Chicago-born, but now New York City-based, Joel Hoekstra is a prolific and genre-defying guitarist, currently a member of the hard rock legends Whitesnake. He’s also a touring member of Trans-Siberian Orchestra, and sometimes he does shows with Cher, the iconic pop queen. Before joining Whitesnake full-time, Hoekstra was a long-time member of the US rockers Night Ranger and also appeared on Broadway with the hit musical Rock of Ages. He has also done a lot of session work with various people, released three instrumental solo albums and a melodic hard rock album DYING TO LIVE under the name Joel Hoekstra’s 13. However, currently, Whitesnake is Hoekstra’s main band. The group finally released its long-awaited studio-album FLESH AND BLOOD in May. The tour brought the band to Finland, and Whitesnake performed as the headliner of this year’s edition of the Sauna Open Air -festival in Tampere in early July. There I had the honor to sit down with the man and discuss various subjects, including the past, present, and future of Joel Hoekstra.
WHITESNAKE IS BACK
So, it’s the year 2019, here I am in Tampere, discussing with Whitesnake guitarist Joel Hoekstra. First of all, welcome back to Finland, once again!
Thank you. It’s good the be here.
Whitesnake released FLESH AND BLOOD last May. It’s the first album of new material since FOREVERMORE, which came out in 2011. Your first album with the band was THE PURPLE ALBUM in 2015, but how important is it for you to be a part of this album, contribute original songs, and be a co-producer of the album?
Well, it’s obviously an honor. I think THE PURPLE ALBUM had a lot more creativity on it, and people recognize it sometimes. We did reinvent the songs, and I invented parts to play on those songs, etc. But obviously, FLESH AND BLOOD is the next step. Actually, I’ve been contributing with their writing itself, and being brought in as co-producer along the way was also an honor. So yeah, it’s a great feeling.
You joined the band in 2014. It must not have been an easy decision to leave Night Ranger, a good home for you, and choose Whitesnake instead of them. So, what was the main reason you choose this path, and what kind of goals you had in mind back then?
I joined in 2014 during the actual recording of THE PURPLE ALBUM, and I just thought it seems like a really great opportunity with Whitesnake more than wanting to leave Night Ranger. It wasn’t so much about that, just that everything that Whitesnake has to offer. It’s a great gig. I think there’s a great catalog of songs, an opportunity to work with David Coverdale and Tommy Aldridge – he’s a legend in the business – and a great guitar player like Reb Beach. All these were contributing factors. In terms of what I had in mind? Not much. It was, “Let’s see how this goes [laughter].”
When you joined Whitesnake, it was initially meant to be a short-lived gig as David had already announced his intention to retire after the “Purple Album” tour. But then he changed his mind, and here you are still.
I think at the time, yeah. I tried to think it was just short-term and figured I have Trans-Siberian Orchestra, and I had the Broadway show Rock of Ages happening at the time as well. It wasn’t like if David retired that I would have nothing when I decided. So that made things a little easier to cope with.
THE PURPLE ALBUM and the tour were very successful on many levels. At what point did you decide to continue as a band and also create new music together?
Well, that’s David’s decision, of course. So, we were all hoping that David would want to record an album, for sure. And all hoping that he’d want to keep going with the band and keep touring. And I think, as it turned out, he found a lineup of guys that get along great out here. We complement each other musically, and its terms of style complement each other stylistically and with our personalities. It’s lots of laughs. It’s lots of fun, and I think David has a good time with this lineup. And he gets lots of vocal support, especially from Michele Luppi, our great keyboard player, and Reb Beach, as most people don’t know, has a great singing voice, and Michael Devin, our bass player, and I help a bit as well. So, I think all those factors just led to him wanting to keep going, and so obviously, that’s a wonderful thing.
MORE FLESH AND BLOOD
In song writing-wise, FLESH AND BLOOD album, I find that compared to the previous two albums, which David did with Doug Aldrich, this album goes more back to the 80’s style. For me, it sounds like a continuation of the SLIP OF TONGUE album. What do you think about that?
Have you listened to all of it, the deluxe edition and everything too?
