by A.J. Wachtel
Gary Hoey may be the best unknown guitarist in New England. Although he has a huge following, this cat’s name should be near the top of everyone’s list of best and most influential six-stringers on the local circuit. From growing up in Lowell, to sharing the stage with some of the most iconic and quintessential blues and heavy metal artists alive; his story is an inspiration to everyone who has shared the dream. Check it out:
Noise: As a kid growing up in Lowell, what made you decide to play guitar instead of joining President Big Al Hogan’s local chapter of The Hell’s Angels?
Gary Hoey: Ha ha. I started to play guitar because one of my four sisters was dating a guy that played guitar. When he played at the kitchen table I was mesmerized, and asked him to teach me… and I DID walk by the Hell Angels house on my way to friends that were cool. [laughs]
Noise: Fact or fiction? At 14, you hung out in front of Berklee making friends and offering to pay for lessons?
Gary: I did hang out around Berklee. We had six kids in my family so Berklee was not an option. My Mom said: “Go hang out there; you might learn something,” so I asked a guy standing around the book store to teach me. He did and for only $20 a lesson.
Noise: You dropped out of high school and began playing clubs and teaching guitar to other young players. What was the local music scene like in the late ’70s and early ’80s?
Gary: I did drop out of school and went back for my GED. I knew I was going to make music my life. The Boston music scene was great: all kinds of music going on, no boundaries.
Noise: You auditioned for Ozzy Osbourne in 1988 when Ozzy was looking for a replacement for Jake E. Lee, but the job went to Zakk Wylde. Should you have been picked and were you a better guitarist than Wylde, at the time?
Gary: Trying out for Ozzy was the best thing to happen to me. It brought me out West, and Ozzy was my favorite with Black Sabbath. Zakk Wylde knew every song and he was the right guy. I think we both played kick ass guitar, but I don’t know who was better. Zakk is a friend of mine to this day.
Noise: In late ’91- early ’92, you auditioned for Def Leppard. What other guitarists did they ask to audition for them too?
Gary: I auditioned for SO many bands and always came in second place. [laughs] Dio, Ozzy, Cher, Bob Seger, on and on, so I said to myself: “Maybe I need to be a solo artist.” 18 albums later I was right!
Noise: In ’93, you released Animal Instinct, with a cover of the Focus hit “Hocus Pocus,” that went to the Billboard Top 5: beating every other single as the most frequently played rock song, on radio, of the year. Why did you pick that song and do you still include it in your set?
Gary: “Hocus Pocus” was a song I always played when I was a kid. It became a big hit in the middle of the grunge scene. I still play it at every show and never get tired of it.
Noise: You went on to record about 12 instrumental albums, all featuring your blazing electric guitar. What’s your favorite and least favorite releases and why?
Gary: My favorite album is my latest, Deja Blues. If I had to pick my least favorite, it would be Money because I hated the title. It was my manager’s idea. [laughs]
Noise: Your most recent album of original blues, Deja Blues, was released in 2013 with James Montgomery (harp) on “Boot Mill Blues,” Jon Butcher (guitar) on “Almost Over You” and Johnny A (guitar) on “She’s Walking.” What other artists would you like to work with in the future?
Gary: Deja Blues was a fun CD, and to have all my local friends, who are legends in my mind play on it, was amazing. If I do something like this again, maybe I’d like to include Mike Stern and maybe Pat Metheny.
Noise: You have recorded 19 albums, have had five top 20 Billboard hits and have been called one of the top 100 guitarists of all time. Who named you to this elite group and do you think this is a fair assessment of your career? Who are YOUR top five favorite guitarists of all time?
Gary: [laughs] I don’t pay much attention to those top 100 lists. I’ve been playing guitar for 40 years and I’ve devoted my entire life to it, you know, so I’d better be pretty good at this point. My top five? Jeff Beck. Jimi Hendrix. Stevie Ray Vaughan. Albert King, B.B. King, and of course BURGER King. [laughs]
Noise: You have performed the National Anthem live for the Pats, the San Diego Padres, and the Red Sox. How do athletic organizations treat their entertainment industry cousins off the field?
Gary: It’s always an honor to play the National Anthem out in arenas, and all the teams have always been so nice and respectful. I’ve never had a bad experience.
Noise: You have toured and traded licks with Brian May of Queen, Ted Nugent, Joe Satriano, Foreigner, The Doobie Brothers, Peter Frampton, Rick Derringer, Deep Purple, and the Queen of Metal, Lita Ford. You also supported Jeff Beck on the U.S. leg of his 2010 tour. Who did you get along with best and worst backstage?
Gary: I’ve toured with SO many of my heroes and sometimes they have bad days. Brian May from Queen was the coolest and the one’s that were not, I can’t talk about [laughs]. What if they want to ask me to tour with them again and read this article? [laughs]
Noise: What’s in the future for Gary Hoey?
Gary: I’m recording two new albums this year – a new blues one and also my annual holiday album. I will be touring a lot. I’m also playing April 4th at the Berklee Performance Center with a lot of local all-stars to support the Right Turn Charity Benefit.
Noise: How do your fans keep in touch with what you are up to?
Gary: I’m always on Twitter and Facebook: and I have a newsletter as well at www.garyhoey.com, for all things Hoey.
Noise: Any advice to struggling young artists trying to get their music heard in these tough times today?
Gary: Yeah. Stay true to the music. Stay off drugs, and never drink a drop of alcohol before the show, and you will have a chance to make it. That’s it, folks.