By Brad Mahon
Photos by Derek Brad
I first saw and heard Eric Gales years ago when he sat in with the Arsenio Hall band in the early ’90s. I remember thinking: “Man, can he play!” Then, I realized he was playing his guitar “upside-down” and left-handed. Years went by, and I didn’t hear that much of him, and when I started to hear about him again, I forgot that he played his guitar “upside down,” but I didn’t forget that he could play like mad! My point is: he can touch the listener on a deeper level. His age (he was a teenager when he first signed to Elektra Records) and how he held the guitar were secondary—the music and performance are what pulled me in.
What strikes me most about Eric’s playing is the natural flow and ease it pours out of him. Although there are many and obvious comparisons to Jimi Hendrix, for me, the similarities lie more in the spirit of his playing and the source from which he draws. I believe it makes him an excellent interview choice for this Guitar Connoisseur Hendrix edition.
Guitar Connoisseur: Could you tell us how and when were you first introduced to Jimi’s music? Were you already playing at the time?
Eric Gales: I was introduced to Jimi’s music through my oldest brother, Eugene. I was around five or six years old—he would be playing Jimi’s music around the house, among other things.
GC: When I hear you cover one of Jimi’s tunes—although you seem to be coming from a similar place as Jimi was—you always put your unique stamp on it. Can you tell us a little bit about that process?
Gales: When I am playing Jimi’s song, I always try to approach it with a very open mind, and the rest just takes care of itself. I know that he would be in his world, and I guess you can say the same about me.
GC: What is your favorite Hendrix tune to perform?
Gales: I can’t narrow it down to just one, but my favorite tunes to perform would be Voodoo Chile and May This be Love. There are a bunch of them, but those two are favorites of mine. Oh, and let’s not forget Little Wing.
GC: What would you consider the most obvious similarity between your style and Jimi’s style?
Gales: The apparent similarity with our style is we are free, also left-handed, black, and just love what sounds good.
GC: Which one of your original pieces is closest in spirit to what Jimi was going for?
Gales: Universal Peacepipe off of the Relentless album.
GC: You have a natural flow when you improvise—a never-ending stream, it seems. Do you feel as if you are drawing from something larger than yourself? If so, do you think this is a similar space to where Jimi was coming from?
Gales: I most definitely feel that an entity is in control when I’m playing. I’m just a vessel, and I believe that Jimi could have been playing from the same entity (the BIG MAN UPSTAIRS).
GC: How much of an influence did Jimi have on your tone and can you talk a little bit about what gear you are using to achieve that?
Gales: To me Jimi was the “Tone King”—anybody with any sort of great tone today didn’t get it without knowing who Jimi is. I am using a 100-watt Two-Rock Eric Gales model amp, Magneto Guitars, and the norm of pedalboard accessories such as a wah, Brute Drive distortion, Mojo Hand pedals Dunlop Flanger, Tech 21 delay, TC Electronic delay, and the rest is in the playing.
GC: Since Jimi passed away before you were born, do you feel that his influences found in your music came directly from him, or from players who he heavily influenced—such as Stevie Ray Vaughan, Robin Trower, Eric Johnson, etc.
Gales: To answer this question totally, it is a combination of both you’ve mentioned in this question.
GC: If you had the opportunity to jam with Hendrix, what piece of music would you choose?
Gales: I really don’t know, man; just to be in the same room or whatever that came out would be amazing to me.
GC: If you were to introduce Jimi’s music to someone who has never heard it, where would you start?
Gales: I honestly would start with the kids and anyone else that would listen.
GC: What Hendrix piece or album affected you the most as a young listener?
Gales: May This Be Love would be the song that would make me cry as a little lad; it was so beautiful and still is.