I mean, I think that there’s some of that, but I don’t think that you could necessarily categorize the entire thing as a continuation of that. I like to think of FLESH AND BLOOD as a Whitesnake album that’s influenced by every Whitesnake era. I think you take a song like “Can’t Do Right for Doing Wrong,” which sounds like the early Whitesnake influences it. And I think you take, obviously, a song like “Shut Up & Kiss Me” sounds kind of ’80s-ish. And I think you can take other songs like– well, I’m trying to think of what songs would be best, but I think there is definitely an influence from the GOOD TO BE BAD and FOREVERMORE era well on the record. So, I think it really just influences every era of Whitesnake. That’s how I think of it. I don’t think that it’s straight ’80s. I think that there’s a lot of that sound because that’s, obviously, a big part of Whitesnake’s popularity and era. But not necessarily anything beyond David’s vision. But the sound of a Whitesnake album has very much to do with David’s vision, and Reb and I are both there. We’re both there to support that when he was writing a song, a result of a Whitesnake album is always David Coverdale’s vision.
What do you think makes a Whitesnake song?
Well, there’s a pretty wide umbrella, honestly, in the catalog, which is cool because you can achieve a diverse sound with a band like Whitesnake. You can have straight-ahead blues songs, bluesier songs, or you can have poppy rock songs, or you can have really hard rock songs. So, I think that’s kind of nice to have that ability. Obviously, the ballad is a well-known thing with Whitesnake, so all these different elements. And David is really great at seeing what’s going to fit, and what he’s looking for in the next album, and pulling that out of us.
LEARNING TO KNOW WHITESNAKE
What’s your Whitesnake history like? I mean, were you a fan of a particular era of the band, and how did you initially get to know the band?
I’m very much like the stereotypical guy from the US. When we were kids, we heard SLIDE IT IN first. That’s when we first heard Whitesnake. And then, everybody bought the ’87 album. Everybody in the US had the ’87 album. And then we all bought SLIP OF THE TONGUE because it was the follow-up to the ’87 album. So that was what David calls the Geffen era. So that’s pretty much the way it went with me. And then, obviously, I followed the band a bit, what they were doing with Doug while I was in Night Ranger, and really dug all of that stuff as well. So, yeah. But the early catalog was something; honestly, I didn’t really listen to until I got the Whitesnake gig. I was a typical US person, honestly. That’s just the way it was in the US! “Laughs”
The band was huge in Europe years before SLIDE IT IN, but you probably know that now “laughs.”
Right. Yeah. Of course, but we didn’t know that in the US.
Your former band Night Ranger, I actually saw you with the band in Sweden Rock, and then at the Kiss Cruise.
I have to say that those were great shows, and the band sounded brilliant. So, what kind of memories you have of your time with Night Ranger?
Oh, great. I learned so much from those guys. When I joined, I was really unknown. I’d always made my living playing guitar and playing lots and lots of gigs and had done well professionally on a level, but joining Night Ranger was a big step for me in terms of getting known in the hard rock scene or just the rock scene. So yeah, great. I mean, I love Brad Gillis. I had some of the best times in my life with him, and I wouldn’t trade those for anything. So, I wish them nothing but the best.
Have you followed the band after you left?
A bit. I mean, they had a record out, and, as I said, Brad and I, we keep in touch. We’re still friends, so we text and– so yeah.
WORKING WITH TRANS-SIBERIAN ORCHESTRA
You have worked with one band for a long time, and you still do, is the Trans Siberian Orchestra.
Right, and this is already ten years of me and Trans-Siberian Orchestra. It’s pretty amazing to think about it.
You have another extensive tour in the United States later this year.
Yeah. I’ll be doing that, the winter tour, this November, December, so. Yeah. I mean, I’m honored to be a part of something with such an amazing production and so much– there’s talent amassed in there. They just got Soto and Russell Allen and just all of the amazing players, Al Pitrelli. Yeah. These guys are all people I’m proud to work with.
Two years ago, the music world and Trans-Siberian Orchestra faced a huge loss when Paul O’Neal, the mastermind and the man behind the Trans-Siberian concept, surprisingly died. I remember when I interviewed him in 2015, in Wacken. He was a super friendly and nice guy, and I still think it’s horrible to think about what happened to him. But the band survived, and it’s still going as strong as ever. How things changed in the group after Paul wasn’t around anymore?
Well, we all certainly miss Paul. He was a great friend to us and a boss, so I miss him a lot on a friendship level. I think he was very, very consistent with the people he had in place in Trans-Siberian Orchestra. So, we were blessed that he had a management team that was there through the entire time that knows how the machine works and how to keep it going. Paul’s daughter, Ireland, watched to grow and has watched Paul cultivate this and is part of the process and an important voice that we have now represented him and the family. And I think either music directors were there so long, Al Pitrelli and Derek Wieland, and– so thankfully, it wasn’t like Paul passed away, and we had all different people. So, we all kind of pulled together and always thought, “What would Paul do? What decision would he make?” And that’s all you can do is try to make the best decision possible.
