclusive. I learned that from Jimmy Dunlop. He said, “Man, that’s why Baskin-Robbins made 31 flavors.” To me, it could be a Sears Silvertone and a Pignose amp—it isn’t what it is, it’s what you do with it. I’m not what you’d call a gear freak.

But you have a signature amp from Two- Rock, a company that represents the holy grail for many a gear freak.
[Laughs.] Right, right. But I just take what I have and work with it. See, amp-wise, I use my signature model Two-Rock, but predominantly I use the clean channel on it because I like to use floor pedals—I also use a Mojo Hand fuzz pedal and an EWS Brute Drive. But I do love the gain channel of my amp.

So why not just use the amp’s gain channel?
It all depends on how I feel. See, I purposely chose not to have an effects loop in my amp.

Your sound often incorporates a good amount of delay, and without a loop, you can’t place your delay after the amp’s dirt.
Exactly. Now I could go and have them modify the amp, but I’ve gotten so comfortable doing it this way. It’s a personal thing and not a matter of a better or worse way of doing it.

Doug Pinnick’s Gear

Schecter Model-T (studio), Schecter Baron-H, custom Yamaha 12-string built by John Gaudesi

Fractal Audio Axe-Fx Ultra (soon to be replaced by the Axe-Fx II), Ampeg SVT-4Pro, Ampeg cabinets

Strings, Picks, and Accessories
DR Strings .045–.100 sets, custom picks, handmade straps

Had you guys worked with Thomas Pridgen prior to this project?
Thomas played on my previous solo record on Varney’s label, so I’ve know him for about six or seven years.
Pinnick: I met Thomas once before this project—I’m good friends with a friend of his—but I never had a chance to really talk to him until I met him when we got together to make the record.

Is Pinnick Gales Pridgen an ongoing project?
Absolutely. We’re already talking about going back into the studio. It’s a side project, but it’s far more than a side project. The reason I say it’s a side project is that we’re not excluding the stuff that we do on our own.

Doug, earlier you referenced Living Colour. Will Pinnick Gales Pridgen be this generation’s version?
If it was 1990, we would have MTV and radio, and the war would be trying to get the band to sell lots of records. Nowadays, it’s like the Wild West, so I have no idea what can or will happen. We can make plans—touring, making records, and doing all the interviews in the world—but at the end of the day, it’s a new way of thinking. There are no guarantees [laughs].

With any star-studded lineup, one might expect a clash of egos. Was there any drama in the sessions?
[Laughs.] No, not at all. There was no time for that. We knew that we had to get the record done so everybody was on top of their game.
Gales: An important thing is that we didn’t want to take away any of the elements of who we were before we got together. If anything, we wanted to add to that. I think that’s exactly the point.
Pinnick: We were just excited to hear what the other guys would be contributing. With Eric and Thomas, they can play “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” and it’s got style and passion to it.

YouTube It
See and hear Eric Gales and Doug Pinnick doing what they do best in the following live clips.

This studio clip captures the raw energy of Pinnick Gales Pridgen as the trio lays down their new track “Hang on, Big Brother.” They really crank up the jam around 2:30.

Eric Gales tears it up on a live rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition.” Check out the delicious chord voicings he uses between 1:35–1:41, which set up the avalanche to come when he kicks in the dirt at 2:24.

Pinnick performs “Summerland” with King’s X at the House of Blues in Orlando, Florida.