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Shock and Awe

The mesmerizing talent of guitar
virtuoso Eric Gales

In 2012, Memphis,Tennessee, native Eric Gales was one of the headliners at the Carolina Blues Festival in Greensboro. It so happened that an attractive young lady named LaDonna was in attendance that day, and after his show they were introduced. Long story short, today they are Mr. and Mrs. Gales and are residing happily in the Gate City.

Thank you, Piedmont Blues Preservation Society.

“As soon as we met, that was pretty much it,” says Gales, a broad grin creasing his face.

Gales, now 41, might be a bluesman at his core, but after fifteen or sixteen albums (he’s not sure), he defies categorization. While his repertoire ranges from blues to rock, funk to jazz, and beyond, Gales calls his brand of music simply “inspirational.” He writes most of his own material but is apt to throw in snatches of Stevie Ray or Clapton or Hendrix, as if to let folks know just who his equals are.

In fact, when concertgoers first see Gales’ inventiveness, skill and showmanship on stage, comparisons to Jimi Hendrix inevitably follow. Apart from the fact that both guitarists share the same race and left-handed playing style, the comparison ends. And yet, Gales’ mastery of the instrument is decidedly different. Most southpaws simply reverse the strings and play chords and leads the way a right-hander would. But Gales turned over a right-handed guitar and learned to play it upside-down. Even more astounding, he is naturally right-handed.

“I picked it up on my own,” says Gales. “My older brothers were left-handed, and it just so happened I just started playing the way they did. I write right-handed and everything else; it’s the only thing I do left-handed.”

Hey . . . whatever works. There are but a handful of electric guitarists on the planet who can do what Gales does. The effect of his music leaves listeners either mesmerized or gyrating.

“Some people get up and go crazy and others just sit there,” he says. “It’s like ‘shock and awe.’”

These days, Gales is on the road most of the time, touring nationally with his six-piece band, including three backup vocalists — one of whom is LaDonna. He recently appeared on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon with Lauryn Hill. He is also enjoying increased demand as a session guitarist, and is working on an album for his new label, Mascot Records.

The road will wind its way home next month when Gales appears at the John Coltrane International Jazz and Blues Festival in High Point, September 3–4.

“It’s an honor to play on anything named ‘Coltrane,’” he remarks, “but it’s even better because it’s home.”  OH

— Ogi Overman

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