April 8, 2010


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Full speed ahead
Guitar hero Gary Hoey gears up
By Michael Witthaus music@hippopress.com

For Gary Hoey, the only thing faster than his fingers is his schedule. 

In late February the guitarist, best known for his Ho! Ho! Hoey! Christmas albums and remakes of surf classics like “Pipeline,” spent a week as a counselor at the Hollywood Rock n’ Roll Fantasy camp, mentoring musicians alongside pals Sammy Hagar, Ace Frehley and Michael Anthony of Van Halen. 

Last month, Hoey appeared on Scorch’s PFG-TV, which recently moved to the MYTV Network. He then flew to Frankfurt, Germany, for the annual “Musik Messe” trade show to mix pitching guitars, straps, strings, amplifiers and other gear with a few performances. 

Now he’s back in the States and midway through a series of clinics for guitar maker Fender. The events are equal parts lesson, mini-concert and Behind the Music episode. Hoey shows off different equipment, gives style pointers and conducts a brief Q&A about gear and technique.

“I try to get a feel from the audience for what level they’re at,” he said recently from his home in Manchester. “I try to give them some tips, tell a few funny road stories and make it a real intimate kind of night for my fans and fans of the guitar.”

After the final clinic next Wednesday in Concord, Hoey heads to the West Coast for what he calls “a real highlight of my career,” two weeks on the road with Jeff Beck, a performer he’s admired since his teenage years.

At age 14, Hoey walked into a Boston music store with a copy of Beck’s mid-70’s fusion classic Blow By Blow and told the clerk, “I want to play like this guy … I want to get whatever equipment he’s using.”

Beck was holding a black Les Paul on album’s cover, “which is ironic, because now I’m a Fender guy,” Hoey said. “To this day, I still have it — it looks just like Jeff Beck’s. Thirty, 40 years later I’m going on tour with the guy. It’s absolutely like a dream come true.”

At Beck’s request, Hoey will perform unplugged with a small band during the tour. 

“I’ve always been a big fan of guys stripping it down and just ripping it up on acoustic,” the guitarist said. “I think it adds a really cool element to the show.”

As for whether a spontaneous jam will erupt, Hoey says to wait and see. “A lot of my fans have been e-mailing, asking if we’re going to play together … it’s up to him, you know?” Whatever happens, he’s ready to savor the chance to share the stage with a personal hero. “I’ll play bongos to open for Jeff Beck,” Hoey said. “I’m just so excited to play with the guy!”

Hoey has released 16 mostly instrumental albums since breaking out in 1993 with his remake of the Dutch prog-rock hit “Hocus Pocus.” His upcoming album (Utopia, due in June) is a departure, for a couple of reasons. First, it has nothing but original songs. “I’ve always been famous for doing remakes and different cover songs, but this album is one hundred percent me,” Hoey said.

Second, apart from a cover of Red Rider’s “Lunatic Fringe” on his most recent album (American Made, 2006), Hoey’s done very little singing on his records. The new disc, however, will be “mostly all vocals — but no shortage of crazy guitar stuff, we’ll keep that in there.”

Hoey carved his niche as a modern-day Dick Dale, but he didn’t start that way.

“It wasn’t my intention to make it as an instrumental artist,” he said.

He played with late ’80s hair band Heavy Bones, which released one album and broke up as tastes were moving away from their kind of music, and Pearl Jam and Nirvana began making flannel shirts and grunge rock cool.

“I really wanted to have that band camaraderie, so that was always my goal in the beginning,” Hoey said. But when Heavy Bones split, “it was a typical story. Some of the members started getting drug habits, and not really wanting to work as hard as I did. Things started going wrong and I said I’d rather do a solo career, do music I love and not have to worry about other people ruining my future.”  

Once on his own, he learned to innovate and became something of a gearhead along the way. “Back when ‘Hocus Pocus’ came out, I would go into radio stations and try and do live performances,” Hoey said. “I tried acoustic and it just didn’t work on the radio.” So he stripped out the guitar parts from his recordings, left in bass and drums, and began showing up with just his guitar and a tape machine. “I think it makes it more personal, and it makes people see another side of what I can do, so I don’t mind the technology,” he said.

These days, Hoey can carry most of what he needs in his pocket.

“I’ve narrowed it down to the point where I have an iPod, an iPhone and I’m interfacing the two. That’s like my whole band now. It’s almost completely in my phone, it’s just crazy.”

Guitar clinics
What: Gary Hoey Fender Guitar Clinics
When and Where: Tuesday April 13, at 7 p.m. at Daddy’s Junky Music at 1465 Woodbury Ave. in Portsmouth, 436-1142; and Wednesday, April 14, at Strings & Things Music, 13 South Main St. in Concord, 228-1971.
Cost: Free to the public