I Want My Crown: Eric Gales on his new record, working with Joe Bonamassa and his plans for an acoustic double album

Memphis-born blues legend Raw Dawg discusses his emotional new album, Crown.

Eric Gales arrived on the blues scene in the early 1990s, at the tender age of 16. He was hailed as a child prodigy, “the next Jimi Hendrix”, thanks to his raw emotional performances and unique playing style. Over the next 30 years, Gales would release 18 solo albums. Unfortunately, his rise to stardom would be beset by tragedies and substance abuse, as well as a year in jail, in addition to the many unforgiving pitfalls that plague any player’s navigation of the music business. Gales is currently five years sober, and has just released his latest and most ambitious full-length to date, Crown.

The album was produced by Joe Bonamassa alongside Josh Smith. Listen to its first single, I Want My Crown, which recently received its own accompanying video, and it’s clear that Bonamassa played a more hands-on role too, contributing some scorching playing.

JoBo also lent Gales his gear. But even with Bonamassa’s entire vintage arsenal at his disposal, Gales largely relied on his own signature gear for the new record – chiefly his Magneto Sonnet, which is based on a Stratocaster design. The Strat design dates back to a time when Gales was endorsed by Fender.

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“I was endorsed by Fender at one time,” he says. “When my life took a bad left turn, a lot of people had to back away from me and I understand that. I really do. Magneto came into the picture around 2005 or so and have never stopped believing in me, so I feel very close to them.”

Gales now has a new, more affordable, model of his signature Magneto guitar, the RD3. “It’s based off a Strat configuration,” he says. “We worked very diligently on coming up with an affordable model that didn’t sacrifice the sound. I can’t really tell the difference between my $4,500 model and the models we have available now for $1,300. [Magneto] is a really great company, man, I love them.”

Throughout Crown, Gales also used his signature DV Mark Raw Dog amplifiers. His pedalboard, however, remained relatively bare-bones, featuring little more than his new signature MXR Raw Dog, which is essentially a hot-rodded Tube Screamer.

Great tones mean nothing without good songwriting – and the songs on Crown are powerful, fuelled by personal tragedy, as well as the social and racial injustices that have plagued the US since the country’s inception.

Eric Gales
Image: Katrena Wize

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“This record was very emotional for everyone involved,” says Gales. “There was some time that had to be taken to prepare myself mentally for some of the things touched on in this album – all the things that happened in 2020 and the things that happened leading up to 2020. I’m just glad we found a way to channel those frustrations into this record. That’s what made tracking this record so emotional. Tears were shed almost every day. There were a few moments where I had to just walk out because it was so intense.”

Anyone who has seen Gales live will note the incredible spontaneity that makes each of his performances so potent. Achieving that level of intensity and improvisation – let alone capturing it on record – is no easy task.

“Pretty much every solo on that record was done on the fly,” Gale says. “There might have been one or two that I went back in and did something a little different, but the solos and the rhythms were all done on the fly. I didn’t change up anything. When them buttons turn on, it’s on, man.”

Eric Gales
Image: Katrena Wize

With Bonamassa in the producer’s chair, Gales was better able to channel his emotive subject matter into his own distinctive flowing style. Gales equated the recording experience to going into the studio with a dear friend – an important part of bringing Crown together. Recording with familiar faces allowed Gales to stay true to the style that he’s been cultivating since, as a four-year-old, he first picked up an old right-handed Hagstrom and began learning Albert King songs by ear.

If Gale could go back in time and speak to that young man, to offer him some advice about navigating the ups and downs of life in the music business, what might he say?

“Watch out man… there’s some things that are going to come your way and if you don’t make the right decision, it’s going to fuck you up. It’s really going to fuck you up, and I’m not sure if you’re going to survive. Keep your eyes open and, if you live to survive it, man, you’re going to have a serious story to tell for people learn from and for people to gain inspiration from. So watch out, your future is very bright – just don’t die in the process.”

Even now, the future still seems bright for Gales. His plans extend beyond Crown and even include acoustic work, especially surprising for a man known for his fiery electric playing.

“I actually prefer the acoustic,” he says. “During the pandemic, I did about 40 songs on the acoustic. So I have a whole double acoustic album basically done. Of course, I don’t want to release it all at the same time, so I’m going to let the life of Crown do what it does and then follow up with what I worked on during the pandemic. But, man, I got a heavy acoustic record that I think is going to take the world by storm.”

But what is it about playing the acoustic guitar that lights Gales’ fire?

“They’re very unforgiving,” he says. “But, at the same time, there’s an emotion and intimacy when it’s just you with the guitar. It’s the same way with the electric but it’s a different atmosphere with an acoustic. I’m a stickler for beautiful arrangements and chords and, when they’re done on an acoustic, it’s unmatched.”

Stay tuned for Eric Gales forthcoming acoustic double album. In the meantime, Crown is out January 28.

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