Recovery leads to resurgence for Gales
DALTON — In 1992, Carlos Santana barely hesitated when Arsenio Hall asked him if knew of "Hendrix-caliber" musicians.
"Sure, there's a young brother from Memphis, Tenn.," Santana said on "The Arsenio Hall Show." "His name is Eric Gales ... and he's absolutely incredible."
Gales was in his teens back then, a guitar prodigy. Santana's comments weren't just talk; a couple of years after he made them, he was gracing the stage with Gales at Woodstock. Gales was demonstrating his signature style, flipping a right-handed guitar upside down to shred lefty, evoking Jimi Hendrix's dexterity. In the quarter-century since that performance, Gales' peer-driven acclaim hasn't died down much.
"How does the whole world not know about Eric Gales?" Dave Navarro recently reflected in an interview with Louder.
One of the reasons is addiction. For years, Gales struggled with drugs and the law. But Gales has been sober for multiple years now and, consequently, is in the midst of a musical resurgence. At The Blues Foundation's Blues Music Awards in May, he triumphed in the best blues rock artist following the release of his latest record, "The Bookends." That album, which reached No. 1 on Billboard's blues album chart in early 2019, is what will bring Gales to The Stationery Factory in Dalton on Sunday night. But it's his next project — a collaboration with renowned guitarist Joe Bonamassa in 2020 — that may just finally propel him into the mainstream.
"I think it's going to be the album of the year," Gales told The Eagle during a recent phone interview.
Gales and Bonamassa are friends and mutual admirers; Bonamassa recently called him the best guitarist in blues rock today. Gales understands that fellow musicians' appreciation for his work surpasses his commercial success thus far.
"I agree with everybody, but I absolutely think that capitalizing on this involvement with Joe on this next record is going to rectify a lot of that," he said, "because what I can say about Joe is he is a good friend of mine, he is one of the baddest ass guitar players and great business-minded people out there today, and I am definitely going to capitalize on his audience."
Gales isn't taking the opportunity to do so for granted. Even as he continued releasing music over the years, cocaine and other drugs nearly robbed him of his career.
"Anything was secondary to the priority of me getting high. What it took me from was not being a dad to my daughter, not giving a damn about touring," he recalled. "I was still doing records, but at the same time, I wasn't going out and promoting, so it robbed everything. Everything."
Gales, who has also been known as Raw Dawg, got clean before the release of 2017's "Middle of the Road," an album that featured Gary Clark Jr. and songwriting by Lauryn Hill. His wife, LaDonna Gales, contributed background vocals to the record and was one of the forces that led Gales to sobriety.
"The circle that you surround yourself with is very key. That's one of the keys. Another equally key note is unless you're tired, you're not going to be ready. If you're still having fun while getting high, you're far from ready to stop," Gales said.
"The Bookends" arrived in 2019. It represented Gales' desire to be seen as more than just a blues artist. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Gales contribute to hip-hop records, and he has long drawn from rock, funk, gospel and jazz, among other genres.
"I had a chance to let some new facets come out," Gales said.
No matter which labels are attached to his music, Gales' guitar work is always the headliner. A natural righty, Gales learned his distinctive left-handed style from his older brothers during childhood.
"When I started playing, I wasn't aware of the guitar being the wrong way. It was comfortable," Gales once said in an interview with Josh Austin of the Reading Eagle. "And by the time I learned that it was the wrong way, it was too late. But I write right-handed, so I can't figure that one out."
On "The Bookends," Gales'' guitar predictably shines, but he also pushed himself to sharpen his vocals for the project.
"I think that it was accomplished," he said, noting that he hopes to do the same on the record with Bonamassa.
During The Stationery Factory show, which begins at 7 p.m., spectators will have an opportunity to witness Gales' renewed musical fervor.
"There's some serious passion and energy and emotion coming their way," he said, "so I hope they're buckled up."
Benjamin Cassidy can be reached at email@example.com, at @bybencassidy on Twitter and 413-496-6251.
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