Eric Gales first picked up a guitar at the age of four, and has seemingly never put it down. The Memphis, Tennessee, native, who’s now a legend in his own right, became a child prodigy and was praised early on by the likes of Carlos Santana.
He’s had major label deals, done big tours and festivals, and consistently released albums of original music that fuse a wide range of genres. Currently touring behind his 2017 release Middle Of The Road, Gales is set to appear at the Savannah Jazz Festival on September 27.
We caught up with Gales ahead of his Savannah Jazz performance to talk guitar tone, the albums that inspired him, and the future of the guitar.
I’m curious to know what albums inspired you early on in your career and shaped your understanding of music and the guitar?
Predominantly, I’d say Tones by Eric Johnson, Texas Flood by Stevie Ray, Mahogany Rush by Frank Marino, and the Albert King records.
That's a pretty varied list, which brings me to my next question – I've always found that your tone is pretty different from other players in your wheelhouse. It almost has this sort of low-wattage amp feel to it. How did you find your sound? Was it something that developed over time?
It's interesting that you hear that - I've predominantly gone through high-wattage amps, and I just use a foot pedal to pair with it. The 100-watt amps that I like to use aren't really for volume, but I use them for the dirt that they have. I've always used pedals, and my tone has sort of developed over time through the influences that I have. I just started mixing them in a bowl and trying to come up with my own thing.
Musically speaking, it's really hard to put you in a box because of all the different styles of music you're pulling from. Is that something that is natural for you, or was it something you're striving for in your creative process?
I like the fact that it's hard to place me in a certain box because I like all kinds of things. Especially live, that really comes out. I'm in the process of mixing a new record, and you're the first one I'm telling this to, but it's called The Bookends.
Imagine two books that you have, and on one end you have Blues and on the other you have, say, Gospel. But there are books in between that have other styles as well. So, my vision is fitting in between the bookends.
It’s just something that I wanted to do, and I think I found my niche in it because I’m influenced by so many different styles. The trick is to put it all together into one project.
Starting from the last record, it was accomplished. And I think I went over the top with this one. I may be paving the way for a whole new line of artists just being able to touch on everything that they’ve been influenced by. I believe that artists are influenced by more than just what they’re known for.
To that end, how do you think the guitar is best evolved? Some players experiment a lot with effects and alternate tunings, but a lot of people at the end of the day tend to go back to playing in a more traditionalist way . What do you see as being the future of the guitar?
For me and the way I view it, I think an instrument is an extension of the artist. When I play, I’m just basically playing what my soul and emotions sound like.
As far as the evolution of guitar, it’s always been around and I think that even if there’s a slump it will come back around. Someone will bring it back to the forefront. Guitar is strongly tied to who I am, and it’s something that I know will be in the forefront for me. It’s an extension of my heart.
You played bass on your last record, right?
On the entire last record, yeah.
A lot of people fall into the trap of being a guitar player who’s playing bass, but the parts on your record sound like they’re coming from someone whose dedicated instrument is the bass. Do you approach bass differently than guitar in terms of arranging and writing?
I do! I actually started playing bass, so that’s the interesting fact there. When I’m playing bass, my mind transposes to that instrument but I can also hear guitar parts at the same time. So it’s not difficult at all for me to go back in forth in between instruments.
I really like the stuff that I do on bass, so I think playing the parts on the record was a good idea. I wanted to showcase a side of me that the world really hadn’t seen. A lot of people really don’t know that I played bass on the first two records.
I didn’t know that!
Yeah, it goes back quite a ways. I do consider myself a bass player, and a drummer too. I like to engage in the different parts of music that move me.
And sometimes if you’re the songwriter you hear things a certain way in your head, so you might just be the right guy for the job.
Whether it was last week or early on, whether it was Carlos Santana or Raphael Saadiq, have there been any words of wisdom or guidance that informed you and your musical evolution?
Yeah, man, there’ve been quite a few. It started even with my big brother at a young age.
To sum it up in short – why would a person go to a record store and buy an imitation of someone, when they can go a few rows down and buy the real thing? That stuck with me since I was a kid.
Carlos, Raphael, Eric Johnson, Stevie Ray Vaughan, they’ve all said things to me that have stuck with me until today. I cherish those words of wisdom and encouragement.
There are a lot of musicians and artists that wake up every day with the hope that they’ll at least be heard by someone that they admire, and I did. I’m very fortunate and very blessed.
What’s your advice for someone who’s young and trying to carve a space for themselves and be heard by either the people they admire or just listeners in general? It’s such a crowded landscape right now.
It is. My advice is this – inspiration is a powerful key. It makes practicing not feel like homework.
The second biggest thing is, learn everything that you like and learn everything that you don’t like. That way it’ll help mold you into something you didn’t think that you were.
A lot of people shut the door on stuff that they might not be fond of. But as a musician, how can you not be fond of every style going?
Somewhere, someway, somehow, it’ll be effective in you molding yourself as a player. Especially nowadays when there’s such a wide palette of artists, musicians, and styles.
Most people spend their entire life trying to find their own space and their own sound – you just have to keep trying to search for it.