CULT CLASSIC: ERIC GALE-ISLAND BREEZE.
Cult Classic: Eric Gale-Island Breeze.
Eric Gale was born in Brooklyn, New York on September 20th 1938. By the time he was eleven, Eric had discovered music. Fittingly, it was guitarist Les Paul that piqued Eric’s interest in music. He heard Les Paul and his wife Mary Ford on the radio. They were on their way to becoming one of the biggest stars of early fifties. Hearing Les Paul inspired Eric Gale to pickup a guitar for the first time.
At first, Eric Gale had a few guitar lessons. This was just enough to learn the basics. Mostly, though, Eric was self-taught. However, by the time Eric was twelve he briefly turned his back on the guitar.
This came after Eric’s father introduced him to Charlie Parker and Dizzie Gillespie. Bebop captivated the twelve year old. Especially how quickly Bird and Dizzy Gillespie could play. Suddenly, Eric wanted to try the saxophone.
So his father arranged for Eric to take saxophone lessons. However, after a month, Eric decided that the saxophone wasn’t for him. He returned to the guitar, and spent the next few years honing his sound. This would pay off in the long run.
By 1983 Eric Gale was dividing his time between session work and his career as a solo artist. He released Island Breeze in 1983 which is a welcome reminder of a supremely talented guitarist. However, in the early fifties, it seemed Eric Gale was about to embark on a career as a scientist.
Having graduated high school, Eric headed to Niagara University, where he studied chemistry. It was there that Eric realised he didn’t want to pursue a career in science. So Eric left academia behind, and decided to pursue a career as session musician.
By then, Eric was in his early twenties, and was a novice in terms of session work. Despite this, he caught a break. Bobby Lewis was looking for a guitarist for the session when Tossin’ and Turnin’ was recorded. Eric got the job, and played alongside saxophonist King Curtis. He asked Eric to play on his Old Gold album. However, by then, Tossin’ and Turnin’ had reached number one on the US R&B charts in 1961. Eric Gale’s career was underway.
After playing on a number one single and King Curtis’ Old Gold album, Eric Gale became a familiar face in New York Studios. He played on sessions by The Drifters, Maxime Brown, Aretha Franklin, Red Holloway, Clark Terry, Jimmy McGriff and Oliver Nelson. By 1967, Eric was accompanying a young Van Morrison, drummer Bernard “Pretty” Purdie, Bobby Timmons and Herbie Mann. Unlike many session musicians, Eric didn’t specialise in one type of musician. Instead, he would on everything from jazz and soul to rock. That would be the case throughout his career as a session musician.
As the seventies dawned, there was no sating Eric Gale’s insatiable appetite for session work. He would have happily spend day and night in the studio. That had been the case in the sixties, and wasn’t going to change in the early seventies. Eric played on a number of sessions for Creed Taylor’s CTi and Kudu label. This included on albums by Quincy Jones, Johnny Hammond, Stanley Turrnetine, Hank Crawford and Esther Phillips. This gave Creed Taylor the opportunity to see and hear Eric Gale at close quarters. He liked what he heard, and in 1973, Creed Taylor signed Eric Gale to his Kudu imprint.
No longer was Eric Gale “just” a session musician, now he could add solo artist to his already impressive C.V. His debut solo album was Forecast, which was released later in 1973.
Forecast saw Eric joined by some of the Big Apple’s top session players. They step up to the plate on an album where cover versions sit side-by-side with Eric Gale compositions. With his all-star band for company, Eric showcased his versatility, veering between jazz, funk, blues and soul-jazz. Prior to its release, reviews of Forecast were positive. Alas, Forecast only reached twenty-two in the US Jazz charts, and proved to the only album Eric released on Kudu.
It was another two years before Eric Gale released his sophomore album, Negril. By then, Eric was living in Jamaica, where he was enjoying a sabbatical. Despite being on sabbatical, Eric decided to record an album. He wrote, arranged and produced Negril at Harry J’s Studio in Kingston, in Jamaica. The album was a homage to the beautiful village of Negril and its unspoilt beaches. Once the album was complete, it was released in 1975.
