One of Canada's top harp blowers Dave "Hurricane" Hoerl talks about Bloomfield, Big Mama Thornton, Albert Collins, Pee Wee Crayton & the Twisters

"Blues is truth. It comes from deep down in your soul and it can’t be denied."

Dave Hoerl: The Hit of Hurricane Blues

Born and raised in San Francisco, David was originally tutored by Rick Estrin and David Burgin in the art of Blues Harmonica. He has since played with some of the best blues musicians in the U.S. and Canada, including: Mike Bloomfield, Albert Collins, Percy Mayfield, Big Mama Thornton, Little Joe Blue, Freddie Roulette, Big Joe Duskin, Pee Wee Crayton, Steve Freund, Carl Weathersby, Phil Guy, Sonny Rhodes and Kenny "Blues Boss" Wayne. 

In 1982 David came to Canada with Kenny Wayne, became a permanent resident in 1986 and a dual American / Canadian citizen in 2010. In Canada he has recorded with Kenny "Blues Boss" Wayne, Russell Jackson, Powder Blues, Valdy, Gary Fjellgaard, Murray Porter, Blue Voodoo among many others, and played on numerous jingles and commercials.

As the founding member and sole remaining original Twister, he has received numerous accolades and awards for songwriting, vocals and harmonica playing, including being nominated in 1997, 1998, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, & 2011 for "Harmonica Player of the Year" by the Toronto Blues Society's "Maple Blues Awards". According to West Coast Blues Review (1995) and Real Blues Magazine (1996-2006) David Hoerl is "Canada's Top Harp Blower".


Interview by Michael Limnios


Dave 'Hurricane', when was your first desire to become involved in the blues & what were the first songs you learned?

I used to go to the Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco when I was a kid. I was lucky to have seen Albert Collins, The Chambers Bros., Paul Butterfield, Taj Mahal, etc. and I just fell in love with the music. The first song I learned was “Next Time You See Me” by Jr. Parker.


How did you choose the nickname 'Hurricane'?

I used to run track in Jr. High and High School. I was pretty fast in the sprints, and ended up being the fastest in my high school in the 100 yard and 220 yard dash. I did pretty well in All-City track meets in San Francisco, so I got my nick-name “Hurricane”. I kept it for my music career.


What does the BLUES mean to you & what does Blues offer you?

Blues is an honest improvisational music that enables the musician to play and improvise with feeling, simplicity and virtuosity. It offers me artistic release. (I can literally “blow my soul”)


What were your favorite harps back then, where did you pick up your blow style?

Marine Bands. I originally liked Paul Butterfield, Corky Siegel, Charlie Musselwhite, James Cotton,  Sonny Terry, Sonny Boy Williamson I & II and Little Walter knocked me out. Then I met Rick Estrin through a girlfriend, who taught me about  tongue-blocking. Now I use Blue Harps MS and I really like the Marine Band Deluxe.


Do you know why the sound of harmonica is connected to the blues?

I believe because it can sound like a human voice and almost cry. It is also relatively inexpensive, so it was affordable for poor blues musicians.

What are the secrets for a good harmonica?

You must have a good musical ear and play with taste. Less is more.

"Blues is an honest improvisational music that enables the musician to play and improvise with feeling, simplicity and virtuosity. It offers me artistic release. (I can literally “blow my soul”)"

From whom have you have learned the most secrets about blues music?

Rick Estrin and Sonny Rhodes.

What are some of the memorable stories from San Francisco you've had?

Playing in 2 San Francisco Blues Festivals, one with Sonny Rhodes, Mark Naftalin, Bobby Murray, Ron Thompson and Henry Oden as my band mates, playing in all the great Oakland juke joints such as the Deluxe Inn and Eli Mile High Club. I remember playing from 1:00PM till 10:00AM at the Deluxe Inn and Sonny Rhodes falling asleep on stage on his lap steel guitar while we just kept playing. Ha, those were fun and funny days!


Are there any memories from Mike Bloomfield, which you’d like to share with us?

What kind of guy was Mike? Mike told me once I sang like “Tin Pan Alley” after I sang Next Time You See Me, but I’ve always had a more smooth, Jr. Parker type voice than a rough, “Blues” voice. He was a very  nice, intelligent man. We didn’t interact much, but myself and my duo partner, Mike Henderson used to open up for him a lot at a place called The Old Waldorf and another Bill Graham- owned place called Wolfgang’s. He sometimes sat in with us on piano. We played with his band backing us up at a very early San Francisco Blues Festival around 1976 and Michael sat in with us on piano then also. I also took college courses like ethno-musicology and recording arts  from his friend and producer, Norman Dayron. He produced Fathers & Sons and the Howlin’ Wolf in London sessions for Chess Records.


