Joel Hoekstra has played on Broadway in Rock of Ages, has toured the world with Night Ranger, Trans Siberian Orchestra and now Whitesnake. He will be releasing his first non-instrumental solo album, Dying To Live on October 16. This is one busy dude, but he was kind enough to spend a half hour with Korea Guitar. Enjoy the interview, buy his new album and support Whitesnake on their Fall tour of Japan, Europe and the UK.
Let’s start right at the beginning, when and why did you start to play the guitar?
Well, my parents are classical musicians and had me playing cello and piano at a very young age. I wasn’t all that thrilled. I just wanted to play baseball like most little boys. But then I heard ACDC at the age of 11 and that changed everything. I asked for a guitar and I got one and never looked back.
What was your first guitar?
I had an electro Westone that was red and had many curves. I think it reminded me of Angus Young’s (Gibson) SG, but it most certainly was not. It was purchased in a mall, but it did the job…it got me going.
And what are you playing now?
I have 30 something guitars, but on the Whitesnake tour, I have two new custom Les Pauls that I’m playing, two new custom USA Fender Stratocasters that I’m playing, and a Les Paul style guitars, made by a small company called Atomic Guitar Works. Of course, whenever I play acoustic, I play Taylor acoustics.
Do you remember your first band?
Yeah, my first band was called outcry, when I was 15
Do you remember your first show?
I remember the first show. It was a talent show at our drummer’s high school. I don’t remember the songs we played off-hand. I think we played one of our originals…or maybe two of our originals, but I just remember being so nervous that I couldn’t move my feet. The curtain came up and I couldn’t move. I think there was a technical issue too, where my guitar wasn’t in the PA. It was a complete disaster. There was nowhere to go but up after my first show.
How long after the first show did you start getting really serious about doing this for a living?
I think I was pretty serious from the beginning although I never looked at it like, ‘I’m gonna make a living doing this!’. I just challenged myself in terms of the amount of time I spent doing it, what I was putting into it and a lot of that came naturally. So, I think I was serious from the time that I started.
How old were you when you got the night Ranger gig?
I think I was about 35 or 36 when I got that gig.
So what was going on between Outcry and Night Ranger?
Oh gosh. There are 20 something years there.
Well, I did a couple years of college, where I just played classical guitar. I wasn’t playing much electric guitar. Then I went out to GIT in Hollywood California, the Guitar Institute of Technology. I did a year there and then I spent a year out in LA working at Cherokee Studios as a tech. Great place.Great experience.5 studios. It was just getting a little weird out there. It was the time around the Rodney King riots. It was just a strange place to be living at that time. The homeless problem was really, really bad. So, I thought it might be better off going back to the Chicago area right now and teaching a lot of lessons and seeing if I could get a band going.
So, I went back to Chicago and I began a stretch where I taught 70 plus lessons a week for a really long time. I did that for years. And I always had some form of band that I was playing in. I had a band called Black Bison that was originals and covers and we just played bars. Then the same thing with a band called the Resin Diggers. I did some stuff like playing weddings. I’ve been through it all, man.
Then I joined Cathy Richardson, who played her own songs in the Chicago area. She had a great following, great singer. She sings for Jefferson Starship these days. I would play on weekends with her band and between that and teaching lessons, I was doing pretty well.
Through her, I hooked with Jim Peterik, who founded the Ides of March and Survivor. He’s written a ton of songs that people would know. Obviously, Eye of the tiger and high on you. He wrote Vehicle for Ides of March. He also co-wrote the 38 Special songs Hang on Loosely and Caught Up In You. He co-wrote Heavy Metal with Sammy Hagar. So, what I got to do was play in his house band for these events called World Stage. He’d have them once or twice a year and he’d have all his friends or people he’d co-written with, come out and sing their hits. It was a great experience for me. I got to play with a lot of classic rock people who’d come out and sing a few songs, and I’d have learned them all.
And one of the people that was there every year was Kelly Keagy from Night Ranger. It was about the 7th year in, and I was already living in New York. I moved to New York to do a show called Love Janice, about Janis Joplin. I still flew back to Chicago to do these Jim Peterik gigs. One year Kelly told me that Jeff Watson was no longer with band and Reb Beach was filling in but they were gonna need somebody. So, I kinda got in his face about it. Hey, give me a shot. Lo and behold, a week later he called me and told me that Reb Beach needed to miss a show and I could learn the stuff but there wouldn’t be time to rehearse. I’d just basically fly and do this gig with them. I said let’s do. And there you go. I flew out and basically my audition for Night Ranger was a gig. I went onstage with them with no rehearsal, played a show and it went well and I got the gig basically, is the short story (laughs) I know I talked for a while there, but hey, that’s 20 years I had to cover.
