Eric GalEs

He de­scribes his style as “up­side down and back­wards”, but when Eric Gales picks up his sig­na­ture gui­tar, the blues world can’t help but lis­ten to his heavy­weight play­ing style

Guitarist - - Interview - Words David Mead Pho­tog­ra­phy Olly Cur­tis

It’s a hot, sunny May day at Ar­ling­ton Arts Cen­tre in Berk­shire and things aren’t go­ing well for Eric Gales. The band’s sound­check has been go­ing on for a cou­ple of hours ow­ing to a re­cur­ring earth loop prob­lem hav­ing tem­po­rar­ily de­feated the sound crew. The Gui­tarist team is in a room ad­ja­cent to the stage, play­ing a wait­ing game. We’ve al­ready been out for ice cream, awarding Waitrose’s Salted Caramel Lol­lies an honorary Gui­tarist ‘Choice’ award in the process… but now, all we can do is wait. The tour man­ager pops his head around the door and apol­o­gises for the de­lay, telling us that they think they’ve found the prob­lem, but it’s a fur­ther 40 min­utes be­fore a very hot and both­ered Mr Gales joins us in the room.

We’re rapidly ad­vanc­ing to­wards show­time, but it’s down to busi­ness straight away. Time may be short, but we’re de­ter­mined to find out ex­actly what makes the man – whose gui­tar play­ing has been com­pared with that of Jimi Hen­drix – tick. We be­gin film­ing for the tu­ition pages that fol­low this feature, but in be­tween the ex­am­ples, we ask Eric about the in­ner work­ings of his ap­proach to play­ing…

“Ba­si­cally one of the core se­crets in my ap­proach when I’m us­ing pen­ta­ton­ics or stuff of that na­ture is I re­ally never think about it. It just comes out and I guess that might come out of my early years of just wood­shed­ding and ac­cu­mu­lat­ing many dif­fer­ent styles and gen­res that I was in­spired by. As I grew older they be­gan to be­come like com­puter chips, logged in my mem­ory – once they’re there you can go to them at ran­dom. I of­ten equate it with the web: when you type in a search or some­thing like that, the in­for­ma­tion is al­ready there and so it goes right to it.

“So I think it’s the same, when you’re grow­ing into your style or what­ever, when you’ve ac­quired suf­fi­cient knowl­edge to be able to go, at will, to wher­ever you want to go, you just think it and you go there. You’ve al­ready ac­quired the tools and you’re fa­mil­iar with it and so you can tap into it when­ever you want.” A bit like au­topi­lot, in a way? “That’s about 50 per cent of the make up of Eric Gales. To be hon­est, there are only two an­swers to de­scribe where I come from and what I’m think­ing and why I’m do­ing what I’m do­ing. Part of it I’ve just ex­plained and the rest of it is 100 per cent from in­side: 100 per cent from the heart, 100 per cent from the soul. There’s a lot of pas­sion that I in­cor­po­rate into my play­ing and much as I try to say I can help it, I can’t help it be­cause it’s just part of the make-up for me. I play from some pain, some hap­pi­ness, you know, and it comes out in the play­ing. A lot of grat­i­tude, some de­spair – just things in life.

“I’m for­tu­nate enough to be al­most 43 years old and have done quite a few things in life and that has aided me in hav­ing a story to tell mu­si­cally and ver­bally. So it comes out in the play­ing and that, ba­si­cally, is the ex­pla­na­tion of Eric Gales, when you sum it up.” You don’t ap­proach mu­sic from a tech­ni­cal point of view, then? “I’m not one of these tu­to­rial dudes that can give you the ex­act name of the chord I’m play­ing, be­cause I can’t. I know what sounds right, you know what I mean? And I’ve ac­quired some things that I’ve in­cor­po­rated into my style that I like a whole lot and peo­ple seem to think that it’s pretty good. When I was a kid, I would

be like, ‘Wow, man… Play this riff like Eric John­son, or hit this vi­brato like Frank Marino or Robin Trower or Ste­vie Ray Vaughan. Play this chord pro­gres­sion like Wes Mont­gomery or do this chicken pick­ing like Jerry Reed or Chet Atkins, or play this jazz stuff like Kenny Bur­rell. Hit this blues like Al­bert King or Fred­die King…’ And as you see, I’ve named a wide va­ri­ety of dif­fer­ent styles and peo­ple that I think have cre­ated a big bowl of gumbo.

