Ever since getting his big break with an audition for Ozzy Osbourne in 1988, Gary Hoey has been entertaining audiences across the country, and as far as Germany, Malaysia and Japan, with his eclectic mix of guitar rock.
Be it covers of classics such as “Hocus Pocus,” “Low Rider” or “Money,” writing movie soundtracks, surf guitar in the vein of Dick Dale, straight-up rock, or blues, as is the case with his latest album, “Deja Blues,” Hoey has done it all. But he is perhaps best known for his “Ho! Ho! Hoey” Christmas compilations and holiday tours.
He brings his holiday program to Rhode Island this Saturday when he performs at Twin River Casino in Lincoln at 9:30 p.m. The show is admission free.
“When I did the [first] Christmas album, I wanted to do fun Christmas music and make it rock,” Hoey said. “I wanted to do something different; not the traditional. I did ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’ with drop-D tuning mixed with the original melodies.”
Hoey said he was one of the first to do Christmas rock music in 1995, even before the wildly successful Trans-Siberian Orchestra exploded onto the scene with their debut album a year later.
“People got excited when it hit the radio waves and it grew from there,” he said. “I used an 8-track, recording in my bedroom, [for that first Christmas album].”
Hoey said he started playing guitar at the age of 14.
“My sister was dating a guy that played guitar … I took some lessons, learned basic chords, but I also studied with local groups as well,” he said. “Guitar was it from the beginning, but later on I [also] learned to play piano and bass.”
Hoey grew up in Lowell, Mass., and said he often hung out at the Berklee College of Music meeting up with people to jam and cut his chops in local bars and clubs around Boston.
“When I was growing up, I mostly played Boston up to Maine,” he said. “When you’re a young guy playing music, playing Maine was like going to California.”
Hoey said he would practice for 10 hours a day and kept his focus on the music, but he realized he wasn’t going to become famous if he continued to play Top 40 music. It took a few years, but eventually Hoey made it out to California.
“I auditioned for Ozzy when he came to Boston looking for a guitarist and that got me out to California and my big break in the business,” he said.
Although Hoey didn’t get the Ozzy gig, which went to Zakk Wylde, he said Ozzy told him he had talent and convinced him to move to California because someone else would recognize it too, and that’s when Hoey signed a record deal with Warner Bros. Records. He’s since gone on to record at least 10 studio albums, three “Ho! Ho! Hoey” holiday compilations and scored the soundtrack to the surf movie “The Endless Summer II.”
It’s no surprise Hoey is comfortable playing just about any style, as his early influences were many and varied.
“I loved the heaviness of Black Sabbath; then I discovered Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Stevie Ray Vaughn. I would always check out different styles, including classical and jazz,” he said. “I covered a lot of stuff, but the foundation for me is blues rock; I could do it for the next 20 years.”
So why, then, did it take Hoey so many years to do his first blues album, “Deja Blues,” which was released earlier this year?
“Blues is the foundation and the roots. I’ve always had respect for it, but I never thought about an album. It seemed like something you do when your career is over,” he said, laughing.
Hoey said the blues album came about following his work as producer and collaborator on Lita Ford’s new album, “Living Like a Runaway.”
“Recording Lita’s record was a lot of work. I wanted to do something fun and quick, so I started working on a blues song,” he said. “It was really fun and natural.”
Hoey said the recording process for the new album was similar to what he’s done in the past, first mapping out the demos in Pro-Tools, which allows “you to retain that magic moment at 3 a.m. goofing around.”
“The rough tracks ended up being the final tracks,” he said. “I even recorded the bass because our bass player had left the band. Me and my drummer, Matt Scurfield, did the whole record.”
Hoey continued with his love for blues rock by releasing a new single in time for the holidays called “Still Got the Blues for Christmas.” While it’s not on the new album, it can be found at his website at www.garyhoey.com.
Although producing Lita Ford’s new album was a lot of work, Hoey said he enjoyed working with her.
“I’ve been a fan for years. She was looking for a producer and liked my ideas,” he said. “I pushed her to another level and told her, ‘You haven’t hit your best yet.’”
Hoey said he may do more collaboration work in the future.
“I end up working with a lot of female artists,” he said. “It’s wide open. I’d love to work with Katy Perry or Pink. I talked to Geoff Tate about doing something. I’m interested in working with talented, passionate people that have excitement and still something to give.”
