Interviewed by Mark Dean (Journalist/Writer/Contributor) Myglobalmind Webzine
There have been many that have passed through the Whitesnake ranks in the guitarist role over the years. From the early British blues-based Marsden and Moody,the flash Sykes to the histrionics of Steve Vai and the Flying Dutchman Vandenberg. The recent partnership of David main snake Coverdale with Doug Aldrich did however seem to be a lasting one.. Imagine my shock as a long-standing fan of the band to find out a few months ago that Doug had also headed for the exit door . That surprise continued when the name of his replacement was announced as Joel Hoekstra of Nightranger. Joel had also worked in both Rock of Ages and the Trans Siberian Orchestra. However many people were then asking who actually is Joel Hoekstra? Curious to find out I arranged an interview to get the opinions and views direct from the newest serpent in the Whitesnake camp.
Joel”Hi Mark I am just scrambling here. I am home for a few days and then I go to Trans Siberian Orchestra.I am packing up all my guitars and stuff. Things are hectic it was my wedding anniversary today (I then offer to reschedule to a more appropriate time)also. I will be busy for the foreseeable future so its just the way things have to go with me sometimes. We are all good.”
Firstly I just need to ask -I recently watched the Nightranger acoustic DVD, and to be fair you did look settled and very happy in there. Why the move to Whitesnake?
Joel”Oh yeah, it doesn’t have as much to do with me wanting to leave Nightranger as much as it was me wanting to take the Whitesnake gig. Well I was texting with Doug Aldrich who is a friend of mine the night before the news was leaked. He didn’t say anything specific to me but he just said that there was news coming. The next day I woke up, I checked my Twitter and people were suggesting me for a potential replacement for something. I went “For what”? I clicked on it and it was for Doug in Whitesnake. I thought”oh man that would be actually a really good fit and be kind of cool”. So just to see what the deal was I sent off an email to put feelers out and see if there was going to be auditions and anything like that. I did hear back-eventually ..(laughs)not at first. Then I think a couple of well respected people had put my name forward to David Coverdale. We ended up getting together in late May, just meeting and a little bit of auditioning so to speak. A little bit of playing on some pre-production. That went fantastic and we got along great which is always important. Really at that point he just said”why don’t you come back and play on the album in August”At that point I just thought”well we have got this penciled in, more or less”,and we will see how it goes. I just kept things quiet and when I went back out in August I really started to get enthused playing on the album. I got along great with David and Reb working on that. Reb and I got some great guitar work done together.”
That must have been odd to hook up with Reb, as you had actually replaced him in Nightranger?
Joel”Yeah(laughing)Reb and I met oddly enough when he was helping me to learn the Nightranger songs. Its a very small scene I guess in some ways. I always got along great with Reb, he is a great guy and a great player. I just wanted to explore the opportunity and then make sure that it was going to be a great fit before moving forward. I didn’t know if I would get on to record and David would say”Maybe he is not our guy”because our meeting was very brief at the end of May quite frankly. I think that he felt really good about it. It was a very important move for me to do it the right way, not to just rush in and go after a couple of hours and go”I have got a gig”I just wanted to really make sure that it played out correctly. Things went great with the album, and at that point I definitely began to think “OK this is happening, I am going to be in Whitesnake”At that point in time I let the Nightranger guys know and said that I was available to continue touring really until what would have been next April. I wanted to give them the opportunity to figure out what was best for both parties moving forwards. I think that they probably felt that it was going to be a bit of a distraction. They chose to go ahead and start gigging with someone else right now. Everything went as smoothly as it could have,its just not easy to do any transition between bands so…”
You stated that you played on the new Whitesnake album. Were those songs already written or did you have any creative input with them?
Joel”Everything is under wraps and top secret in that department. The only thing that I can tell you is that its is really cool. Its great, straight ahead rock&roll. Blues inspired rock that you have known and grown to love coming from Whitesnake. We are not going to hit anybody with a formula change and move to smooth jazz. Working with David so far has been great, he is just an unbelievably great guy. We get along great and he is so funny. He puts me at ease and I feel like he just wants me to be myself as a player. I am certainly interested in paying homage to all the players that have been through the camp and do my very best to represent historically what made Whitesnake so great as well. Honestly a lot of that is still ahead of me . It was really jump immediately into doing this album, so a whole lot of that is just me doing what I do. Before the tour next year when it comes to covering other peoples material is when I will do a lot of shedding on peoples styles if you will.”