“Gumbo is a dish served pre­dom­i­nantly in New Or­leans and has shrimps, sausage, rice, ham – ev­ery­thing in it. And it’s called ‘a big bowl of gumbo’ be­cause when you stick your spoon in that bowl, there’s no telling what you’re go­ing to pull up out of there! I think it’s the same way [with play­ing style] and that’s how I like to la­bel it: it’s a big pile of gumbo with all of those in­flu­ences and you just stir it up and put you on top of it.” You’ve said in the past that one of your in­flu­ences was church mu­sic… “I think there’s heavy kin­ship be­tween early tra­di­tional blues and tra­di­tional gospel. Mu­sic-wise, it’s the same thing; the only dif­fer­ence is that one has Chris­tian words and the other has sec­u­lar words, but mu­si­cally, it’s the same thing. There’s a lot of kin­ship be­tween dif­fer­ent styles of mu­sic, it just all de­pends on your in­ter­pre­ta­tion. Peo­ple who are fa­mil­iar with that style of mu­sic can point it out right off the back there: ‘Yeah, this dude def­i­nitely comes from a church back­ground.’ For­tu­nately, I know a lot of church cats where that’s just pre­dom­i­nantly their style, but I’m so grate­ful for the in­flu­ence of my big brother, Eu­gene, who hipped me onto Jeff Healey and Robin Trower. He was 18 years older than me, but he was play­ing Blue Cheer and Vanilla Fudge and Cream and Mother’s Finest, and all these dif­fer­ent artists when I was a kid and so I was lis­ten­ing to that plus the stuff I was lis­ten­ing to as a kid. So that helped make my in­gre­di­ents even more so. I think I had a proper up­bring­ing with the stuff that I ac­quired.” So your brother acted as a sort of guide? “My brother was like, ‘Hey Eric, I’m re­ally lik­ing how you’re want­ing to be just like the dif­fer­ent guys I’m show­ing you, but…’ and this stuck with me for a long time, ‘why would some­body buy an im­i­ta­tion of some­thing when they can go a few rows down in the mu­sic store and buy the orig­i­nal thing?’ So that stuck with me and he said, ‘The ob­ject is for you to mix you on top of that and make it your own in­ter­pre­ta­tion.’ Take away me play­ing up­side down and back­wards and just talk about the mu­si­cal style that I have. Those true en­trepreneurs of gui­tar play­ers can hear where my in­flu­ences come from – a lot of it’s from Eric John­son, Derek Trucks, Joe Bona­massa… col­leagues of mine. And who you play with can pull stuff out of you some­times, you know what I mean?” Do you en­joy do­ing tu­to­ri­als like this one and pass­ing on your knowl­edge? “Never would I have thought that I’d be sit­ting down do­ing rig run­downs, but I’m glad to – even with such a hec­tic sched­ule – have time to do stuff like this, be­cause I know peo­ple like to know about this kind of stuff. It’s a mas­sive outreach out there to peo­ple, a be­hind-the-scenes look at what makes the build-up. I wish there were things like this hap­pen­ing when I was com­ing up, be­cause I could get more tips! They have it made to­day where you can just put a song in [a com­puter pro­gramme] and it slows it down without chang­ing the pitch. Back then we had to slow it down and trans­pose, you know? You had your record player and you had to keep go­ing back and forth and just hope you got it.”

Eric de­scribes his play­ing style as “a big bowl of gumbo”, in­cor­po­rat­ing all his in­flu­ences from over the years: “When you stick your spoon in that bowl, there’s no telling what you’re go­ing to pull up out of there!”

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