Whitesnake's Joel Hoekstra

By Jay Oakley

Let's start it off, Joel Hoekstra's 13, talk about it, it's all about you.

I've had three solo albums that I've put out that were basically instrumental guitar albums. As fans have gotten to know me through Night Ranger, the show Rock Of Ages, Trans-Siberian Orchestra or now, of course, Whitesnake I've had a lot of people ask me why I don't record an album that's straight ahead rock stuff and sounds more like the bands I'm in, two of those albums were fusion and the other's acoustic. This is that album and I finally got it done in the last year or two during down time and I have an amazing collection of musicians who helped me out on it. The project is called Joel Hoekstra's 13, it doesn't sound very much like a guitar player's solo album, that's why I gave it a project name. I totally avoided all of the three minute guitar solos and getting to progressive, I just wanted a great album of straight ahead, melodic hard rock with some of my favorite musicians. So, I thought a project name was the most appropriate thing in Joel Hoekstra's 13 and the album is called Dying To Live and it comes out October 16th on Frontiers.

With everything that you put into it and the recording process, are you happy with the final product? Of course, I assume that you would be since you're putting it out but as a full piece are you stoked on it?

Yeah, I'm bias but I think that it's something special in terms of melodic classic rock. It's a diverse album but it has a sound and it has a nice flow to it. Basically, it's not a concept album but it has a theme to the lyrics and it's just about all of us trying to overcome the obstacles in our life and you finally arrive where you're meant to be and basically the struggles that we deal with to become the person that we want to be. So, I think because of that and the fact that I have the same musicians on it, it really has a cool sound and very much sounds like a band if you're listening to it actually but the reality is I did all the writing, the lyrics, the vocal melodies and the whole nine yards. So, it wouldn't have been fair to those guys to call it a band so like I said the project name thing the most important thing, the Joel Hoekstra's 13 and the title Dying To Live is really just that it was the coolest title out of the songs in terms of picking up on the theme of all of the lyrics so it made sense to have that to be the album title.

What an amazing group of musicians that helped me out on this thing, it's just insane. I finished doing a project with Tony Franklin, the great bass player from Blue Murder and The Firm, so I asked him first in he would be interested in doing a straight ahead, rock vocal album and he was and I asked him who he'd want to use on drums. He recommended Vinnie Appice, who people, of course, know from Dio and Black Sabbath. So, Vinnie was willing to play on it and then right at that time as luck would have it Russell Allen had signed up to do the Trans-Siberian Orchestra tour that I do every year. I heard him sing and I had never really checked out Symphony X and I just couldn't believe what an amazing vocalist Russell is and definitely got him into the fold ASAP. (Laughs) Really from there, I kind of called in a favor from my friend, Jeff Scott Soto, who I've co-written some stuff with and played on some of his stuff in the past and I was like, "Look dude, you're OVER qualified to be a background singer but if Russell sings would you like to sing on these tracks with me?" Because, it was only me and I'm fine as a background vocalist but I don't know about being the guy that's got to do all of them. So, getting Jeff on there was huge and he was so great on there and as it became clear that it was going to be a project album I thought that I'd really like him singing lead on some of this too so Jeff sang lead on the other half of the album. After I got done layering all of the guitars on this I still felt there was room for keyboards on it so I started at the top and asked Derek Sherinian (Alice Cooper, Billy Idol, Black Country Communion) if he was interested and he was and willing to contribute and again there wasn't a ton of room for him as a soloist or to blow tons of chops but all these guys did such a great job of just playing tastefully on this album. We really avoided things because there's no long guitars solos, there's no big drum breaks or bass breaks or anything like that. It's just good solid rock songs played well by these amazing musicians. I owe a lot to these guys for helping me out on it. 

Dude, that's so cool. That's such a collection of guys.

It really is, man! I didn't set out to make a super group album, my head wasn't in that space, I just wanted to do a cool album but it just seemed that everybody I asked said yes. (Laughs) And, why wouldn't you ask the best guys? I got really lucky in that department, everybody just said yes and was very supportive so like I said, I owe a lot to these guys for helping me bring these songs to life.

Jumping off 13 for a minute, I've got to ask you. How's it been in Whitesnake with David Coverdale for a little while now?

