Eric Gales grew up in a Memphis household full of left-handed guitarists who’d taught themselves to play right-handed guitars.
So he did the only thing an impressionable young right-hander could have done. He emulated the left-handers. He decided to play a right-handed guitar upside down, even though he didn’t really need to.
“It was just the way it felt most comfortable to me,” he said in a phone interview.
Gales’ brothers could have corrected him, but Gales said they realized how serious he was about playing guitar when they saw how determined he was to play it this way.
Gales fingers the fretboard with his dominant right hand and picks the strings with his non-dominant left.
It looks like it can’t possibly work until you watch him play for about ten seconds and realize that he’s one of the best blues-rock guitarists you’ve ever heard.
Growing up Musical
People who have grown up in musical households are often asked how it all came about. Gales has a unique answer for that: The music preexisted the household.
“The music was there before we all got here,” he said. “We just tapped into it. There’s music all over our family tree.”
When Gales and his brothers decided to form a band, they named it after Eric, even though he was the youngest.
“My brothers thought that would gain us more notoriety,” he said. “It worked.”
The first Eric Gales Band album came out several months after the death of Stevie Ray Vaughan. Many fans discerned a stylistic (and spiritual) link between the Vaughan Brothers and the Gales Brothers.
Gales said his brothers were never content to play straight, unalloyed blues (however one wants to define that). They purposely exposed him to all the guitar gods of the 1960s and ’70s, regardless of genre. They also made sure he was marinated in funk and hip-hop.
Gales was only 16 years old when the band’s first album came out.
Fame was swift and strong. At 18, Gales found himself performing with Carlos Santana at Woodstock ‘94.
“It is hard for me to describe what it means to be a young man and to share the stage with someone who played at the original Woodstock,” he said.
Arsenio Hall was a huge fan and had the band on his show several times.
Asked how this mushrooming celebrity and prestige felt, Gales said there really is only one answer to that question.
“If I said anything less than, ‘It was amazing,’ something would be wrong with me.” he said. “It was awesome, man. Put yourself in that position and think how you would feel to do things like that as a young man or even as an old person.”
Gales’ artistic forays have led him further afield than most blues guitarists rove. He has even collaborated with Memphis hip-hop groups under the name Lil E.
Gales said there is no career strategy involved in his stylistic wanderings.
“I just like everything,” he said. “I not only like everything, I like evolving myself with everything. I can’t help myself. I am inspired by all kinds of music. There’s no telling what I might be indulging in.”
Gales released his first solo album in 2001. He has since released 14 more.
It hasn’t all been sunshine and strawberries. Gales acquired a drug habit that he was ultimately not able to keep under control. It led to two arrests. Gales grew to believe that his creativity was dependent on the substances he was ingesting.
“I just got intrigued with the street life and all that came with it,” he said.
Gales credits his wife with setting him straight.
“She was definitely very helpful in orchestrating getting me back to where and who I needed to be,” he said. “I am proud to say I am over three years clean and life is awesome.”
Gales said he has no one to blame but himself for what happened. He likens taking drugs to robbing himself: robbing himself of time, opportunities, and potential.
Blues guitarist Joe Bonamassa has called Gales one of the best guitarists, if not the best guitarist, in the world. Dave Navarro of Jane’s Addiction has said of Gales, “How Eric Gales isn’t the hugest name in rock guitar is a total mystery.”
Gales knows there are a lot of people who still haven’t heard of him. If they give him a chance, he knows he’ll change that.
“I want people to walk away saying, ‘I may not have heard of you before, but I won’t forget you now.’”
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