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Eric Gales has just finished blowing people away with his incredible guitar skills at the Mark World booth at NAMM 2017. He’s in his element, playing to appreciative ears on gear he loves. The punters are in awe, while pro musician peers nearby look on with admiration. Gales has long been recognised as a guitarist of note since exploding onto the scene as a 16 year old in 1991 with his debut album The Eric Gales Band. Soon after his NAMM booth appearance, a posse of close friends, including his backing singer wife LaDonna accompany us through the NAMM aisle traffic to a less public area to have a chat. There’s much to discuss, a new amp head, a new album and a trip to Australia for Bluesfest.

Eric seems to be in a good space. It’s great to see because this has not always been the case. It’s no secret that he has battled demons in the past, leading to time away at the Shelby County Correction Center on drug related charges. Bad life-decisions and hanging with the wrong crowd is how he reflects back on that time “Trying to fit in with all the people in the neighbourhood,” he said back in 2009. “Worst decision I ever made in my life.” Although he has recorded several albums since his release from prison, including the acclaimed Good For Sumthin and a cracking live disc, A Night On The Sunset Strip, it’s his soon to be distributed new one, Middle of the Road (out Feb 24) which he sees as his real comeback album.
“Yeah man, it just the comeback,” he tells me of the album’s themes. “A new perspective through a new set of eyes and just enjoying where I am, enjoying life. The songs, the melodies, the lyric content was very strong. Everything about it was great. Myself and Fabrizio Gross, the producer… we really had an awesome time coming up with it. ”

It’s an album of introspection, featuring songs titles such as “Change In Me (The Rebirth)”, “Carry Yourself”, “Help Yourself”, and “Help Me Let Go”, all positive affirmations to himself. Eric Gales knows where he needs to be in life and what he has to do to stay there. The Middle of The Road is where it’s at … not being seduced down seedy sidetracks or taking unplanned diversions but staying focussed and centred, being true to himself and those around him whom he loves and trusts.

It’s significant that the album’s opener ‘Good Time’, begins with an upbeat, jangling guitar riff, which he stops after one bar to announce, “Now that’s how you start a record!” The guitar vibe on this track, much like his life these days, radiates optimism and clarity. Clarity is important to Eric, not only in regard to his lifestyle but also in his guitar tone. “It’s very important,” he says emphatically. “I like to pride myself off that, something that can be recognised … the clarity of what’s goin’ on. It’s something that I am very happy about with this album.”

Eric is also delighted about his new DV Mark “Raw Dawg’ signature amplifier head which allows him to achieve that guitar lucidity. After a short but productive development stage with Italian based amp manufacturer DV Mark, Eric’s Raw Dawg head was launched at NAMM on the day we chatted. “I joined up with them in September or October last year. We put the model together and it got debuted at NAMM today. I am very excited about it. it’s going to be very affordable. I love the tone of it. It has a great clean tone … it’s a tube amp, 100 watts. I love 100 watt amps and it’s great with pedals, which is one of the reasons I love the amp so much. I have a Colossus fuzz, a Bob Bradshaw wah wah, Tech 21 delay,  and a whammy pedal and they all work so well with this amp.”

Gales’ searing, soulful guitar licks are not the only guitar tones to appear on Middle of The Road. It also features guitar (and vocal contributions) from many other special guest artists. I wondered if the guest collaborations were part of the album plan from the beginning?
“Not always,” he says. “I just decided to do a couple of different things and it just worked out to my advantage … it  worked out very well. I co-wrote with my friend Raphael Saadiq. I have Garry Clarke Jr on the record. There’s my big brother Eugene, I brought him back. Christone ‘Kingfish’ Ingram from Mississippi, he’s got something on the record. I also co-wrote with Lauryn Hill and co wrote with a good friend of mine Lance Lopez. Overall it’s a really good combination.”

There’s a particularly soulful track on the album called “Carry Yourself”. I asked Eric if any particular guitar player had influenced him in regard to a soulful playing style. “Man there’s a lot of players. John Mayer is actually someone in that category. There’s Derek Trucks. There are a lot of different people I attribute to that … a lot of gospel cats that I listen to but I take it all and put it all together into my own stuff … make it my own.”

Middle of The Road is released worldwide on February 24 followed by a solid run of dates in America, punctuated only by his trip downunder for Bluesfest. “Yeah Byron Bay in April, I can’t wait,” says Eric of his short Australian trip. “My wife LaDonna will be coming to Australia for the first time, she’s doing background vocals and percussion. I’ll have Cody Wright on bass and Nick Hayes on drums. I’m looking forward to it man.”

Eric Gales website
DV Mark website
Bluesfest website

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