What was your own personal introduction to Whitesnake as a teenager listening to rock music in the eighties?
Joel”I was like a lot of people in the States, when the Geffen stuff hit so big here. The Sykes stuff that was what I was used to hearing. Certainly “Slide It In” and loved the Whitesnake album. I wore those out and actually ”Slip of the Tongue” as well. I was like most people were in the States I would imagine. Realistically I had not followed every footstep of Whitesnake or have been there since the beginning. I definitely enjoyed the popular stuff here in the States and I was a big fan of it.”
Just researching prior to the interview, reading through the CV listed on your website and you have seemed to work with quite a few people over the years..
Joel” I think my Bio can be a touch deceptive because a couple of the gigs that I had Jim Peteriks World stage and Scrap Metal have allowed me to work with a bunch of artists but only for a few songs. I have sort of been in the house band and singers like Eric Martin, I just did one with Stephen Pearcy and Derek St Holmes. While I have played with them I certainly feel that I have earned the right on the bio. Its really only been a few songs live where I have played the hits with them. Quite a bit of my bio is that I would say the bulk of my giggage has come through doing those Rock Theatre things. A lot of my main bands that I made my living with coming up here where a lot of the oldies playing with The Turtles and Big Brother and the Holding Company. Scrap Metal again and World stage learning all that material and definitely the last seven years with Nightranger. Quite a bit of time with them, we had a great run. Hopefully everybody understands out there that I definitely cherish all the moments with that band. My move to Whitesnake has nothing to do with me not liking the Night Ranger gig at all.”
I read that you had been actually a Nigh Ranger fan prior to joining the band?
Joel”I was sort of actually the same with Night Ranger that I was with Whitesnake. Although I would say looking back on it as a kid I had more of a slant towards favoring the actual solos and guitar playing of Night Ranger. I was a big Brad Gillis and Jeff Watson fan. I had learned more of the soloing from them than anything. With Whitesnake I think it was probably the opposite.(laughing)I don’t know realistically if I ever learned any of the Sykes solos back then, but I knew all the songs. The songs are such great songs and I had learned a bunch of those ..the riffs and what not”
What has been the biggest challenge for you personally since you started playing musically professionally?
Joel”Just really finding the time to do everything that I like. I am very driven to absolutely do the best that I can. I usually push myself to the edge of insanity to make sure that I do the very best that I can,and that’s with everything. That will just continue on with Whitesnake,but its been like that with every gig I have ever taken. I push myself extremely hard. My philosophy as a guitar player is if you want to be able to make a living at it then you need to be out working everybody else around you. Otherwise you don’t stand a chance. Certainly if you want to become the cream of the crop, rise to the top or stand out from the crowd you have to put in the work. You get back what you put in to it that’s my philosophy. I think that there is a lot of magic in rock and roll but also at the same time sometimes it just comes down to how much work that you are willing to put in. I think that is why a lot of bands material I believe is better earlier in their history as they are willing to put in the time on albums and ensure that they have written the very best songs that they can because it is their one shot. At other times bands get successful or popular and they get a little bit lazy-They may not be communicating as well as with each other and that’s when the material and the quality slips for the fans. Sometimes it just comes down to hard work.”
Do you stay in touch with current musical trends hypes etc?
Joel”No I am so uncool its unbelievable. Honestly I am so busy between Rock Of Ages, Trans Siberian Orchestra and Nightranger. Really I have been doing all three of those gigs for the last 6/7 years that I have always been working on what material that I am about to play. Or I am on a stage if you include sessions and things like that I have been doing about four hundred gigs a year for the last 6/7years.It’s like having a gig every single day. Quite often I will get home and its preparing for something else. Just to be able to keep doing some of the other things that I like to do. I have a couple of side recording projects. I finished the VHF recording project with Tony Franklin and Todd Vinciguerra which is sort of psychedelic instrumental rock. I have one that I am working on right now which is a vocal project with Russell Allen singing and Vinnie Appice. Russell is just amazing “
Are there any musical genres that you wouldn’t do-and have an aversion to?