It was scary. It was like jumping out of a plane and not knowing if you had a parachute or not (laughs). It got to the point where it was so crazy that I just thought, ‘You know what, I’m just gonna do this and It’ll just be what it’ll be. It went well, thankfully. The parachute opened and I landed safely on the ground. It was one of my few special moments but you know…that’s a show that stands out for me in my career because it was a big moment.
Not to mention that you’re playing with Brad Gillis, who is pretty legendary in the guitar world. Were you able to develop any chemistry that night?
I don’t know that we had any major chemistry on the first night, but I think everyone was so happy that it went well and that we made it through it that it felt like it was the greatest show ever, if that makes sense. It was probably just fine. I’m sure our shows got much better as I was in the band and we developed that chemistry. I enjoyed working with Brad very much. He’s a great guy. We’re still good friends. We talk and text all the time. I had a great time onstage with him, interacting. He’s a blast to perform with, you know, you can bump into him and kick him and do whatever you want to him. And Brad’s a good sport about all that stuff.
Yeah, he’s always been one of my favorites. The interesting thing is that you replaced Reb Beach in Night Ranger and now you’re playing with him in Whitesnake.
Exactly, and how’s that for strange, huh? Reb was really nice in terms of walking me through some stuff over the phone leading up to that moment. That’s where we met and because of that, every time I’d meet Reb over the years, we always got a long and I really like him as a person. And that helped landing in Whitesnake all the more natural, cuz I actually knew somebody in the band pretty well. Not everyone in the band was a stranger to me, so that was nice.
Now, at the same time you’re doing Night Ranger, you’re also doing Rock of Ages?
Basically, yeah. About a year into doing Night Ranger, I had the opportunity to start with Rock of Ages off-Broadway and that ran for over 6 years. So the two of those kind of went hand in hand for a good chunk of time there.
How did you balance the schedule?
Well, the nice thing there was, with Rock of Ages, I could take off whenever I wanted. That’s what really made it such a fantastic gig. So, I had the eight shows a week on Broadway, but I could sub out whenever I needed to be able to tour with Night Ranger or Trans Siberian orchestra, during that time. That basically just made it that I had a gig every day for basically those six plus years, which is a fantastic experience.
I just can’t imagine the work you’d have to put into doing all that.
It’s a lot of work, but it’s nothing that everyone else isn’t doing on their jobs on a daily basis, construction workers going in. I’m sure they’re working much harder. In one sense, yeah, it was a lot of work; it was difficult in terms of the travel back and forth. Going off and doing weekends with Night Ranger and taking the first flight back all the time to get into Rock of Ages. Lots and lots of red-eye flights and first thing in the morning flights during that period for me. I had more nights of only sleeping on planes than I can count. At least 50 to 75 night of sleep that happened that way during that time period.
There all different. Every gig has its own things; I mean the Rock of Ages thing was less pressure than the others. I really had to focus on me just starting and ending the show. I had some things I needed to remember and be on but in general I was in the back on the band platform and the show was more about the show itself. With a band, you’re one of five people or 6 people carrying the focus of the show. With Rock of Ages, there was so much happening there that it was definitely easier to do that than to play in a band.
What about pre-show preparation?
Ah pre-show preparation? Well, yeah, it was kind of the same. I would warm up more for a Night Ranger or Trans Siberian show than Rock of Ages. But it was very similar…you gotta get into your clothes and get yourself ready to go and warm up a little bit. I definitely warmed up more with Night Ranger and Trans Siberian to get my hands ready to go.
You mentioned getting into your clothes first. How important is image in Rock and Roll?
(Exaggerated laugh) HA HA HA HA. Very important. That’s the dirty question, right? In my career, I’ve always been image challenged. I’ve had so many different looks over the years and I had weight fluctuations when I was younger. Surprisingly, when I had short hair and was overweight, I didn’t get many gigs. When I lost a lot of weight and had long hair, I all of a sudden got a lot of gigs and got a lot of attention for my guitar playing oddly enough. So, it’s obviously important and I think probably to a bigger degree than it should be but it is what it is. You can’t fight that stuff, you know? I work on it and invest money in it. I mean I spend money on stage clothes to this day and make sure my hair’s not looking like crap. Or try my best to be in shape. I’m advancing in years here. I’m no longer 25 but I do my best to stay in decent shape. It’s always a bit of a struggle.
On to Trans Siberian Orchestra, how did that gig come about and will you be touring with them this year?
It was the same deal. I had Night Ranger and about a year into that I started Rock of Ages and then a year into that, Alex Skolnick (Testament) needed to take a year off from TSO. I had some friends in the band who put my name forward. I auditioned a couple of times, just like everyone else and got that gig. I went ‘This is gonna be weird because I have the two gigs working together so well. Is adding this third one rocking the cart and have it all fall apart on me. I don’t know’. But I was able to sub out of Night Ranger when I would go to do TSO.
