The African American Folklorist: Standing On Strong Principles

Aug 4, 2021

Blues guitarist Eric Gales shot on location at the W.C. Handy Blues & Barbecue Festival in Henderson, KY.
Credit Julie Bowles

There are times when younger generations say they don't want to listen to their parents' music, or imitate their styles. However, the concept of what, and who, is the coolest stands the test of time.

I often say hip-hop is the great, great, great grandchild of the blues. That assessment comes based on my generation in comparison to my grandparents' generation.

With that in mind, there are modern day bluesmen that wear what's considered urban hip-hop fashion, connecting the generations and cultures. Blues guitar hero Eric Gales is one of them.

Gales wears gold chains, rings, bracelets, and gold in his mouth like many hip-hop artists. He is the direct reflection of the declaration "hip-hop is the great, great, great grandchild of the blues."

However, he also stands on strong principles that cause listeners, audiences, and fans to respect him as a Black man first, while appreciating his artistry.

The African American Folklorist had the honor of sitting down and speaking with him during the W.C. Handy Blues and Barbecue Festival in Henderson, KY. He shared the many principles he bleieves in, and why they are important to the both past and present.

Here's an excerpt of our conversation:

Lamont Jack Pearley: For WKU Public Radio, I'm Lamont Jack Pearley. And this is the African American folklorist. If you follow the show, platform or social media accounts, then you may know my saying, hip hop is the great great great grandchild of the blues. Well, I'll take it a step further and say the legends of yesterday are reflected in today's musicians, songsters, and bluesman. As we continue with our interview series recorded at the WC Handy Blues and Barbecue festival in Henderson, I speak with Eric Gales whose style and flair bridges the gap between generations, while standing on strong principles.


Eric Gales: You see old pictures of some of the old blues pioneers. They were dressed and swagged out, they were [to] the 1920s and 1930s [what] 2021 is [to] 2021. So, I sit here in front of you with a big chain on, nice little gold pieces and gold in my mouth. I believe this is where, because there was no hip hop, there was no rap, or nothing like that, or R'n'B, it was soul. But, I'm talking about the '20s and the '30s, it was none of that. So they were the swagged out, cool looking people that they were just like the generation is of today.

Lamont Jack Pearley: You made a few public addresses about how Black blues and Black rock coming from a Black guitarist. Could you talk to us about that statement?

Eric Gales: Sure. Unfortunately, the death of [George Floyd], why it was particularly his death? Because that ain't the first time that didn't happen to somebody. 

Lamont Jack Pearley: No. 

Eric Gales: So I had to just put it on the wood man ... It's some things that have been happening...and I'm part Cherokee Indian, and I'm Black. I just felt like I was making a comment about something, and this is what sparked the whole thing: that time that anchor lady told LeBron to shut up and dribble. Well, it's the same thing. Somebody in a comment [on] something that I was saying, somebody said, 'Just shut up and play.' ... So now I've got to address what you just said. That's what made me put this post up and it got shared and liked over a million plus times. I'm a man, I'm a Black man first. I'm a guitar player second. If you don't care about the first, I could give a damn about what you think about the second. So here's the other thing as Black artists. All the way back, this is how we have gotten a pass, is because of the skill. Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf,  even all the way back to BB King ... all of them had to deal with playing in places that they couldn't even stay at. Playing in places that they couldn't even eat at.  And the reason that they got a pass is because there was something that the supposedly superior liked about what it is that we do!

Lamont Jack Pearley: Right.

Eric Gales: If it weren't for that and I walked by you on the street and asked you what time it was you wouldn't answer me! So I begin to think more in depth about it, 'Eric, you got to look at this situation without a guitar player, like people got to be able to respect you as a Black man first.