Joel”Not necessarily, it’s not that I dislike any genres I think that it is more about finding substance in a genre. I think it is there in every genre, some you have to dig a little deeper than others. I think that there is talent found in all of them. I guess in a lot of ways I feel cheated that there is no talent involved in it,if it is just a gimmick and then I am not so much a fan of it. I wouldn’t say that I dislike any genres and I have even played in a hip hop band at one point that was opening for The Roots and opening for Ludichrist. You know what? I had a great time playing simple r+b style guitar basically. I got to be friends with Captain Kirk from the Roots who is a great player. I met him on the Jimmy Fallon show here in the States and we ended up becoming friends through that. All these live experiences I find are valuable and make the most of them. You know David Coverdale is an extremely open-minded musician. People would be shocked what he is open-minded to, and I am really the same way. Although I will say that at my core is rock and that is what made me really inspired about music for the first time in my life.”
Now you are in Whitesnake has that closed the door on your other work with Rock Of Ages and Trans Siberian Orchestra? Or are you still able to explore those other musical outlets ?
Joel”So far, so good I am about to embark on my fifth Trans Siberian Orchestra Winter Tour this November/December, and Rock Of Ages is just opening. That has been running for quite some time It is quite open-ended. I just do that when I am home here in New York 8 shows per week. There has been other productions of it so that people are not confused. There is a UK tour of it currently, and I am not a part of it. They put up the same version of the show essentially in different places.There is one in Las Vegas right now, and there was a sit down in the UK, there was an Australian one. I am apart of the Broadway one that is here at home in New York. That is why that gig is good for me. I don’t know that I would necessarily want to go out on the road with something like that. It is fantastic to come home and have a gig basically every day that I don’t have a gig.”
How do you view your own musical legacy? Do you go back and listen to music that you have done or do you prefer to focus on the future rather than the past?
Joel”I am quite often working hard and just moving forward. I would love to be looked at as one of the greats some day but again it is so subjective. It really comes down to I think a daily philosophy of trying to be productive every single day and trying to be working hard and doing the best that you can. All the stuff that I tell young kids ..aspiring kids that want to play. They have to realise that the music business is a process. You are not going to go from playing in your bedroom to playing with one of the biggest bands in the world it just doesn’t work that way. You have actually got to move up one step at a time.
Just a couple of questions to finish on. I appreciate that you have done nay interviews. If you could pick someone to interview, who would it be, why, and what question would you ask them?
Joel”I would love to sit down and talk with Angus Young. He was my inspiration to start guitar. Its not so much that I ended up learning all the ACDC records note for note or anything like that. Although I have certainly covered a handful of his solos. Just look at him and his energy and marvel at it(laughs)and think my gosh this guy has spent his entire life on a stage giving it all. I don’t ever recall seeing any footage even for ten seconds of Angus Young taking it easy on a stage. Which is pretty remarkable when you consider the world tours and the length of time that he has been at it. I just think that he would just probably be a great guy and I just have a lot of respect for him as a performer. I would love to sit down and interview him and the rest of musicians I look at as friends or peers. I have a bit of a thing for basketball so I would quite like to interview Michael Jordan. Awful as that sounds to music fans. Sports has always been my kind of escape from music and I dont have much time for it and I am certainly not nearly as good.(laughs) I would probably want to sit down with Michael Jordan”
You earlier discussed recording the Whitesnake album, is that all finished any idea of a possible release date for that?
Joel”More or less, there is a litte bit of work to do recording wise, in terms of overdubs.We are very close to sticking a fork into it and entering into mix mode. I am heading out to Davids here shortly and we are shifting into promo gear for a bit. Pictures and videos and things of that nature. We should have some good stuff for you guys. I cant wait for you to hear it it kicks ass.”
Thanks for chatting to me Joel , hopefully the world tour will take in a gig over here in N.Ireland.
Joel “it was great to meet you, I really appreciate any support that I get. I still feel like a player building a name. I am just looking forward to meeting many new people like yourself. Its a whole lot of why I like to do this. Branch out, meet new people and have new experiences in life. Its fun. Thanks so much I’m looking forward to it, its going to be good. I have put in all the work at my end and I wont let you guys down. I’m not sure of the Uk dates as yet. Certainly next year there will be a lot of touring…”