Joel Hoekstra Of Whitesnake: The Interview

Joel Hoekstra Interview

Feature Photo of Joel Hoekstra – Photographer Michael Polito © 2003 courtesy of Joel Hoekstra

Joel Hoekstra is a sought-after guitarist/session guy and full-fledged band member for some of the best groups around the world. A quick scan and you’ll see he’s played with everyone from Night Ranger and Whitesnake to Trans-Siberian Orchestra and superstar Cher. Now, balancing a few different bands, the guitarist is keeping rock music front and center. For starters, he’s released several albums with Joel Hoekstra’s 13 in which he collaborates with A-list musicians on his versatile songs.

Next, he is also writing riffs for the next Iconic album, an all-star group he started with Stryper’s Michael Sweet. Their hefty lineup includes bassist Marco Mendoza (former Black Star Riders, Dead Daisies, Whitesnake), legendary drummer Tommy Aldridge (Whitesnake, former Motörhead and Ozzy Osbourne) and vocalist Nathan James (Inglorious, Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Uli Jon Roth).

Along with those gigs, Hoekstra joined Revolution Saints with drummer, singer/songwriter, Deen Castronovo (Journey, Bad English, Hardline, and more tours/studio work) and bassist, singer Jeff Pilson (former Dokken, Dio, MSG, and currently Foreigner). The band’s album Eagle Flight (Frontiers Records) comes out on April 21, 2023.

Music seems like a mainstay of the guitarist’s entire life. It all started when Hoekstra was growing up in Orland Park, Illinois, under the tutelage of his classical musician parents. He put down the cello, and picked up a guitar. Eventually, the heavy riffs of Black Sabbath and AC/DC captured his attention.

Fast forward, Hoekstra, a New York-resident, has deep roots in New York City having been in Rock of Ages, the hit Broadway musical featuring the soaring rock and glam metal hits of the eighties.

Before that, the guitarist was also in Love, Janis, (2000) a live stage show jamming to the music of Janis Joplin and Big Brother & The Holding Company. The popular musical, directed by Randal Myler, ran at the Village Theater (originally called the Village Gate). Awesome too, the musical director was former Big Brother & The Holding Company guitar legend Sam Andrew.

Lately, while Whitesnake is not touring any longer (at last reporting), Hoekstra is still super-busy with music projects galore. He was nice enough to check in with while touring the United Kingdom and Ireland with Brandon Gibbs.

Joel Hoekstra Interview:

Joel Hoekstra Interview

Photo of Joel Hoekstra – Photographer Neil Zlozower

How is the UK and Ireland tour going with Brandon Gibbs? Are these smaller, more intimate venues?

Yes, we are three shows in, on this UK/Ireland run. We’re having a good time. The people that come out for these tend to be the die-hard, enthusiastic fans. So, it’s nice to be able to say hello, and take a picture.

Is it refreshing playing more up-close and personal settings?

Well, yes. Intimate venues are great as long as you actually play large venues as well (laughs). If the large venues never happen in your lifetime, the intimate venues are not so charming.

Tell me about your busy schedule. During the lockdown, I assume you increased your student roster. Is it still jam-packed?

I think I’m at twenty-eight students a week at the moment. There are more breaks from teaching surrounding my touring schedule these days. That’s the main difference between now and 2020-2021.

As usual, you have many recording projects in the works, but how do you manage it all?

I just make sure to work hard every day. I don’t take days off. That helps.

Being a family man, too. How do you balance the two roles, musician and Dad?

Well, it can be difficult. When not working, I’m parenting. I’ll rest….someday (laughing)!

You were on the road a lot with Whitesnake, then the tour was canceled. What is the status of Whitesnake/David Coverdale?

David hasn’t announced his retirement. He started the Farewell Tour and it was halted due to illness. We may or may not play again down the road. That’s up to David.

With Whitesnake off the road, are you involved in anything else with them or David Coverdale? Do you keep in touch?

David and I still talk regularly and I’m going to head out to the studio in May and spend some time with him. He’s a great boss and a friend, and hopefully, our relationship stays as good as it is. I’m very grateful to David for everything he has done for me. I think some musicians lose sight of that in working situations.

How did Revolution Saints come your way?

Doug Aldrich and Jack Blades decided to step aside and Frontiers spoke with Deen (Castronovo) and decided that they both wanted to continue on with the project. When they asked me to join I just wanted to talk with Doug about it first. He told me that he actually recommended to Frontiers that they get me, so that helped to make it feel less weird. Quite simply, I felt like it was a great opportunity to work with Deen Castronovo and Jeff Pilson. They are monster musicians.

The Revolution Saints’ album Eagle Flight will be out soon. You have some history touring with Jeff Pilson, too?

Yes, I filled in for Mick Jones in Foreigner for a bit in 2011, so Jeff and I bonded a bit through that. Coincidentally, Deen was on that same tour with Journey. Both Deen and Jeff have treated me fantastically over the years. Considering that when we met I barely had any name recognition, that means a lot. It shows that they respected me as a person and as a player.