As the founding member and sole remaining original Twister, he has received numerous accolades and awards for songwriting, vocals and harmonica playing, including being nominated in 1997, 1998, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, & 2011 for "Harmonica Player of the Year" by the Toronto Blues Society's "Maple Blues Awards".

How did you first meet Big Mama, what advice has she given to you and which memory from her makes you smile?

It’s quite funny, but I was in a band called Total Capacity based out of Oakland, California led by a great left- handed guitarist named Carl “Good Rockin’’ Robinson.  His brother A.D on drums and another great player, Myron Williams on bass also played in the band. We had some cool tunes and Carl & I both sang, but we had the good fortune to be able to get lots of gigs as a backup band for many great artists. Among these were Little Joe Blue when he came to town, Sonny Rhodes and Percy Mayfield. In fact Carl hooked up with a promoter/agent/musician (can’t recall his name) who worked for Percy Mayfield and Big Mama Thornton who used us as musicians for the Percy Mayfield Revue Band and the Big Mama Thornton Revue Band. (This was the late ‘70’s /early ‘80’s). We played a couple of gigs backing up Percy, but at the time Big Mama was very ill and couldn’t make her gigs. I left the San Francisco Bay Area to hit the road in Canada with Kenny Wayne’s band in 1982. In July,1984 I get a call from Carl Robinson that the Big Mama Revue Band was to play at the Commodore Ballroom in Vancouver and he asked if I could come down and sit in, since I was an honorary member. So I did come down and sit in and finally got to meet and play with Big Mama. She took a sip of her whisky and milk backstage and said she liked my playing. (She was a harp player too). Unfortunately a couple days after this gig she traveled back home to LA and died.

Which artists have you worked with & which of the people that you have worked with do you consider the best friend?

Mike Bloomfield, Albert Collins, Percy Mayfield, Big Mama Thornton, Little Joe Blue, Carl Robinson, Freddie Roulette, Big Joe Duskin, Pee Wee Crayton, Steve Freund, Carl Weathersby, Phil Guy, Sonny Rhodes and Kenny “Blues Boss” Wayne.  My best friend out of all these great artists would be Kenny “Blues Boss” Wayne. He brought me to Canada from San Francisco in his band (We were good friends, band mates and neighbors in S.F.) He is my close friend and he was the best man at my wedding.


"Playing my music all around the world regularly for fans that truly love it." Photo: Dave and Kenny " Blues Boss" Wayne / by Eduardo Meneses © 2006 brg

Do you have any amusing tales to tell of your gigs and recording with Kenny "Blues Boss" Wayne?

I recorded my harp on 4 tracks of one of his recordings  called 88th & Jump Street. The other musicians on these tracks were Mel Brown on guitar, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith on drums and Bob Stroger or Russell Jackson on bass. Well they did their parts on the east coast of Canada and I recorded on the west coast at a different time and place. The recording came out great, but with new recording technology, you don’t have to all be in the same room at the same time to be recorded . I later met Bob Stroger and Willie Smith at a festival in Edmonton, Canada and told them I had recorded with them. It seemed funny to me, that I actually met them  years after I had recorded with them.


I wonder if you could tell me a few things about your experience with Albert Collins & Pee Wee Crayton.

Albert Collins sat in with us once on an acoustic guitar at the Old Waldorf in San Francisco. After the gig he held court at a very long craps game. He won. I met and played with Pee Wee in Vancouver in the early 1980’s. We played in a little restaurant/club named Mama Gold’s. He was a very sweet and nice man. We played at this place for a week or two. One of the band members threw a dinner party at the end of the gig, where he paid me a big compliment and said that Rod Piazza and myself were his favorite harmonica players.

"Blues is truth. It comes from deep down in your soul and it can’t be denied. I wish young people were more informed and educated in different music especially Blues and not just fed exclusively on top 40 and music from the pop charts on the radio."

Tell me about the beginning of the Twisters. How did you get together and where did it start?

I met original drummer, Sandy Smith at the Vancouver home of the Blues, The Yale in 1994. We decided to get a band together and he suggested upright player Pete Turland from England. Pete and I scouted out guitarists and we eventually all agreed on a young kid from Calgary, Alberta who knocked us out named Greg “Junior” Demchuk. We recorded our first CD with this lineup. The band has changed personnel since, and I am the only original member left, but with the addition of Brandon “Yukon Slim” Isaak, Keith Picot and Chip Hart, it is a  smokin’ unit still.