He was a brave visionary who took enormous risks, but he managed to create a great concept that still works out amazingly great.
It’s amazing. I mean, I think, at least in the US, on paper, people would have said you’re crazy. That’s not going to work. I’m going to take heavy metal guys and play a Christmas show, and people think, “No. That doesn’t sound like a great idea.” But every tour when we’re out there, we still fill the arenas twice a day. And it’s amazing, at the end of the day, to sit on the bus, we still do it, and we say, “How are we doing this? This is so amazing.” I’m so blessed. So, he was a genius visionary, but he was a madman to a degree because, I mean, he came up with– he came up with thoughts that the normal person would know.
WORKING WITH CHER AND PLAYING DIFFERENT STYLES
Then we have another exciting artist you are working with, Cher. She’s great, but the funny thing is that I think she retired the first time over thirty years ago! “laughs.”
Yeah. I guess so. I hear that there was sort of a final tour. But she has been doing the residency in Las Vegas, which is where I started. I was filling in, and it kind of became a full-time thing as we went. And then this year, she released the ABBA covers album, and she wanted to tour. And it’s amazing in the US how the crowds– I mean, 18 to 20 thousand people come to the shows, and her popularity is crazy. She’s a cultural icon. So, it’s really fun to get to work with her.
You have these bands: Whitesnake, Cher, and TSO. So, you’re playing all these different styles from Christmas songs to disco, and heavy metal and back! [laughter].
Yes. Exactly. Truthfully, that was really nice to get to play the Cher set because it’s a really diverse set musically, and I grew up having to play all kinds of gigs. Because if you remember, in the ’90s, it became very, very uncool to play like shred guitar of any kind or fancy leads and, so consequently, I found a way to build a career off of doing everything, playing all kinds of styles. So, I think I kind of– well, rock is my true love, but I learned to play all my career styles. So, it was kind of fun for a minute to take the hard rock hat off and just play different music styles again and not necessarily play the role of the guitar hero.
THE NEXT JOEL HOEKSTRA ALBUM
So, it’s been a couple of years since you put out a solo album under the name Joel Hoekstra’s 13. Do you have plans to make some more music under that banner?
Yeah. The follow-up is in the works. I’m just kind of waiting for Russell Allen to get his vocals done at the moment. Vinny Appice is done. Tony Franklin is done. The songs are entirely written – lyrics, melodies, everything. So, I’m just waiting on Russell, and then, hopefully, we can get everything the same and have Jeff Scott Soto be involved, and hopefully Derek Sherinian, and I’ll shoot for consistency on it.
That sounds great! Do you have plans to do some touring with the band this time as well?
Oh, man, I don’t know. That’s going to be hard with the lineup. But I’ll definitely never rule anything out. I’m the type of guy who loves to stay active and work hard. So not every moment needs to be above the huge popular gigs. I’d be happy to get out and do that. It’s a matter of if it makes sense.
Why not do make at least a couple of one-off shows?
I would definitely try. I mean, we did one on the Monsters of Rock Cruise. Gosh. What was that now, two, three years ago. We did actually play a show on there. It went amazingly well. It was so cool to have Russell Allen and Jeff Scott Soto both come up and sing songs and have Vinny Appice playing in the band to do some DIO and have Russell Allen sing that. I mean, give me a break. It sounded so amazing. And then, we did some Whitesnake. And so, it was a really cool set.
THE FUTURE OF WHITESNAKE
The new solo album is coming out soon, there’s Trans-Siberian Orchestra -tour and some gigs with Cher, but what are the plans of Whitesnake in the future? Are there any thoughts to make more touring to support FLESH AND BLOOD?
I really don’t know. I mean, that’s all going to come down to David. I would think that there is going to be some touring yet to support the record. But there’s nothing official so that I could say anything about it. But I would think we’d probably support the record. And David’s made some mention of having fun with creative ideas as well. I don’t know where– I don’t know how serious any of it’ll be, but we’ll see.
Have you been discussing putting out a new live album from this current tour? It would be great because you now play a lot of new songs on this tour.
About a live album for FLESH AND BLOOD? Well, there is a live album for the Purple Tour. So, there’s live on there. Hey. If David wants to do it, I’m all for it. I guess the more active we can stay, the better, as far as I’m concerned, because I love this band. I love this group of guys. It’s a great bunch of guys. It really is.
Yeah. I think that’s all. Thank you so much for your time.
Thank you. I appreciate it.