For those who don’t know the story, can you revisit the time you filled in for Mick Jones (Foreigner) at the last minute? Talk about stress!

Yeah, I mean, long story short, I had about 24 hours notice to learn Foreigner’s set. The first show while I was still opening for them with Night Ranger and I believe there were 18,000 people there. All the Journey guys were watching in the wings. I was shitting my pants. Haha!

You work a lot making music while on the road. Is it challenging recording music while on the road?

 I enjoy it. My days of going out to the bars are over, so what makes me feel good is being productive. So, working on music basically is my partying these days.

 What’s your approach to creating music? Do you have a feel in mind based on the sound and vibe of the band or artist?

Oh, of course. That changes from project to project. I’m always trying to do my best in every given situation.

A lot of your playing style to me has a great melodic sensibility. Of course, you do these diverse instructional videos for Guitar World, so you have other elements too–and your rock and classical background as well. Is that melodic element a core of your playing style?

I just work at whatever the professional task at hand is and really, really try to do my best. Thankfully, my path has been really diverse, so that’s allowed me to be a fairly versatile player. I enjoy trying to “fit in” and please others. It’s very satisfying to write a catchy melody though, for sure.

You’re still very much involved with the Rock of Ages Band. That brand is where your professional rock music career really took off. Ever consider Broadway again?

Sure. I never turn my nose up at any cool playing opportunity. One thing I’ve learned is that life can take you to unexpected places that you never envisioned. Being open-minded and hard-working really is the key, for me at least.

Going way back, you were in Love, Janis (2000) a stage show with a live band performing Joplin’s tunes; I saw that one. Was that the beginning of things, sort of for you professionally?

Love, Janis marked the beginning of me solely performing for a living. Up until that point, I was a teacher who supplemented that with gigs. So, basically from 2000 – 2019 I only performed and recorded. During COVID I decided to bring back teaching–only virtually now. I did Love, Janis for two years in New York City, but also did runs in San Francisco, Phoenix, Tucson, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Louisville and Sag Harbor (New York).

Did you work with Sam Andrew in the past?

I also ended up doing gigs with Big Brother & the Holding Company because he (guitarist Sam Andrew) was the music director of Love, Janis and he asked me to do some runs with them.

One of your other high profile gigs was playing in Night Ranger. How did that arise? What was your experience as a guitarist joining an already established band?

I got Night Ranger through playing in Jim Peterik’s World Stage Band. Their drummer Kelly Keagy was a regular guest performer at those and I was in the house band. I became known as a guy who would learn 30 songs and come in and play a gig down. Turns out Reb Beach needed to miss a show with them and Kelly told them about me and that gig ended up being my audition. It was great joining Night Ranger. That was a very exciting time period for me. I was relatively unknown and it felt great to break through a bit.

And what are your observations now? Do you feel you’ve grown and developed?

Oh, of course. You learn as you go. I just work as hard as I can, do the best I can with people and hope life will take me in the right direction.

You’re always creating great music, like Joel Hoekstra’s 13 album Running Games. Does anything surprise you while navigating this one? Or a new technique or approach?

Hmmm, not really. With Joel Hoekstra’s 13 I just try to put out rock records that I would enjoy as a listener. So, I try to avoid the extended guitar solos and proggy moments, just to prove my abilities, per se. They are more about giving people some good solid rock!

 What guitars are you using now?

Gosh, I’ve got forty-something guitars, but my Les Pauls are my go-to’s. I love my R7 Goldtop, my black and white Custom Shops and really like the Custom Shops that Gibson made for me to play in Whitesnake.

And any more custom designs in your future, a la your “13” guitar?

Nothing planned, but I do like having different guitars for different gigs. It feels a little bit like a clean start every time you’re starting up with something.

I still love your Whitesnake “WS” purple crystal-topped guitar. Where is she at?

That’s up at David Coverdale’s studio right now. It usually is in storage with the Whitesnake gear, but David thought it might be nice to have in the background during some press footage. So, there ya go… (ha ha!)

What do you enjoy outside of work? How do you unwind, or destress?

I work A LOT. When not working, it’s sports or movies for me. In a lot of ways I’m just a normal, boring guy. One strange thing is I find a movie I like and watch it over and over. I’m not exactly sure why, but it’s a habit.

Lastly, not everyone who has been “that” kid listening to Angus Young and AC/DC, goes on to actually have a career in rock music. You’ve had some amazing tours from Cher to Whitesnake. What does it all mean to you?

Well, I’m happy that it’s all worked out a bit. I mean, I want to keep improving and see how far I can take everything. But I’ve gotten much, much further than the 11-year-old me would even believe. So, that’s pretty cool…

Joel Hoekstra Interview

Photo of Joel Hoekstra – Photographer Igor Vidyashev© 

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