Eric Gales can hear shades of the late Shawn Lane, a fellow Memphian and internationally acclaimed guitarist, in the songs on Gales’ new album, Ghost Notes.
“It’s an instrumental album, which I’ve never done before, and that’s what he did — instrumental stuff,” says Gales, who now lives in North Carolina.
“When you hear them you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. It kind of goes into that weird Shawn Lane mode. Maybe that’s why I called it Ghost Notes.” It came out Tuesday on Shrapnel Records.
On Thursday, the 10th anniversary of Lane’s death, Gales will help kick off a four-day tribute to Lane at Newby’s. He will headline the first night of the memorial. The New York progressive rock trio Consider the Source tops the bill Friday, and acclaimed fusion guitarist Fareed Haque (Sting; Medeski Martin & Wood) will headline Saturday with his band Mathgames.
All three nights will be filled out with a number of guest performers, including Paul Taylor, Tommy Burroughs, Hal Butler, Jon Paget and Andy Tanas. On Sunday night, the memorial concludes with a free open jam and videos of Lane performances.
“I really wanted to come down and be a part of this thing because we were friends,” says Gales, a guitar prodigy like Lane who, when he was 18, would trade licks with the older player. “We were really close at one point, like called and talked every day. We talked about some good things and some bad things, but we were there for each other at one point.”
Lane’s life is a story of artistic promise cut short. After studying piano for a few years, he picked up the guitar when he was 10. By 14, he was playing lead guitar in the Southern rock band Black Oak Arkansas. In the ’80s and ’90s, he began to explore other forms of music, including jazz, classical and Indian. And he developed even further his mastery of his instrument, becoming known in worldwide guitar circles for his precision and speed.
“Shawn was rated as the world’s fastest guitar player in the early ’80s,” says memorial organizer Crafton Barnes, the Newby’s house engineer who began working with Lane in the mid-’90s.
After Black Oak Arkansas, Lane played locally with bands like the North Mississippi Allstars predecessor D.D.T. and the Willys. Soon his reputation took him out of the city. He released his debut album, Powers of Ten, on Warner Brothers in 1992. He recorded two more albums, 1999’s The Tri-Tone Fascination and 2001’s Powers of Ten, Live!, all of which are revered by guitarists today. In his last decade, Lane mostly devoted himself to working with Swedish bassist Jonas Hellborg in series of Indian-influenced progressive groups that recorded and toured internationally.
Lane died Sept. 26, 2003, at age 40 after years of battling various ailments, including arthritis, and a resultant chemical dependency. When he died, the major guitar publications noted his passing and memorials poured in from players like Buckethead and Billy Gibbons.
“Take dynamite and C-4 and a couple of hand grenades and meld them all together and you might be able to come up with a description of Shawn Lane,” says Gales, who still discusses his friend with players like Eric Johnson he encounters on the touring circuit. “By the same token, you could take a waterfall or a nice bright cloud or a starry night and that would describe him, too. . . . Just way ahead of his time and gone before his time.”
Barnes and his co-producers are hoping their upcoming memorial concert, which will be recorded for possible future release, might become an annual event and part of a larger effort to promote Lane’s legacy. Besides the memorial, an effort is being made to get a plaque in his honor at the Ronald McDonald House, one of Lane’s favorite charities and the beneficiaries of the memorial festival, as well as on the Beale Street Brass Note Hall of Fame. There is also a drive to set up an online store featuring Lane’s old albums and videos, including some never officially released.
“We’re hoping to reboot his image have a revival of interest in Shawn,” says Barnes. “We want to remind people how devastating he was as a lead guitar player.”
Remembering Shawn Lane
Thursday-Sunday, Newby’s, 539 S. Highland. Tickets: $10 daily, $20 for three day pass. Sunday free. Advance tickets available online at newbysmemphis.com. 901-452-8408.