Established artists aren’t the only people Hoey has worked with; for 15 years he gave guitar lessons to up-and-comers. Although he no longer gives private lessons, Hoey still participates in guitar workshops and clinics.
“With 30 to 50 people [at the workshops/clinics], you can cover a lot in a couple hours,” he said.
Hoey said he’s also released an instructional DVD called “Need for Lead” and is in the process of building a new website, where he plans to post videos to help beginners learn the basics.
“Any profession of teaching is a great way to learn a lot of things you don’t discover on your own,” he said. “You can ask questions you never thought of before and it allows you to think in a different way.”
Hoey gave an example of a Nashville country player that wanted to learn how to play Van Halen songs.
“He said he played slide guitar, so we traded some lessons,” Hoey said. “There’s a cool friendship that you can build with people. You talk about life and things above and beyond the music.”
Hoey said many of the players he taught have gone on to famous bands, such as a guitarist in the Edgar Winters Band and John 5, who himself has collaborated with many artists, including David Lee Roth and Rod Stewart, has recorded a number of solo albums and performed with Marilyn Manson and is currently the guitarist for Rob Zombie.
Hoey has also participated in the Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp, which he said differs from teaching lessons one-on-one.
“With the Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp, you’re showing them the whole spectrum; help with stage presence, how to work in a band and how to compromise,” he said.
Hoey said he’s “an old school guy” when it comes to purchasing music, preferring to hold a physical album in his hands, admiring the artwork, reading the liner notes and lyrics, but he understands “the new generation just wants the music.”
“I was on a plane once and some kids recognized me. I had a hard copy of my album with me and when I gave it to them they looked at me dumbfounded, but I told them they could also find it on iTunes,” Hoey said. “I may be selling flash drives with the artwork and song titles [of an album] at future shows.”
Hoey said the advances in technology are exciting, especially the Internet, which allows you to get out in the world and provides more access to things.
“YouTube is amazing,” he said. “I go on there to watch something and 20 minutes later I’ll be listening to Hungarian chants or a concert from 1988.”
Hoey said it’s also a great way to learn new things.
“Sometimes I have to re-learn songs I’ve forgotten that I’m going to play live, and I’ll have 10 kids half my age teaching me how to play ‘Black Dog,’” he said, laughing.
When it comes to playing live, Hoey said he prefers the intimate club shows over the larger festivals.
“I like intimate venues a bit more; there’s more of a connection with the crowd and the sound is more controllable. It makes for a fun show when you have 200 or 300 people, exchanging sweat back and forth,” he said. “We do the big shows to do the little ones because they give you exposure and allow you to get in front of a lot of people.”
Hoey recently embarked on his Ho Ho Hoey Rockin’ Holiday Tour, where he will feature holiday favorites as well as material from his solo CDs while also teaming up with local charities, toy and food drives to help out the less fortunate.
“We’ll play new songs, hits and past tracks,” he said. “We’ll mix it up. It’ll probably be three-quarters Christmas songs.”
Hoey said the holiday tours provide a great opportunity to team with local charities to raise awareness and help out.
“It’s all over the place,” he said of the various charities and organizations he teams up with. “It depends on the city, what’s going on and who needs the most help.”
Past groups have included the North American Food Bank, Mayflower Truck and Toys for Tots, but Hoey’s latest endeavor is an effort to assist the people of Washington, Ill., who were hit with a devastating tornado on Nov. 17. During his Dec. 12 show at the Arcada Theater in St. Charles, Ill., Hoey will host a collection and donation drive for clothing and hygiene items such as soap and shampoo. Donations may also be sent to: Attn: November Tornadoes, The Salvation Army, 10 W Algonquin Road, Des Plaines, IL 60016-6000.
As for performing in the Ocean State, Hoey said, “Rhode Island is one of my favorite places to play. So much has happened with  HJY and Paul and Al. We still need radio and TV. It’s important to me because it’s a way to say thanks for the support I’ve received.”
Hoey said another way he stays connected with the fans is through Facebook.
“I have a Facebook link at garyhoey.com, where I post photos and videos, which I can do while I’m at my house or at the airport,” he said. “It’s nice to get that instant connection with the fans.”
For more information on Gary Hoey, upcoming tour dates, charities he supports or to purchase his latest album, “Deja Blues” or his recently released live DVD, “Ho Ho Hoey: Live in Lowell,” visit his website at www.garyhoey.com or find him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/garyhoeyofficialpage.