American blues rock guitarist Eric Gales has paid his dues in overcoming his demons. Now mature and driven, as his latest album Middle of the Road demonstrates, we spoke with Eric to discuss his highly anticipated appearance at the upcoming Bluesfest, his unique playing style and how he gets his guitar sound. By Paul Southwell.
You’re coming to Australia for Bluesfest as part of an impressive line-up that also includes the legendary Carlos Santana. Is an onstage jam with Carlos on the cards?
It's possible. He is a huge influence to me and has been there for me since I was seventeen years old and is an artist that I have always admired. I am very grateful to have him be a part of my life. I look forward to seeing him at Bluesfest in April. I was onstage with him just last year at a French festival [Guitare en Scène] and I did that for charity so it was a wonderful occasion.
The latest album, Middle of the Road, has many collaborations including some guitar trade-offs with Gary Clark Jr. on a cover of Freddie King’s song ‘Boogie Man’. How did that come about?
Man, he's a friend of mine so I called him to ask if he'd like to be a part of this record. He came on in, right off the road and said it was an amazing track so we did our parts and it turned out well. He definitely makes his Epiphone guitar sound great.
You use a variety of Stratocaster styled guitars as well as a ’62 Fender Stratocaster. Of your guitars, which guitar is the most essential one?
Man, I use the Magneto [Sonnet Raw Dawg signature model guitar] quite a bit. That one has got to be my favourite. I have all the other backups but I play that one a lot. The pickups in it are Lollar Vintage Blackface pickups.
What sort of sound do you prefer with your signature amplifier [Two Rock EG 100 watt]?
I go straight into the clean channel in that model amp because I use some floor effects of fuzz, a wah-wah and delay. For recording, I also go through the pedal board and that gives me a great tone.
How would you say your signature overdrive pedal [E.W.S. Eric Gales Brute Drive] compares to other overdrive options you might use?
It's just a distortion pedal that gives me enough grit for rhythm and lead. I also have a Colossus Fuzz [Mojo Hand FX] pedal which is a different sound. I think that between those two, I've got what I'm looking for, both live and in the studio.
So that fuzz pedal features on the song ‘I’ve Been Deceived’?
Yes, I used that to get a bigger sound and it came about nicely. I've been drawing more to the fuzz sound nowadays. It depends on the mood I'm in if I go for a distortion sound or a more clean sound. But that fuzz fits really well with that song.
Are your solos improvised or planned out? Some are fluid with aspects of Eric Johnson’s style.
Yeah, I just sit down and play. No pre-thought, it just all comes out at that moment and that works better for me. It comes from playing guitar and just playing along so it comes to be second nature.
Technique-wise, you use a right handed guitar upside down in a left handed position.
When I was developing the style that I liked, I never knew of any way of labelling it, I just started playing. It turned out to be how it is as a combination of different people that I was influenced by and it's a different approach. I'm pulling the strings as opposed to most players who are pushing the strings. For me, it came from whatever got the job done. The technical side never dawned on me when I was coming up. It all came about through trial and error with whatever sounded good.
You played the bass parts on this album. Previously you’ve worked with Doug Pinnick [King’s X bassist and singer]. To some, your vocals have a similar timbre. Did you also pick up on his bass playing style?
For vocals, people have told me that but I don't really hear it. I was a bass player before so it just came naturally to do. Doug is a great influential guy and some of his vibe has surfaced here and there. He is definitely someone that I have listened to throughout the years. A lot of singing and playing at the same time is working with what you have and continuing to be the best you can.
How would you say that your song writing has changed over years? Is gospel a big influence?
I think it has changed for the better, man. For this record, I focused more on the songs in picking the lyrics and the melodies. The songs are really popping out and the melodies are sticking in my head. Yes, I was always in the church and the gospel influence has been a big part of who I am growing up.