When Negril was released in 1975, listeners discovered an album of laid-back, instrumental reggae. It was a very different album from Forecast, and one that showcased Eric’s versatility. This would be put to good use over the next couple of years.
After a three year sabbatical, Eric Gale returned to New York. When he arrived home, the money had run dry and he was without a job. Fortunately, a jazz supergroup were looking for a guitarist. Eric fitted the bill, and he joined Stuff.
With a lineup that featured bassist drummers Chris Parker Steve Gadd; bassist Gordon Edwards, guitarist Cornell Dupree and pianist Richard Tee, Stuff was worthy of being called a supergroup. Eric played on Stuff’s 1976 eponymous album, and the 1977 followup More Stuff. Still thought, Eric was working as a session musician, so would divide his time between Stuff and session work.
Still, Eric Gale was happy to work around the clock. Recording studios were like a second home. During 1976, Eric played on albums by Ashford and Simpson, Stanley Turrentine, Blood, Sweat and Tears, Bob James, Grover Washington, Paul Butterfield, Joe Coker, Patti Austin and Randy Crawford. 1977 was just as busy, with Eric accompanying Ashford and Simpson, Tom Scott, Bob James, Esther Phillips, Jun Fukamachi, Idris Muhammad, Yuseef Lateef and Kenny Loggins. However, 1977 was also the year Eric Gale was offered a solo deal by Columbia.
For Eric Gale, signing to Columbia meant he could rekindle his solo career. When Ginseng Woman which was released in 1977, Eric’s album of smooth jazz was reasonably well received by critics. Eric was already one of the finest practitioners of the genre. So it was no surprise when Ginseng Woman reached 148 in the US Billboard 200, fifty-six in the US R&B charts and number seven in the US Jazz charts. This was a good start to Eric Gale’s career at Columbia. Especially considering disco was at the peak of its popularity.
Buoyed by the success of Ginseng Woman, Eric returned in 1978 with Multiplication. It wasn’t as well received as Ginseng Woman. As usual, record buyers had the final say, and Multiplication reached just number six in the US Jazz charts. Multiplication failed to trouble the US Billboard 200 and US R&B charts. For Eric Gale, this was disappointing.
Following the release of Multiplication, Eric continued to juggle his various roles. In 1978, he worked with everyone from Carly Simon, to Billy Joel and Thijs van Leer. Eric also worked on albums by Loleatta Holloway, Ashford and Simpson and his old friend Bob James. Still, Eric found time to play and record with Stuff. Then there was the small matter of his third solo album for Columbia.
Part Of You.
Despite the disappointing performance of Multiplication, Eric Gale returned in 1979 with a new album Part Of You. Before it was released, the album of smooth jazz garnered positive reviews from critics. Part Of You was a return to form from Eric Gale. Record buyers agreed, and Part Of You reached 154 in the US Billboard 200 and eleven in the US Jazz charts. Things were looking up for Eric Gale.
Touch Of Silk.
As a new decade dawned, Eric retuned in 1980 with his fourth album for Columbia Touch Of Silk. Despite the commercial success Part Of You enjoyed, Eric decided to change a winning formula on Touch Of Silk. He moved away from the smooth jazz of Part Of You, and Touch Of Silk showcases a sound that veered between funky to dark and bluesy. While Touch Of Silk was well received by critics, record buyers turned their back on the album. The only success Touch Of Silk enjoyed was in the US Jazz charts, where it reached number twelve. For Eric Gale, this was the end of the road at Columbia.
With Eric Gale’s time at Columbia at an end, he signed to Elektra/Musician. For Eric this was a new start. Things were going to be different. He was going to dispense with the big name session players, and bring in an entirely new band. The other change Eric wanted to make, was to produce his albums at Elektra/Musician. First he had to get Bruce Lundvall to agree.
The question arose when Bruce Lundvall,who oversaw Elektra/Musician, asked who Eric wanted to produce Blue Horizon. Immediately, and hopefully, Eric through his name into the hat. To Eric’s delight, Bruce Lundvall agreed. Now Eric could and would explore various different musical genres.
