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Eric Gales excited to be part of Buddy Guy tour

Grammy-nominated blues artist opening for Guy at Embassy

Blues guitarist Eric Gales has overcome a lot since breaking onto the scene in the early ’90s. He’ll be one of the opening acts when Buddy Guy visits the Embassy on Feb. 23.

Wheat Williams

Whatzup Features Writer

Published February 15, 2023

At 86, blues icon Buddy Guy will bring his Damn Right Farewell Tour to Embassy Theatre on Feb. 23. 

The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer’s named this final tour after 1991 album Damn Right, I’ve Got the Blues, an all-star “comeback” which won him one of his nine Grammys and led to his Lifetime Achievement Award. 

With Guy’s career going back to 1958, we don’t have space to list all of his accomplishments, including decades of recognition from the Blues Foundation, the National Medal of Arts presented to him by President George W. Bush in 2003, and Kennedy Center Honors in 2012.

Sweetwater’s Mitch Gallagher interviewed Buddy Guy in his club in Chicago in June, and you can watch it here:

Preparing for Grammys

Opening for Guy on this leg of the tour are young phenomenon Ally Venable and veteran guitarist Eric Gales. 

“Me and Buddy go back quite a ways,” Gales said in a phone interview. “He’s called me up to sit in with him on a number of occasions.

“It’s always an honor and a privilege and a blessing to be able to grace the stage and swap, in beautiful energy, with the legends, such as one of the last legends that’s around. And the opportunity to be a part of this tour is something that words really don’t give a proper meaning to.”

We got a hold of Gales by phone as he and his wife, LaDonna, prepared to travel from South Carolina to attend the Grammy Awards in New York on Feb. 5. He was nominated for Best Contemporary Blues Album for Crown, a record of astonishing depth that he made last year in Nashville, Tennessee, which was produced by Joe Bonamassa with Josh Smith. The award ultimately went to Edgar Winter for Brother Johnny.

Rapid ascent, descent

In the early ’90s, the blues-rock guitar world saw the debuts of three teenage “child prodigies”: Bonamassa, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, and Gales. Although the first two are better known today, Gales earned respect from the start. 

“In ’91 through ’94, Joe was with his band, Bloodline, and he opened up for me,” Gales said. “We’ve known each other that far back. His career went one way, mine went another way, and now we came back around and he is one of my good friends.”

 I wish we had more space to relate the story Gales told me about meeting the great Stevie Ray Vaughan in a recording studio in 1990, when Gales was 15. With Vaughan was his keyboardist, Reese Wynans. Vaughan died in a helicopter crash shortly afterwards. More than 30 years later, Wynans, who has worked with all the greats, played on Gales’ new album.

Gales has suffered through and overcome challenges to get his life back on track, as is well-documented. About being at the Grammys, he said: “It’s surreal, man. I pinch myself every day. After all these years, 19 albums under my belt, 37 years in the game. And everything that I’ve been through, finally some things happen in life that are good, for a change. It’s amazing.”

Optimism in challenging times

Gales’ two previous albums, Middle of the Road in 2017, and The Bookends in 2019, had a positive, soulful message, even a gospel message. Reflecting recovery, Gales used his music and his performances to tell his own story to encourage others.

Yet in 2020, when he began writing songs for what would become Crown, he was devastated by the killing of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis and felt the dismay of all of those who protested around the U.S. and the world. 

“We just honed in on things that were happening in the world,” he said when asked about expressing optimism during a time of such turmoil. “It was just time, man. I’ve been talking about my life (through music), which is autobiographical. I’ve been an open book. But there are things that I felt very close to my heart.

“What made George Floyd any different from me? That could have been me. Everything happened in the world that I wanted to get the point across, in the way that I was having a conversation with the listener, not yelling or hollering at them, but I wanted to have a conversation in song format to get the world to understand some things from the perspective of myself as a Black man, first and foremost, and a musician and a guitar player second.”

The second track on Crown, “The Storm,” begins with a question sung a cappella: “How can you love what I do, but hate who I am?/ Somebody give me an answer, ’cause I don’t understand … I wasn’t raised like that. Wasn’t part of the plan/How can you love what I do, but hate who I am?”

Later, in the slow, plaintive “Too Close to the Fire,” he sings: “When I’m holding my guitar, you make me feel like a star/And I love each and every one of you … You would understand if you were in my shoes/You’d be scared and angry, too.”

The album became a message about persevering in the face of adversity because Gales believes in what he’s doing, with the support of his family and the musicians he calls friends.

Supporting guy’s final tour

Gales’ touring band is drummer Nicholas Hayes, bass player Randy Stevenson, keyboardist Jonathan Lovett, LaDonna Gales on percussion and background vocals, and Danny “Q” Kusz on saxophone, which is a new texture for Gales’ music. 

“He has great energy and he’s an awesome player,” Gales said of Q. “Danny’s going to be a great addition.”

They’ll be playing lots of material from Crown. They will undoubtedly throw in some of Gales’ trademark classic rock covers in which, like a master jazz musician, he makes the songs his own through the use of unique chord substitutions and intricate fingerings on the guitar. I asked him if he’s schooled in jazz, or if that comes from his ear.

“It comes from the ear, comes from feel, comes from just being influenced and inspired by all different types and styles of music,” he said. “I just go with where my heart is, man.

“Forensic science should be able to find samples of your own DNA on top of it. It’s meant to showcase how your influences have been affected upon you, but it’s also meant for you to put your pizzazz and taste and feel on top of it to make it be your own.”

When I mention Gales to rock musicians, what I hear is that they wish he was better known. These days Gales is working steadily, humbly, to change that. Like Guy has always done, while he has plenty to sing about, he’s letting his guitar do the talking, too.

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