After recording instrumental albums and being in heavy metal bands, guitarist Gary Hoey has returned to the blues again on his latest album Neon Highway Blues. We caught up with Gary on tour to talk about his new album, and his love of Black Sabbath.
THIS WAS QUITE A DIFFICULT RECORD FOR YOU TO MAKE, WHY WAS THAT?
Well, there are always things that get in the way when you're on tour and coming off and on the road. To try and get back to that place you were creatively is sometimes hard. In the old days, we'd spend six months making a record, we'd lock ourselves away and spend a week on the kick drum sound, now you can't do that. Sometimes things come up when I'm producing, teaching or doing clinics and doing other stuff that is a way of making income, you're either struggling or juggling. Sometimes I would go in the studio and things would go the way I wanted them to, and I did a little bit of chasing my own tail and I did a little bit of waiting for the best stuff to come along. It's a balance when you have a home studio you can spend as much time as you want to do stuff. When we used to make records in 12 or 14 days you have to get in and do it. I've always tried to play and perform at the ability I'm at that time and make it the best. It's a snapshot of a moment in time of your career, you try to get better, but you're still the same person.
YOU TOUR A LOT, DOES THE TITLE REFLECT THAT 'BLUES' FROM BEING AWAY FROM HOME AND CONSTANTLY ON THE ROAD?
Well, what I do a lot of shows but I try to tour smarter not harder. So we would go on the road for three months at a time and all Monday, Tuesday, Wednesdays were sitting in hotel rooms and losing money. We all have children so we tend to hit a region of the country or the world, do a series of shows and come back home and go back out. I do try and pace myself.
YOU LOVE EXPERIMENTING WITH GUITAR SOUNDS, WHAT NEW DISCOVERIES DID YOU BRING TO THE ALBUM?
I'm all over the place. I like different styles and emotions and textures and sometimes I wait for the song to dictate to me what I'm looking for. For this album, I went around and around. I used my main amplifier the Eddy Van Halen EVH 5153 which Fender makes and I like at amplifier but I also pulled out the old super reverb the 410 from the 70s also the Fender Bassman. Also a really fantastic amplifier I found on eBay was a 50th-anniversary Vox amp. It's only 15 watts and I used that on Don't Come Crying and Mercy of Love to get that really authentic blues tone. I also put my microphone through a tube amp called the Avalon 737 and that's a class A valve amp before it goes into Pro Tools, which is digital.
YOUR VOCALS ARE REALLY STRONG ON THIS ALBUM. YOU'VE MADE A LOT OF INSTRUMENTAL ALBUMS IN THE PAST, WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO BRAVE IT AND SING TOO?
I grew up singing in bands, doing top 40 and hard rock, so I learned to sing from singing in smokey bars, I guess I had an OK voice. Then in the early 90s, I grew up listening to a lot of instrumental music: Jeff Beck in the 70s and 80s, and Joe Satriani and Eric Johnson, Steve Vai, so I loved instrumental music. After I did the record with Heavy Bones, we did one album for Warner Bros at the end of the 80s I did an instrumental record for fun and very little money and with Hocus Pocus (a cover of the Focus track) we had a top 5 Billboard hit. So I made an instrumental record because my band was failing – again struggling or juggling – and I had a hit with that. So I made a lot of instrumental albums and stuck with that for a while before coming back to singing. It was a challenge to get back to it. I think on the last three albums when I've committed myself to the blues it helped it helped my vocals because getting out on the road and singing live and giving it everything you've got is really how you learn to sing better. I tried to bring that back to the studio and singing from my heart and not from a technical place. I'm a producer and when you're on the other side of the glass and you're asking someone to perform for you, what they think is really good and what you think is really good is two different things. Like if their voice cracks or their breathlessness could be why it's (the track) is really emotional. So I try to find that emotional place and not a technical one. I'm not a great singer, I'm an OK singer and what I've learnt from producing is to find the five notes you sing best and stay away from the four you don't.
ERIC GALES AND LANCE LOPEZ FEATURE ON THE ALBUM, WHAT WAS IT LIKE WORKING WITH THEM?
It was fantastic. I've known Eric since the 90s and he's a friend and one of my favourite guitar players. Under the Rug was the perfect song for him to play on and he blew me away with what he performed. He brought it to another level and brought my playing to another level too. With Lance, I wrote a song called Dammed if I Do and I said this song is going to be for Lance and my son Ian also played on it.
HOW DID YOU PERSUADE YOUR SON TO PLAY ON THE RECORD?
I started teaching him when he was 5 and he's been in and out of guitar he plays football and he's an athlete, so I don't force it on him, but he started falling in love with the blues. He came into the studio and started jamming with me and I hit record and I didn't even tell him I was recording. I just said “have fun,'” he did a couple of takes and I took a little bit of this and that, but it was not that much and I thought it was so good it had to be on the record. It brought tears to my eyes when I heard the outro and the trading off because I forgot who was who.
IS THERE ANYONE ELSE MUSICAL IN YOUR FAMILY?
My Mother was a dancer and a singer and a performer when she was young. My daughter, Alison, is a painter and does really beautiful paintings. She studied in Italy for a few months a while back and is really going to take on are. Other than that it's really just been me. We try and leave the door open for creativity.
HOW OLD WERE YOU WHEN YOU STARTED PLAYING AND WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO
TAKE UP THE GUITAR?
I started much later than Ian, I was about 14 and I didn't have a guy called Gary Hoey or YouTube teaching me. We used to have vinyl records and move them back with the needle to learn. I have four sisters and one of them was dating a guy who was playing the guitar and he came to the house and was playing at the kitchen table and I was mesmerized. He started teaching me a few chords and that's what got me into it. Then I discovered Alice Cooper, Jimi Hendrix, Black Sabbath, cream and all the rock stuff.
YOU AUDITIONED FOR OZZY OSBORNE'S BAND BUT THE JOB WENT TO ZAKK WYLDE, WOULD YOU HAVE VENTURED TOWARDS THE BLUES IF YOU'D HAVE GOT THE JOB?
I started out with the blues and then got into heavy metal and I was totally obsessed with Black Sabbath, so when Ozzy went solo and I had a chance to audition for him it was much more than an audition, it was a dream come true for me, just to be in the room with him. As a guitar player for him to say “Gary you sound good, I like your sound” it really meant a lot and gave me a lot of confidence in myself. Zakk was the perfect choice for the gig. Then I went off to make heavy metal/instrumental records and I had success and I signed to Warner Brothers Records after auditioning for Ozzy. Ozzy has an ear for spotting talent and could hear that I had an ear for his music and I had written a song that he liked. I really believe that he led me to where I was going. Getting to my 50s I wondered what I was going to do in my 60s, 70s and 80s, and I decided to go with the blues and play blues rock. That's something I felt I could grow old doing. I've always done a blues song on every record. My very first album with Hocus Pocus there was a song called Texas Sun which was a tribute to Stevie Ray Vaughan, there's nothing bluesier than that. The blues has always been in the access road and so I feel I've come home. Even with the new record with songs like I feel Alive, Living the Highlife is me not letting go of my rock roots. Songs like Almost Heaven and Waiting on the Sun are my instrumental roots. I'm trying to keep it all going.
WHAT'S NEXT? There's no resting at all. I'm going to be back in the studio with Lita Ford producing her new record, we're halfway through that. I'm also producing some young artists and maybe my son Ian, he wants to start recording. I'm also writing and recording for the next album. It took me a while to get this new album out but it's made me feel motivated. So I feel like I should get this one going before I'm running late again.