Subbing out of Rock of Ages was never a problem. Your job is union protected and you’re able to do that much, much easier. Basically, I would sub out of Rock of Ages when I would play with Night Ranger and when I would go to play with TSO, I would be subbed out of both Rock of Ages and Night Ranger. It just added to the amount of shows I was doing during that 6-7 year run. It was a great experience and in terms of this year, I don’t want to shut the door a hundred percent on it, but the way it’s looking right now is the Whitesnake tour has another leg happening in Japan and Europe, in Ireland and the UK with Def Leppard. I might need to take a year off and if that does happen, I hope it would only be that and I can be a part of TSO again.
So, how was the first leg of the Whitesnake tour?
Man, it went great. It exceeded expectations for me really. The show was really well received. We’re on the purple tour of course. We just made the Purple album, where we basically re-imagined and re-recorded material that David (Coverdale) recorded with Deep Purple back in the day. Not only do we get to play the cool Whitesnake catalog live…all the great hits everybody knows, but we also get to pull form that awesome Deep Purple catalog that David had with them and sprinkle some of them into the set, and they really lend themselves to live performance. They just sound so great being played live and the band has a great time playing the material. There really was not a single bad review of the entire North American run. It was really well received. David is singing great and what a killer line-up to play with. Tommy Aldridge on drums, Reb Beach on guitar, Michael Devin on bass and Michele Luppi, say it carefully, our keyboard player from Italy, who is just phenomenal. A great bunch of guys to play with and we’re having a great time.
From what I’ve seen on Youtube, it looks like it isn’t just a job for you guys, you really are enjoying yourselves.
I think so. It’s an overused word, but the vibe or chemistry is really good. We all get along right now. There’s no drama or animosity on the road. That goes a long way in terms of making everyone happy. I think guys like David, who are out there for the love of it at this stage of the game. I mean he could probably retire tomorrow. He wants to be out with a bunch of guys who enjoy each other’s company and have fun with it and obviously do their jobs professionally and do it well.
Seeing as how neither you nor Reb played on any of the Whitesnake albums aside from Purple, how do you decide who does what on stage?
Well, Reb is the band leader, so technically it’s up to him. I mean he could tell me, ‘Joel, you have no solos.’ But Reb is a great guy and he’s not that kind of guy or aggressive in that department. I think the solos are pretty much 50/50 on the Purple album and pretty much 50/50 on the tour as well. He just picks out the ones that he thinks I would sound best on and gives those solos to me. I have absolutely no complaints. I feel like I play a ton of guitar in the set and Reb plays a ton of guitar in the set. It’s a fantastic guitar gig…Whitesnake is. Great riffs and great solos, man.
There were a bunch of great guitarists in Whitesnake before you. John Sykes, Steve Vai, Adrian Vandenberg to name a few. How do you approach their solos?
Well, as far as the classic solos, I like to try and play them as close to note for note as possible to give the fans the experience. I remember as a fan being disappointed when players would put their own spin on solos that you’ve heard a bunch of times on an album. So, I try to go back to that and remember that there are a lot of fans out there. I think it’s more important to make all of them happy on that solo than for me to try and get my own rocks off on it, so to speak.
And you get to play the solo in Still of the Night, which is an absolute beast.
Yeah, well I love that whole section. That whole song has just great guitar, start to finish.
Oh, thanks so much. Well, years ago I recorded three solo albums that were primarily instrumental guitar music. Two of them were kind of rock fusion and one was acoustic instrumental stuff. All the fans who have gotten to know me with these gigs, with Night Ranger or Whitesnake or TSO or Rock of ages, they always ask ‘Hey why don’t you make an album of just straight ahead rock songs that’s more like what you’re playing in the band?” And it always sounded like a great idea to me. It just took me a while to get around to finding the time to actually do it. But, yeah, the end result is just an album of hard, melodic classic rock that’s Dio-ish at its heaviest and Foreigner-ish at its lightest. I did all the writing on this. The words and the melodies and everything and then basically called in favors from a lot of my favorite musicians in the scene to be a part of this record. I have Russell Allen (Symphony X, Adrenaline Mob) and Jeff Scott Soto (Yngwie Malmsteen, TSO) singing on it. Two of the best singers in rock today in my opinion. Vinny Appice (Black Sabbath, Dio) is playing Drums. Tony Franklin (The Firm and a million other projects) is playing bass and Derek Sherinian (Dream Theater, Black Country Communion, and many others) did the keyboards on it. I fell very blessed to have these guys bring these songs to life for me.
It’s a strange thing. I didn’t want to call this a solo album because if you put it in, it sounds like you’re listening to a band. But at the same time, I did all the writing and it wouldn’t really be fair to the guys to call it a band. So I decided to give it a side project name, hence the name Joel Hoekstra’s 13
Where did you get that name?