How do you characterize the “philosophy” of Twisters?

The most important aspect of The Twisters is that every member is vital to our sound. Not just one guy. Every member of The Twisters is a great player and showman on their individual instrument. Every single member of our band shines in their own way but the sum of the whole band is much greater than the individual parts. I believe that the concept of one front man is limited, and when there are 2 or more vocalists who sing and write songs differently, it is much more interesting than to hear just one singer all night. I also believe in egalitarianism and consultation. Everyone has a say in the band’s music and future plans. The band is run as a democracy not a dictatorship.


Describe the sound of the Twisters and your partners?

We swing (musically). We are blues and roots based and love the blues, soul and R & B, reggae, gospel, old timey country, etc. We write and perform mostly original tunes.  We are all very good friends first and foremost, and we have fun on stage and off.


How would you describe your contact to people when you are on stage?

I try to be friendly, happy and smile as much as possible, and most of all have fun and enjoy playing. It usually is apparent.


From the musical point of view is there any difference between US Blues & Canadian Blues?

No. There are all styles of blues played up in Canada, just like in the U.S.


What is the difference between a musician living and working in the U.S. and one in Canada?

In Canada there is guaranteed health care, so if there is a medical emergency, you are covered and you don’t lose your house or your shirt. It is a very large country and some parts are very cold in the winter. Traveling between gigs can be very long and treacherous in the winter.


How has the blues business changed over the years since you first started in music?

There are no longer full week gigs other than 1 room that I know of. (In Canada) Now there are more 1-nighters. Also people don’t go out and see live music as much in clubs and juke joints every day of the week till 2:00AM anymore. The economy has taken it’s toll, drinking and driving laws have gotten very strict and people tend to stay at home watching high definition TV’s and computers. Free downloading has killed CD’s and record store retail outlets, so record companies have gone under. The only place a musician can sell his/her music is at live venues and festivals except for digital sales. The radio is filled with top-40 or oldies stations so blues is almost non- existant in most AM markets. FM has the odd station that plays blues occasionally and thank God for College radio and the internet stations. Also there’s satellite radio and cable Blues stations. But generally the youth of today don’t get the exposure to Blues music very much as my generation did with great FM radio and concert halls for all ages that are affordable...


Which was the best moment of your career and which was the worst?

There are many great moments in my music-playing career. One of the most memorable for me was when I got to play with my heroes in a couple of Mark Hummel  Harmonica Blowout shows. I got to play on stage with James Cotton, Kim Wilson, James Harman, Lee Oskar, Mark Hummel, and Rusty Zinn on guitar! Another time it was with Rick Estrin and Magic Dick! The worst was when we got in an accident in 2005. A semi-truck tipped over on it’s side, came across the highway divider and slammed into our 2 vehicles going in the opposite direction. We were on our way to a gig and our bass player, JT was killed and our drummer was severely injured and lost his kidney. I broke my hand, but I was very lucky. We were all severely traumatized as you can well imagine.


Some music styles can be fads but the blues is always with us.  Why do think that is? Give one wish for the BLUES.

Because Blues is truth. It comes from deep down in your soul and it can’t be denied. I wish young people were more informed and educated in different music especially Blues and not just fed exclusively on top 40 and music from the pop charts on the radio.


Tell me a few things about the DVD: "The Harmonica of David 'Hurricane' Hoerl", how that came about?

Doug Cox, an excellent musician in his own right has an instructional DVD company called “Learn Roots Music”  ( www.learnrootsmusic.com )” He asked me if I wanted to represent the instruction of Blues Harmonica, and I said yes. So I recorded an instructional DVD that is geared for beginners and intermediate players. I go over the basics such as cupping & tone control, how to hold a harp, vibrato, tongue blocking, lip blocking, basic bends, etc. and there are some backing tracks for practicing.


If you go back to the past what things would you do better and what things would you avoid doing again?

After our accident I try to avoid driving in really bad weather conditions and fly as much as possible. But sometimes it’s just unavoidable. Otherwise I can say I’d basically do it all over again. I’ve had my fun!


Are there any memories of all these “blues cats” which you’d like to share with us?

Lot’s of memories, but the good ones can’t be repeated publicly…


What is your “secret” music DREAM? What turns you on? Happiness is…

Playing my music all around the world regularly for fans that truly love it.


The Twisters - Official website

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