We all know Gary Hoey can do pretty much anything on guitar. His cover of prototypical prog classic ‘Hocus Pocus’ was a Top 5 Billboard Mainstream Rock hit in 1993. In 1994 his soundtrack to Endless Summer II single-handedly made surf music cool again in the eyes of players raised on shred. His Ho Ho Hoey series of Christmas albums have rocked up the holidays for nearly two decades, and he’s even found the time to record and tour with Lita Ford. But one thing Hoey had never done was record a blues album. That all changes with Deja Blues. Funded via kickstarter and recorded in a burst of creativity in 2012, the album finds Hoey tapping into the blues lifeblood that beats in the heart of every rocker, but with his own unmistakable tone and touch.
You recently released your first ever blues album. Tell us about it!
The new record! I’ve recorded 18 albums since 1988, and I always wanted to do a blues record. I’ve always been a big fan of the blues. I produced Lita Ford’s latest record, Living Like A Runaway, and at the end of that project I was ready to do something just for me, a real satisfying project. So I had some songs written and I got into the studio and I started recording them. At first I was going to do an album full of cover songs, but then I said ‘No, I’ve got to turn around and write some original blues.’ So I came up with a song called ‘Almost Over You,’ which is a slow ballad about this guy who’s in love with this chick, and he’s almost over her …to a point. And I wrote another song called ‘Washed Around’ which is a Stevie Ray Vaughan kind of Texas tune. And then I did the title track, ‘Deja Blues,’ which is an instrumental that’s kind of like Jeff Beck. And then I did two covers: ‘Going Down’ and ‘Born Under A Bad Sign,’ because I think you have to have a couple of covers when you’re doing blues.
As a guitar player the blues is part of our DNA – it’s always there.
This is no lie: this is one of the most difficult records I’ve made and the easiest at the same time. My last album, Utopia, took me almost two years to make. It was a really crafted album of songs and textures and harmonies, and this was an album I made in two weeks! In some ways it’s more demanding to play a blues song, for me personally, because it’s five minutes of constantly wrenching the notes. It isn’t just playing the melody perfectly – you’ve really got to dig in deep. And I find it physically more demanding to play the blues, because your soul has to be bared and you have to put everything into every song. Take Stevie Ray Vaughan: when Stevie Ray Vaughan would hit the stage, from the first note he played he sounded like he was on fire. And that’s something I try to depict when I’m playing the blues. But it’s a challenge!
That’s what’s so tricky about the blues: you don’t want to sound like a copy of the people who came before you, but at the same time there are blues ‘rules’!
There absolutely are. It’s kinda like guitar playing in general. When I first started doing the album I thought “Oh my god, I’m a white guy playing from Massachusetts! I’m not going to sound authentic.” And then when we first started recording I was trying to overdo my voice. I was trying to add more gravel to make it more intensely bluesy. And then I went “Y’know what? That’s not me.” So I kinda sang the way my voice felt more natural. And it came out the best just by being myself.
Well if you listen to Eric Johnson singing the blues, it’s very pure and clean, and it’s not traditionally ‘bluesy’ at all – yet it works for the material. He believes in it so we believe in it.
It really does. It gives him his own unique style, his own unique sound. And that’s kinda what I did with the guitar playing: I realised after the record was done that it was my influences but it was also me.
So who are your main blues influences?
Well, for me early on it was BB King. I used to sit down and learn his solos note for note to get the feel. So BB was big for me. Gary Moore, when he switched over to blues, was huge for me. He was really one of the first rocky heavy metal guys to switch over to a Les Paul and play the blues, at least that I noticed. And then Stevie Ray Vaughan stopped me dead in my tracks because it was the 80s, when me and Paul Gilbert were trying to play as fast as we could, and then Stevie came along and made it really cool to play slow again. He made me go back to the real importance of music. So Stevie was one. Albert King, BB King, Freddie King were huge for me. Love Freddie. Of course, Eric Clapton in the way he does it is a big one for me. And another one I really love is Elmore James, man. When I listen to Elmore James he does a lot of open tuning and slide, and there’s a spirit to his music that I love. He sounds like he’s having a blast.
Blues can be so much fun sometimes. The name can mislead you but it can be fun music.
Well that’s what I noticed about my shows when I play more blues. People seem to be having a really good time. The blues is a combination of getting in touch with what hurts, and getting out the pain. There’s a sort of rejoicing in the blues. It’s a freedom. It’s the peoples’ music, because if anyone on the street hears the music, they get drawn in. There’s no complication to the arrangement.
What would be your ultimate guitar tone?
Well, the ultimate guitar for me, sometimes it’s really defined by the song. Sometimes you want a screaming lead. Sometimes you want a sensitive tone. Sometimes something clean. So I don’t know if there’s just one definitive sound for me. It’s when I become one with the music for a second and time sort of stands still. That’s when I know I’ve hit that special tone.
So what pickups are you using to get there?
I’m using a Seymour Duncan ’59 in the neck, and I’m a big fan of the JB, so the JB’s in a lot of my guitars. And I have one guitar I’ve been touring with lately that has the Pearly Gates in it, which I hadn’t used in years but I love it. So those are my main ones. And one of my Strats has a little mini JB.
Want to win a signed copy of Deja Blues? Leave a comment below telling us which two songs you would cover on your own blues album. We’ll pick our favorite answer on Wednesday February 27.