Canton is adopted hometown for Donnie Iris’ guitarist - July 26, 2004
By Dan Kane

There’s another side to Marty Lee Hoenes, creative director at Graphic Enterprises in North Canton that few of his clients would ever guess.

Hoenes is lead guitarist for Donnie Iris and the Cruisers, a position he’s held since the band’s infancy in 1980.

The band scored national hits with “Ah, Leah!” and “Love is Like a Rock,” and will headline the grandstand Aug. 7 at the Pro Football Hall of Fame Ribs Burnoff.

“It’s not something I really go around promoting,” Hoenes says modestly, although he speaks of the band with pride.

Hoenes, his wife Cindy (a New Philadelphia native) and their daughter Madison moved here from Erie, Pa., seven years ago, largely to be closer to her family.

The guitarist is quick to stress that Iris and the Cruisers are not just a nostalgia act resting on their laurels. “I want people to know that we’re still doing this with a lot of passion,” he says.

The Cruisers have finished recording five songs for a new album, “Ellwood City,” that is planned for a fall release. The band — including Iris, Hoenes and original keyboardist Mark Avsec — is also working on a documentary about itself that will be released as a DVD.

“Donnie sings like a bird,” Hoenes (pronounced like heinous). “He still has that gift. It’s amazing.”

The guitarist is especially eager for this year’s burnoff show because Canton has become his adopted hometown. He’s previously played with Iris here at the Palace Theatre and at the ribs burnoff when it was downtown.

Hoenes was playing guitar with a band called the Pulse at a club near Iris’ hometown of Beaver Falls when Iris spotted him. He accepted Iris’ offer to play on a solo album Iris was about to record. After the album, “Back On the Streets,” spawned a radio hit, “Ah, Leah!,” and was picked up by a major label, Hoenes became a permanent member of Iris’ new band, the Cruisers.

“I was in my 20s and we were touring with major artists on major tours — Hall and Oates, Ted Nugent, Loverboy,” Hoenes recalls. “We worked hard. We would go out for six and eight weeks at a time.”

Not many bands could succeed at opening concerts for both top-40 hitmakers Hall and Oates and hard-rocking Ted Nugent.

“We were pop with a hard edge, so we could open for a lot of different acts,” Hoenes says. “We used to call that ‘beauty and the beast’ — beautiful lush harmonies washing over these growling, aggressive guitar sounds.”

A perfect slice of Donnie Iris and the Cruisers’ sound is available on the budget-priced CD “The Millennium Collection: The Best of Donnie Iris.” It collects a dozen top Iris tunes, among them a live version of his Jaggerz hit “The Rapper” and the glorious, Rundgren-esque “That’s the Way Love Ought to Be.”