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Gary Hoey - Lessons from the Guitar Man

By Gesel Pereyra-Mangilit

"My goal is to write a song using just one chord," he says, "just like the way they did back in the 1950s." He strikes a chord over and over again in his Fender guitar, holding his audience in rapt attention. "Also, do you know that Jimi Hendrix played with just his thumbs in 'Drive?' Now, that is hard to do. Is anything cooler than that?"

Tall, wiry and clad in regulation rock 'n roll get up of T-shirt and jeans, rock instrumentalist Gary Hoey is just as comfortable playing for millions onstage as he is in front of around 500 people sitting almost shoulder to shoulder one drizzly afternoon at the Yupangco head office, fielding questions like a school professor from eager students, sharing his life experiences, as they listen to him talk about his music and his passion: songwriting.

His soundtrack to the classic surfing film, Endless Summer II, and his Christmas series, Ho-Ho-Hoey, has gained him world renown. To date, he has nine solo CDs tucked under his belt. But it was the remake of the Focus hit "Hocus Pocus" that rocketed him to the Billboard Top 5 back in 1993 when it became the most frequently played rock song of the year. Known as a first-rate player on the technical level, he's been crisscrossing continents, conducting guitar clinics for Fender, while promoting his latest album, Wake Up Call, which, for the first time, showcases his singing.

"The album is my wake-up call, in a lot of ways," he admits. "I woke up to the fact that I grew up as a singer in bands for years and years. I loved to sing, and I realized I had to get back to it. But it's also my wake-up call for the guitar, because guitar playing has diminished a bit over the years. I wanted to get back to the sounds that inspired me. You want to look to the future, but don't get rid of the past."

Practice...then play
Hoey claims he didn't really start picking the guitar until he was 14 even though from the way he plays he might as well have been born with a Strat in his hands. As a kid, he'd use a tennis racket and mimic rockstars and dig music specially when it came from Aerosmith, J. Geils and Boston. Just like any rockstar with an "axe (term for electric guiar) to grind," Jimi Hendrix was his inspiration.

"Jimi Hendrix was my main influence. I dug him because he wore cool clothes and licked his guitar and set it on fire. He did everything I wanted to do. He's why I play rock and roll today," he admits.

He twirls his fingers on his six-string as he runs through his repertoire built through years, he says, of hard work and lots of really bad songs. "I've been writing songs for a long time and, believe me, I've had to go through a lot of bad songs before I got to the really good ones. My advice to anyone who wants to write is to practice - learn chord progressions, like, what chords fit into a key, every note of the scale. Like, for example, what key is related to A major?" He gets raised hands from the crowd and gets an answer, "E minor."

"Yeah, that was fast, man," he says. "You know there have been a few Filipino guitar players who' trained with us for a year. All I can say is, they're really good, very disciplined and they practice hard," he says.

Practice, after all, makes perfect, he says. Of course, there will come a time when you have to stop practicing and start being a real player.

"At some point you need to stop being a student, like, say to yourself, 'Ok, mentally, I'm done with practicing, I'm ready to create music,'" he says, adding that early on in his career, when all he'd ever done was practice, his wife came down to the basement one day. "She says to me, like, how come you're always practicing? Don't you know a song the whole way through?" which drew chuckles from the crowd. His advice: Get serious, stop being a student, throw all your music books in a closet, start being a player and get down to playing real music.

Let it flow
Some of the best music he's done though, came from practice. Like patches of cloth that, when sewn together, creates a multicolored quilt, he says he keeps track of everything he's done by putting everything on tape, labeling them and cataloguing them, lining them up like books in a library. Then he goes over them week after week, getting the best ideas and re-recording them.

"When you're making music, let it all flow. You can't be the judge of what you do while you're creating. Just get it on tape and then take some time away from it. A week after, get back to it and just listen, really listen. Then be the judge," Hoey relates.
Contrary to what people say -- including his mom who thought he was crazy when he went to LA with only $17,000 to his name to start his career (Ozzy Osbourne was his discoverer) -- that music is something you can't live on, he counters that there are lots of ways to earn money from music like, such as writing music for TV, film, commercial jingles, even for videogames.

"Writing music for film is easy 'cause you just look at how the scene plays. Some I can finish in five days, others take me as long as nine months. Like when I wrote "California Screaming" for Disney; that took me five months and I got paid $50,000 for that. The thing is, I get paid for something that I really enjoy doing," he says.

"Never underestimate your musical ideas, because ideas sell. Create music, run a music publishing company, put it on a web site, license them out to people -TV stations, music supervisors, recording companies, just get them out to people," he adds.

To any starved musician who has ever been on that lonely road to superstardom, these nuggets of wisdom inspire, especially when dished out by someone who started out not knowing how to read or write music. Hoey wanted to attend school at Boston's prestigious Berklee School of Music, but because his parents couldn't afford the tuition, what he did instead was hang around outside the school, looking for graduates who left with their guitars on hand and asked for lessons at 10 bucks an hour.

Hoey has definitely come a long way since. Today, the writer, composer and producer knows the music business like the back of his hand. Hearing him talk for two hours makes you feel that, yes, there is more to guitar playing than just brain-addling, screaming guitar frenzy with loads of bad attitude, although the brain addling, guitar frenzy part his Filipino fans really got a blast from, specially when he played bonus tracks from his Wake Up Call album, "Linus and Lucy" and, of course, "Hocus Pocus."
"Don't think you have to be a real big rockstar, go to rehab, go hotel room bashing and ride limos, to be a really good musician. For me, it's all about having fun, playing music that will bring people together and inspiring others," he concludes.

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