Eric Gales is a blues firebrand. Over 30 years and 18 albums, his passion for the music and his boundless desire to keep it vital has never waned, even when his own light dimmed due to his substance struggles. Throughout it all, he continued to reinvigorate the art form with personal revelation in his lyrics and bold stylistic twists in his guitar playing and songwriting.
Five years sober, creatively rejuvenated, and sagely insightful, Eric is ready for the fight of his career. Aptly, he calls his masterful new album, out January 2022 on Provogue/Mascot label Group, Crown. Here, Eric opens like never before, sharing his struggles with substance abuse, his hopes about a new era of sobriety and unbridled creativity, and his personal reflections on racism. The songs are delivered with clarity and feature Eric's personal experiences and hope for positive change. In addition, the 16-track collection boasts his finest singing, songwriting, and his signature guitar playing that burns throughout. Produced by Joe Bonamassa and Josh Smith, this is Eric at his most boldly vulnerable, uncompromisingly political, and unflinchingly confident.
Crown was forged in tragedy but rises triumphantly. The day before Eric left Greensboro, North Carolina to Los Angeles, California to work with Joe and Josh, he heard the news about the George Floyd murder. As a Black man in America, he had a lot on his mind when he touched down in Music City to write songs for Crown.
“What made George Floyd any different than me?,” Eric asks. “As I began to chat about this to Joe and Josh during preproduction, raw and unnerved emotion came out of me, and Joe furiously scribbled down notes about it all. These songs came from those outpourings. They’re about my life, and what’s happening in the world right now. When it came time to sing, I had to take breaks between vocals to cry and let it out. I was sharing my experiences as a Black man, and my private struggles. This is me letting the world know what I’ve been through.”
Since 1991, the Memphis-born guitarist has blazed a path reinvigorating the blues with a virtuosity and rock swagger that have him being heralded as the second coming of Jimi Hendrix. He was a child prodigy with bottomless talent and fierce determination, and at just 16 years-old released his debut, The Eric Gales Band, on Elektra Records. He’s earned high praise by guitarists’ guitarist and household name axe men such as Joe Bonamassa, Carlos Santana, Dave Navarro, and Mark Tremonti. In addition, he has held his own with some of the greatest guitarists in the world, including Carlos Santana at Woodstock 1994, Zakk Wylde, Eric Johnson, and a posse of others as a featured guest touring with the Experience Hendrix Tour.
The story behind Crown dates back to the early 1990s when as teenagers Eric and Joe were both hailed as blues wunderkinds and torchbearers. Eric is three years older than Joe, and Joe used to open for Eric. The pair went on to very different lives and careers, but Eric’s full potential was hampered by his substance abuse issues. “While I was dealing with my affliction, Joe’s career skyrocketed. I put myself in the backseat through my drug addiction. The world knows me, but the world doesn’t know me,” he says. In 2009, Eric hit bottom and served jail time at Shelby County Correction Center for possession of drugs and a weapon.
Eric and Joe reconnected grandly in 2019 when Joe invited Eric to play with him onstage at a blues cruise encore performance. It was the first time the guys had played live together onstage in 25 years, and it has since been named one of the most explosive guitar duels ever, amassing over 3 million plays on YouTube.
“There was always a brotherhood with us. When we reconnected, Joe said to me, ‘You’re a badass guitarist; it’s your turn to get your seat at the table to wear your crown’,” Eric recalls. Shortly after their iconic face-melting jam, Eric approached Joe to produce him. Eric reveals: “We cried when we talked about it, he said ‘you have no idea how long I waited for you, now I am going to do my part to lift you where you’re supposed to be.’” Crown finds Eric stepping up to receive his due.
The record is eclectic but cohesive. With assured and authentic artistry, Eric conjures the expanse of the blues, rock, and beyond. The album bursts open with the supercharged “Death Of Me.” Here, Eric is out for blood, summoning Hendrix and futuristic and electrified Delta blues in an imaginatively arranged song that boasts sprays of fusion and blues-influenced soloing. On the horn-punctuated soul-rocker, “The Storm,” Eric’s vocals and his message are upfront. He asks the powerful and timely question: how could you love what he does as a musician and guitar player and dislike who he is as a man based on the color of his skin?
The first single off the album, the slinky “I Want My Crown (featuring Joe Bonamassa)”, opens with a fanfare of elegant lead guitar virtuosity before slipping into a funky groove. Here, with playful bravado, Eric sings about finally getting his due while also admitting his self-sabotaging past. Clean and focused with guitar in hand, he eyes the crown, and goes for it, battling powerhouse blues warrior Joe Bonamassa in a Rocky-like epic fight. Triumphant horns spur on the excitement as the pair unleash barrages of jaw-dropping blues-shred with each player’s passages feeling like the final fury of a July 4th fireworks explosion—the climaxes get hotter and hotter.
The smoldering, “My Own Best Friend,” is a self-reflective ballad about loving and respecting yourself to create positive change in your life. The song effortlessly touches on organ-drenched minor blues, soul-jazz, and gospel musicality with unmistakable Eric flair. His solos ease between stinging Albert King minimalism to fluid flights of Eric Johnson guitar fancy.
On “Take Me Just As I Am (featuring LaDonna Gales),” Eric showcases the powerhouse pipes of his wife, LaDonna, and lays into some stanky horn-driven funk behind her. The song is a female song of empowerment. “Black women have it really hard, contending with racism and sexism,” Eric says.
The record’s 16 tracks play out as 13 songs plus 3 instrumental vignettes—and these little jams are gems. Eric touches on the Texas shuffle with the instro “Had To Dip,” mind-melting Hendrix freak out blues-rock on the instro “Rattlin’ Change,” and funky fusion on the instro “Cupcakin’.” The album concludes like a sweaty and celebratory live show with the invigorating outro song, “I Gotta Go.” This percolating James Brown-styled jam showcases Eric and his Swiss-watch-tight band in all its post-show glory, recalling the pageantry of B.B. King’s legendary Live At The Regal with punchy horns and glorious crescendos.
The songs on Crown were co-written by Eric, Josh, and Joe, and feature contributions from LaDonna Gales, and ace songwriters such as Tom Hambridge, James House, and Keb Mo. The album was recorded at Sound Emporium Nashville, and overdubs were tracked at Ocean Way Nashville, and Earthtone Studios in Greensboro, NC.
The Crown album journey is exhilarating, and, much like Eric’s life, winds through moments of victory and vulnerability. Along the way, Eric shares his story and his feelings through the majesty of the blues. He says: “When I play, the core is always the blues, and on this album, we go through a theme park of the blues, exploring all kinds of blues. We visit the carousel, the bumper cars, the water rides, the concession stands, and we all come out with smiles.”