Hendrix doppelganger Eric Gales schools DQ’s in the blues
All too many blues rock albums consist exclusively of AAB lyric schemes slung over the same 12-bar pattern we’ve heard millions of times before. Holding it all together are guitar riffs so clichéd that the player might as well use air quotes before and after playing them. The only real surprises for the listener are what the key and tempo of the next song will be, and whether the singer will complain about romantic troubles, financial hardship, legal issues or health concerns.
While some such songs do inhabit blues guitar monster Eric Gales’ latest album, Relentless, they’re outnumbered by tunes with far more original melodic, harmonic and lyrical information. If there’s such a thing as “progressive blues rock,” Gales’ music might just fall under this category. The main attraction here is Gales’ fiery lead guitar playing: His triplet flurries, brazen double stops and demon-conjuring string bends led Guitarist magazine to name him Best Blues Player of 2010.
Gales, once considered a child prodigy, discovered his musical talent at age 4, when he picked up a guitar and immediately began making coherent sounds. “I was like, ‘Man, this is kind of cool! I think I can play this thing,’” the bluesman recalls. The groove he was playing was a simple one, “but to me, that was big shit to be doin’ at 4 years old. To me, I was rockin’ out with my cock out!”
With a little guidance from his brother Eugene, the young musician progressed quickly. Though naturally right-handed, he learned to play the guitar Hendrix-style: He flipped a right-handed guitar upside-down and used his left hand for picking. “For the longest time, I didn’t know if I was right- or left-handed, ’cause I didn’t know which way to label the way that I played,” he says. “By the time I learned that it was the ‘wrong’ way, I had already learned how to play that way, so it was too late.”
Not surprisingly, as a black man playing blues rock on an upside-down guitar, Gales draws Hendrix comparisons galore. “When I sit back and look at some of the performances I’ve done, I have to admit: Yeah, it does kind of have a small resemblance, a little bit,” he acquiesces. “But I’m not out there just doing stuff that I hear or see Hendrix do. I’m doing what I feel, that comes out of me.”
Various songs on Relentless draw inspiration from recent tribulations in Gales’ life: Last year, he was released from prison after serving 21 months for a 2006 cocaine and weapons possession charge. The song “When You’ve Got No Place to Go” refers directly to his incarceration: “A lot of time for regret/Too much time to think/A lot of time for worry/How much lower can I sink?/I’ve been away too long/Every day is the same old song/The days go by so slow when you’ve got no place to go.”
Gales, who was allowed to play gigs in the outside world with a prison band during his sentence, doesn’t regret any of what’s gone down. “I’m not saying I want to relive it, but I believe that every situation in life gives you something to help you in the future,” muses the guitarist, who just completed work on a new record called Transformation, due for release in late 2011. “If there’s something to help me have more passion about what I do, or more expression when I’m doin’ what I’m doin’, then it all served its purpose.”
Eric Gales plays at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 18 at Don Quixote’s, 6275 Highway 9, Felton. Tickets are $12. For more information, call 603-2294 or go to donquixotesmusic.info.