I was born on the thirteenth. It’s just been a lucky number of sorts for me and I kinda like the idea of having a name that can mean different things to different people. And I do get quite a bit of reaction to it. People telling me why 13 means something to them which is great. It’s what I appreciate. That it’s kind of open ended.
Anyway, the album is called Dying To Live and the theme of the material is that it’s just about trying to overcome the obstacles in your life to arrive where you’re finally meant to be. A Lot of the songs are sung from the standpoint of the obstacles and a lot of it are just anthems about overcoming your obstacles. Some of it’s fantasy based and some of it’s reality based. But it’s all about that struggle that we all have inside ourselves to kind of get where we want to be and be who we want to be.
It’s coming out on Frontier Records worldwide on October 16th. I think it will be released much sooner in Japan, sometime in September there. Online right now you can hear an EPK (Electronic Press Kit) for it, you can hear some song samples on it, me talking about the album and how it all came together. You can watch the lyric video for one of the songs, Anymore. And if you pre-order the album, Anymore will automatically be downloaded right now, so you can actually have one of the songs. There’s also a song sampler video up right now where you can hear minute long clips with visuals for each of the songs. There’s also a video for the song Until I left You.
How does the writing process differ between instrumental albums and Dying To Live, a straight out rocker?
They each have their challenges. It’s apples and oranges. It’s two different things. With the instrumental stuff, it can be much more about being adventurous. With this particular thing, I wanted to stay within the framework of making it interesting for the average person. I didn’t want to have it be too progressive or too self-indulgent in terms of the guitar solos. There are no three minute guitar solos or anything of that nature on this record. It’s just kind of like what I would want to hear as a rock fan. Just good songs, tastefully played by all these great players and sung by two amazing singers. I hope people dig this.
So, you’re on your way to Japan with Whitesnake and hopefully a stop in Korea. And then what? What does the future hold?
And then there’s the run of Europe and Ireland and the UK with Whitesnake that I mentioned earlier. David has a couple different recording projects that he’s tossing around ideas for that I think I’m gonna be actively involved in. Potentially I might be recording a bit with another high profile singer that I can’t really divulge the details about right now. Part of a project with Michael Sweet from Stryper that I think is going to be released in early 2017 if I’m not mistaken. So yeah, I’ve got lots of things in the works, man.
Will there be a tour for Dying To Live?
I’m just gonna get the album out for now, but I would love to support it in some way, shape or form. It’s just gonna come to what kind of demand there is out there for it. So, please spread the word and hopefully people give it a shot and I can get out there and do some show.
I’ll do my best. I’ll let you go. I’ve taken enough of your time. Best of luck on the Whitesnake tour and best of luck with the new album.
Thanks so much. I really appreciate your time, Ken.
And hopefully we’ll see you in Korea sometime soon.
Yeah. Amen. That would be wonderful. I’ve never been there, so I certainly would love to get there and play.
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Check out Whitesnake on their Japan/Europe/UK Tour this Fall!
|October 20th||Osaka, JP||Grand Cube|
|October 22nd||Nagoya, JP||Kokaido|
|October 25th||Sapporo, JP||Zep Sapporo|
|October 27th||Hiroshima, JP||Ueno Hall|
|October 30th||Yokohama, JP||Pacifico Yokohama|
|November 2nd||Tokyo, JP||International Forum|
|November 8th||Moscow, RU||Crocus City Hall|
|November 9th||St Petersburg, RU||*BKZ Oktyabrskiy|
|November 11th||Helsinki, FI||*Icehall|
|November 13th||Stockholm, SE||Hovet|
|November 14th||Helsingor, DK||*The Culture Yard|
|November 16th||Berlin, DE||*Columbiahalle|
|November 17th||Praque CZ||*O2 Arena|
|November 19th||Vienna, AU||Gasometer|
|November 21st||Zagreb, HR||Cebona Hall|
|November 22nd||Belgrade, RS||Hala Pionir|
|November 24th||Sofia, BG||Armeec Arena|
|November 25nd||Skopje, MK||Boris Trajkovski|
|November 28th||Zurich, CH||**Hallenstadion|
|November 29th||Milan, IT||Alcatraz|
|December 1st||Brussels, BE||Forest National|
|December 2nd||Utrecht, NL||Tivilivredenburg|
UK & Ireland
|With Def Leppard|
|December 6th||Dublin, IE||3 Arena|
|December 7th||Belfast, UK||Odyssey|
|December 9th||Newcastle, UK||Metro Radio Arena|
|December 10th||Glasgow, UK||The SSE Hydro|
|December 12th||Birmingham, UK||Genting Arena|
|December 13th||Nottingham, UK||Capital FM Arena|
|December 15th||Manchester, UK||Arena|
|December 16th||Cardiff, UK||Motorpoint Arena|
|December 18th||London, UK||The SSE Arena Wembley|
|December 19th||Sheffield, UK||Motorpoint Arena|