For what became Blue Horizon, Eric Gale wrote Blue Horizon, Mako D’Amour and 97th and Columbus. Wait Until The City Sleeps was penned by Gene Ritchings and Mark Mazur; while When Tokyo? was a Clive Phillips and Nasser Nasser composition. Peter Schott of Kid Creole and The Coconuts wrote Clock-A-Pa and cowrote Call Me At The Same Number with Winston Grennan. These seven songs were recorded by Eric’s new, hand picked band.
Recording of Blue Horizon took place at House Of Music, New Jersey. The new band’s rhythm section featured drummers Freddie Waits and Winston Grennan; bassist Neddy Smith; and rhythm guitarist Mark Mazur. Other members of the band included keyboardist Peter Schott; percussionist Nasser Nasser and Hugh Masakela on flugelhorn. Eric Gale took charge of lead guitar and produced Blue Horizon. Once the recording was complete, Blue Horizon was released in 1982.
Before that, critics had their say on Blue Horizon. They were surprised, but welcomed such an eclectic album. It was as if Eric had been reenergised by the move to Elektra/Musician. Despite this, Blue Horizon only reached twenty-nine on the US Jazz charts. This was a disappointment for Eric and everyone involved.
Record buyers had missed out on an album that featured Eric Gale with a new found musical freedom. He was allowed to explore new musical genres on Blue Horizon, a truly electric album.
That’s apparent from the opening track, where smooth jazz and subtle Caribbean rhythms unite to create a beautiful, melodic and laid-back track. At the heart of the track’s success was Eric’s crystalline guitar. Then stylistically, it’s all change on Wait Until The City Sleeps, a ballad featuring a a vocal by from Mark Mazur. Meanwhile, a piano adds an element of drama, as the rhythm section play a leading role. That’s until Eric’s blues-tinged guitar solo steals the show on this cinematic track. When Tokyo? also has a cinematic sound, and features a masterclass on the piano from Peter Schott. His playing is central to the track’s sound and success. Even when it becomes a tango. Only later, when Eric unleashes a bluesy guitar run, is Peter Schott’s supremacy challenged. A track of this quality was a fitting way to close side one of the original LP.
Mako D’Amour was written by Eric, and allows his crystalline guitar to take centre-stage. It’s a case of less is more, with Eric choosing each note with the utmost care. While his guitar steals the show, the rhythm section create a shuffling, reggae groove. That’s not the end of the reggae influence. There’s a Caribbean influence to the ballad Clock-A-Pa. It features a heartfelt vocal, while the arrangement, while there’s occasional excursions into dub, as Eric’s guitar takes on a bluesy hue
Then on Call Me At The Same Number the reggae influence continues. The rhythm section with its dual drummers play in a 7/4 time signature. Together they create the a pulsating backdrop for the vocal, and Eric’s brisk, searing, bluesy solo. It’s one of Eric’s finest, and shows that seamlessly, he can switch between musical genres. That’s apparent on Blue Horizon’s closing track, 97th and Columbus a pulsating fusion of disco and funk. This reinforces that Blue Horizon was the most eclectic album of Eric Gale’s recording career.
No wonder. Elements of blues, Caribbean, disco, dub, funk, jazz, pop and reggae featured on Blue Horizon. Elektra/Musician had afforded Eric Gale the freedom he longed for. With his new band, Eric Gale explored a verity of disparate new musical genres on Blue Horizon. He sounds as if he’s been reinvigorated, and as a result, delivers a series of almost flawless performances. Sadly, very few people heard Blue Horizon, and it became one of the hidden gems of Eric Gale’s back-catalogue. However, later in 1982, Eric released another solo album.
In The Shade Of A Tree
After releasing Blue Horizon, Eric Gale released In The Shade Of A Tree in Japan later in 1982. Stylistically, he album was similar to Blue Horizon, and was well received in Japan. In The Shade Of A Tree sold well in Japan, where Eric was a popular artist. It was ironic that Eric’s music was more popular halfway around the world than in his home country. Maybe his next album for Elektra/Musician would see Eric Gale’s fortunes improve in America?
