Eric Gales Blues masterclass
Since his entrance onto the blues-rock scene as a teenage prodigy in the ’90s, Eric Gales has built a reputation for his explosive style. Get a taste of it here with Adrian Clark as your guide.
Tennessee born and bred, Eric Gales was by all accounts a child prodigy. Starting on the guitar in 1979 aged just four, and with the help and encouragement of older brothers Eugene and Manuel he listened to all the blues and rock greats, but was most taken with Jimi Hendrix’s flamboyant playing style and on-stage personna.
With Hubert Crawford on drums and brother Eugene on bass he formed The Eric Gales band, releasing their eponymous debut album in 1991 and garnering himself the accolade of Guitar World’s ‘best new talent’ of that year. With a string of albums to his name including collaborations with both siblings as The Gales Brothers Band, contributing May This Be Love to the Hendrix tribute album Power Of Soul, plus appearing alongside Santana at Woodstock ’94 and touring Experience Hendrix alongside Mitch Mitchell, Billy Cox, Eric Johnson, Doyle Bramhall II and others, his life has been a rollercoaster ride of career ups and downs. Gales has spent much of his life shrugging off the Hendrix comparisons, but in reality his style is far broader than that and in fact his fret skills and picking technique are dazzling; he can be harmonically sophisticated, too, as demonstrated in this video lesson.
His influences range far and wide, as you would have read in our interview, and he mixes them up in what he calls his ‘gumbo’ of styles that’s immensely powerful and instantly recognisable as his own.
True, he exists at the Hendrix end of the blues-rock spectrum, but in this lesson you’ll see how Eric approaches rhythm and lead playing from as much of a country or gospel perspective as with his particular take on classic Pentatonic or Blues scale lines.
A most important part of Eric’s playing is of course the way he plays left-handed but without reversing the strings. This means the sixth string is physically closest to his feet, like other great blues men including Albert King and the recently departed Otis Rush who both adopted the same approach. While this doesn’t impact too much on chord shapes or fingering patterns (with a couple of crucial exceptions, as you’ll see), it has a much more noticeable effect on fingerstyle or hybrid picking (using pick and fingers). Everything we know is suddenly meaningless… you’re now using your fingers to play bass notes, rather than your thumb or pick.
Eric’s style is full of intensity, heart and soul, the man having lived a life that would defeat many of us. As he says, “There’s a lot of passion that I incorporate into my playing and as 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. There’s a lot of gratitude, some despair; just things in life.“
The mix of gospel and blues is important to Eric and even now informs his approach. As he says, “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.”
The good news today is that you can play all of these examples pretty well with standard string alignment, and even though they won’t sound quite the same, you’ll gain some insight into the unique melodic and harmonic details that Eric has discovered through his nonstandard technique.
EVEN THOUGH THEY WON’T SOUND QUITE THE SAME, YOU CAN PLAY ALL OF THESE EXAMPLES WITH STANDARD STRING ALIGNMENT