Interview and photos by Robert Cavuoto
On June 1st Whitesnake embarked on a Greatest Hits Tour that will take them across much of the US before heading over to Europe for July and August. For the last 36+ years Whitesnake has remained a no-nonsense band and have one of the most charismatic frontmen; David Coverdale at the helm. Since the band’s inception, David has always surrounded himself with amazing musicians. For this tour as well as the band’s 2015 Purple Tour, he’s enlisted a tremendously talented guitarist; Joel Hoekstra. Together he and Reb Beach have an undeniable chemistry that dazzles the packed venues with their pyrotechnical style of guitar playing and acrobatics.
Joel is most notably known for his years’ with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra and Night Ranger not to mention he recently put out a solo CD called; Joel Hoekstra’s 13 Dying to Live, it’s a melodic hard rock CD with killer riffs and memorable melodies.
I was fortunate to catch up with Joel before Whitesnake played in New Jersey to discuss their Greatest Hits Tour as well as what the future may hold for the band. If that wasn’t enough, he gave me a personal tour of his custom made arsenal of Whitesnake touring guitars!
Robert Cavuoto: How has the Greatest Hit Tour been going so far?
Joel Hoekstra: Things are going great, last year the focus was on the material David Coverdale did with Deep Purple. This year, even if you are a casual Whitesnake, you will know and enjoy the set list. Every song has a level of familiarity which makes our jobs that much easier on stage.
Robert: I saw the set list; it’s predominately focused on the three biggest Whitesnake albums.
Joel Hoekstra: I never had the opportunity to play a set like this where every song is recognizable, so it’s been a real treat. It’s the same line up with David singing great and Tommy Aldridge on drums as he is a living legend. To be in a guitar team with Reb Beach is great and lots of fun plus Michael Devin on bass.
Robert: You’re still the new guy in the band, how has the transition been from the Purple Tour to this Greatest Hits Tour?
Joel Hoekstra: It’s funny, it felt like a really long break between tours but now that we are back out, it doesn’t feel like we ever stopped and we playing even better. It’s just a continuation of the natural chemistry we had last year. I think everyone gets along in this line up and musically we fit well together.
Robert: Tell me about the chemistry between you and Reb and how your playing styles complement each other?
Joel Hoekstra: It’s a funny thing; Reb can cover a lot of my ideas technically in terms of the legato thing and tapping. We have some techniques in common yet at the same time we have different styles [laughing]. I don’t really know how to articulate it but we definitely sound different than each other yet similar on a lot of the stuff. I think we fit really well together and truth is that we really both love to play rhythm guitar. We get off on playing all the riffs tight. As odd as it sounds that’s really our strongest point as a guitar team. When it comes to solos, neither one of us are the kind of guys who wants every solo. Reb is pretty loose at that as I am. It’s also a personality thing that we do well together. There’s no ego contest between the two of us [laughing].
Robert: Did you have to modify your playing or your guitar tone to match Whitesnake’s signature sound?
Joel Hoekstra: No, in doing so many gigs over the years, I’ve learned to go with what is familiar to everyone. I’ve studied the original versions of the songs and what Doug Aldrich did as that is what everyone in the band has been used to for the last 15 or so years. I did my homework and listen to the most recent board tapes as well. I’m a pretty natural fit for this band in terms of style and guitar sound. Obviously the Les Paul goes hand-in-hand with Whitesnake’s sound. So there really wasn’t a big adjustment.
Robert: What can you tell us about working with David on and off stage?
Joel Hoekstra: David is a great professionally and personally. He is very straight forward with what he wants with the band. I appreciate it as it’s always clear, partially things he wants to try in the set. On a personal level I think he is really supportive of his players and loves to build us up. He even mentioned me by name during his Hall of Fame induction, that’s huge. It is very much appreciated as a guy who is still looking to make a name for himself. There are not many guys that can balance being funny and witty guy then the next minute telling you stories about working with Jimmy Page or Richie Blackmore [laughing]. I don’t take it for granted, same goes with Tommy, no disrespect to anyone else but he is such a legend on the drums. I show these guys the proper level of respect and pick their brains to learn as much as I can from playing with them.
Robert: Do you ever catch yourself watching David on stage and being in awe of his abilities as a frontman?
Joel Hoekstra: Honestly not on stage. On stage I have to have a level on confidence that I belong up there [laughing]. By the time I get on stage I’m pumped up to the point that I don’t think like that. But believe me I think about it all the time, I grew up with these guys on my wall. It’s exciting to play with my heroes; that’s not just a Whitesnake thing, but all the bands that I played with over the last 10 years or so.
Robert: Do you have a favorite Whitesnake song to perform live?
Joel Hoekstra: Every one! [laughing]. It was the same way on the Purple Tour. It’s really a strong catalogue of riffs and solos. I don’t have a favorite. I know that most people are looking to hear me say “Still of the Night.” I have just as much fun playing “Is This Love,” It’s a great solo and getting to play it every night is a treat. I’m playing “Sailing Ships” and the slide in “Slow and Easy.” It doesn’t get any better. I would be impossible for me to pick a favorite.
Robert: Your touring guitars are pretty spectacular; can you share some insight about them?
Joel Hoekstra: Thanks, I had a vision when I first joined the band of having a black and white Les Paul with the Whitesnake emblem set into them. Because we were doing the Deep Purple stuff I had the same vision for the black and white Strats. I contacted Steve Christmas at the Gibson custom shop and Mike Tempesta at Fender and everyone was up for the task. I had the Whitesnake medallions minted in bronze and black enamel as David gave me the artwork. Gibson set them into the body of the guitar and came up with the cool snake stencil at the top. My friends at Atomic Guitar out in Arizona made me this purple Swarovski crystal Les Paul style guitar with a gold crystal WS. It’s over the top when the light hits it and a bit of a fan favorite. It’s so over the top that if I play it during a song people are going to be distracted. I use it for my guitar solo. There is something fun about starting in a band with new gear. I’m also using the Friedman 100W amps as they are brand new too.
Robert: Was there any hesitation about playing these beautiful guitars live as they take a beating every night and would no longer remain in pristine condition?
Joel Hoekstra: I think it is part of the whole Whitesnake story and I dig the fact that they are one of kind. To own them and see such just a high level of a familiarly with all the online photos is cool. It’s neat to have in my collection from this band.
Robert: Whitesnake has Brad Whitford and Derek St Holmes on tour opening the show, how are they to have as a touring partners?
Joel Hoekstra: It gives us such credibility to have these guys on tour with us. Their band is smoking. It’s like having a bunch of good friend back stage not to mention they are legends. I have been learning so much from them. It’s just two more guys that I can shoot the shit with about music. Brad comes to our sound check almost every day; he has no ego or pretentiousness. He is in many ways a huge driving force of Aerosmith’s sound. Derek is sounding better than ever as he hasn’t lost a thing – how does that happen?
Robert: What lies on the horizon for Whitesnake, possibly a new CD?
Joel Hoekstra: I don’t think anyone really knows at this point not even David. I think he is taking it step-by-step. I know he has floated the concept of retirement in 2017 but there has also been a little talk about a CD and tour, honestly I don’t know where it is headed. We are just having fun and keeping him inspired and enthused – same thing he does for us.
Robert: Your solo CD; Joel Hoekstra’s 13 Dying to Live has been out about eight months what can you tell us about a possible solo tour or second CD?
Joel Hoekstra: I’m trying to put together the first live appearance of it for the Monster of Rock Cruise in February 2017. That would be a great opportunity for us to be seen by a good amount of people. There have been some preliminary talks of a second CD with Frontier Records but nothing serious yet.