Having released In The Shade Of A Tree, Eric Gale was constantly busy with various projects. He was a member of the NY-LA Dream Band, and had toured Japan with them. Then on his return, he had only a few days before he headed out to Montruex to record a live album. On his return, Eric Gale’s thoughts turned to his next album for Elektra/Musician.
For what became Island Breeze, Eric chose four cover versions. This included Bob James’ Boardwalk and Dark Romance. The other covers were Joe Sample’s My Momma Told Me So and Jeff Medina’s Island Breeze. Eric’s new musical director Jimmy Kachulis penned We’ll Make It, Sooner Or Later and I Know That’s Right. These songs were recorded by a new lien up of Eric’s band.
Since the recording of Blue Horizon, the lineup of Eric’s band had changed quite dramatically. The rhythm section now featured drummers Webb Thomas and Joey DeFrancesco; bassist bassist Neddy Smith; and rhythm guitarists Mark Mazur and Jimmy Kachulis. Keyboardists included Ted Lo and Andy Schwartz. This new lineup recorded at Rosebud Recording Studio, New York. Just like on Blue Horizon, Eric Gale took charge of production and played lead guitar. Once Island Breeze was complete, the album was released in 1983.
Before the release of Island Breeze, critics had their say on the followup to Blue Horizon. The reviews were positive, and this bode well for the rerelease of Island Breeze. However, Island Breeze reached just thirty-five on the US Jazz charts. It was a huge blow for Eric Gale. Especially considering the quality of music on Island Breeze, which brought Eric Gale’s career at Elektra/Musician to an end.
This was the case from the nine minute cover of Bob James’ Boardwalk, that opens Island Breeze. It’s a slice of smooth fusion that’s the perfect showcase for Eric’s considerable skills. He chooses each note with the utmost care, and enjoys the opportunity too stretch his legs on this epic cover. After that, it’s all change. We’ll Make It (Sooner Or Later) is a beautiful ballad. It features a tender, heartfelt and soulful vocal from one of music’s best kept secrets Sandy Barber. Her vocal is at the heart of the song’s success. Similarly, so is Eric’s blues-tinged guitar solo on My Momma Told Me So. It was written by Joe Sample, and featured on The Crusaders’ album Those Southern Knights. Uptempo, funky, with hint of fusion and Eric’s bluesy guitar, it’s another track that showcases Eric’s versatility. That was the case on side two of Island Breeze.
On Island Breeze, Eric, whose parents were from Barbados, revisits his Caribbean roots. As the arrangement breezes along, percussion and a sultry saxophone play supporting roles; as Eric adds a guitar solo whose roots can be traced back to reggae music. Dark Romance is another nine minute cinematic epic. It would be perfect for a soundtrack, as the track veers between wistful to moody, mesmeric, melodic and hopeful. Sometimes, there a degree of tension and mystery. Always, thought, beauty is omnipresent. Closing Island Breeze, is the uber funky and dance-floor friendly I Know That’s Right. It marks the return of Sandy Barber, who delivers a sassy vocal. Meanwhile, Eric’s guitar sounds not unlike Chic’s Niles Rodgers, as he shows another side to his playing. Just like on Blue Horizon, versatility is Eric Gale’s middle name.
As a session musician, Eric Gale played on over 500 albums, accompanying the great and good of music and is regarded as one of the greatest jazz guitarists of his generation.
He also released around a dozen albums. Sadly, as is often the case, Eric Gale’s albums never enjoyed the success they deserved. That’s the case with Island Breeze, which is a hidden gem in Eric Gale’s impressive back-catalogue. They’re both hugely underrated albums, and a reminder of a truly talented and versatile guitarist who died far too young. Eric Gale died in 1994, aged just just fifty-five. Jazz had been robbed of one of its most talented sons. However, Eric Gale left behind a rich musical legacy, including his oft-overlooked cult classic Island Breeze.
Cult Classic: Eric Gale-Island Breeze.