It's been great, man. David's wonderful to work for. I had a lot of fun recording The Purple Album, I think that was a lot more of a creative endeavor for me then people would realize. A lot of those Deep Purple songs had one guitar riff so by the time I came in Reb Beach was going to have a lot of those covered so for me it was either I double him on the riffs or I come up with alternate parts. What would be an second part? So, I did a lot of thinking about alternate guitar parts for these songs and, of course, we got to do our own thing in terms of solos and I think people that haven't heard it should check it out. The songs are re-imagined quite a bit more then I think people realize until they give it a listen. Some of them are just completely different interpretations like "Holy Man" and "Sail Away" and stuff like that.

Making the album was great fun and we just finished the opening leg of The Purple Album tour. We did three months here in North America and it just exceeded all expectations. There wasn't a single bad review, David was singing his ass off and what a great lineup to be a part of. Obviously, David's fronting it but to turn around and you're jamming with Tommy Aldridge (drummer) when you're playing. Hello? Not too bad. To be on a guitar team with Reb Beach (Winger, Dokken) is super cool. Everyone knows he's a great lead player but he's a really great rhythm player and playing all these awesome Whitesnake riffs is just great fun when you're really tight with another guitar player and I've had a really good time, man. I think to play all the Whitesnake hits in the set but also have all this cool Deep Purple stuff that David did with them in the Mark 3, Mark 4 eras and being able to put some of that in the show, it lends itself to the live performance. We all really, really love to play our set. (Laughs) It's been great so far, David's really enthused about everything and I think he has a couple of recording ideas and projects cooking and I'm, obviously, going to wait for those to develop and let him fill you guys in. But I think he's excited in that department and I think he's excited to probably add on quite a bit to the tour in terms of what's out there and do some more touring. The fact that he's enthused is great because I think it's going to lead to Whitesnake being really active over the next year or two.

With this being the first album that you put out with Whitesnake, were you a Deep Purple fan on any level when you were younger?

Just the basics. I wasn't all too familiar with it. I'd heard "Burn" and "Stormbringer" and maybe had heard "Soldier of Fortune" but there was a lot of stuff I hadn't heard. It was before my time really. By the time I was into rock it was AC/DC Back In Black, I was 11 years old and that was what really got me going so I would have been too young.

So for me it was playing catch up. David gave me the original versions of the songs and I just burned them into my brain. I listened to them nonstop for a few weeks and transcribed it all and knew how to play it all in terms of any original parts, if he wanted it quoted. As the saying goes, "You learn it all and then forget it." But when it came to the studio it was more about doing your own thing with it and hoping that some of that just translated in. Like I said, a lot of it for me was trying to figure out how to put our stamp on it with little unique setups and through different sounds. Like the talk box, the little acoustic piece at the end of "Holy Man" and David doing that kind of distorted blues thing he does,  those are all little things that I kind of came up with to put our unique stamp on it.

You mentioned earlier that you do Trans-Siberian Orchestra every year so are you definitely in for this years run?

Well, the way it's looking right now, unless there is some type of act of God or something, I'll be busy with Whitesnake at that time. We have Japan and Europe and then, of course, the whole run in Ireland and the UK with Def Leppard so I have a conflict within this year and would certainly be happy to be a member of TSO for years to come and hope that it works out that way. You never know what can transpire so I never want to rule anything out 100% or make any statements in that department. You just never know.

With everything going on with Whitesnake and taking your schedule into consideration, do you have any hopeful plans to get your solo stuff out on the road? Or, is that currently a creative outlet and an album release and touring will happen if there's the time?

I think a lot of it comes down to how it's all received. Obviously right now, people can go on line and they can check out the song sampler video, they can check out the "Anymore" lyric video. That was the first single released and there's a video up for "Until I Left You" with Vinnie Appice and Tony Franklin and Jeff Scott Soto are in addition to myself. There's a few more singles coming yet and a lot of it just comes down to the reception. There's really, really great feedback on it early on here but it's still early in the game. I think if there's a demand for it then I'll try and supply some kind of live support for it definitely. I think it would be interesting too to hear, moving forward, what this lineup would do with everybody collaborating on the writing. You never know, man.

When it comes to the record and something from you to your fans and the people that are listening to the record, what would you like them to get out of this record?

I just want everybody to give it a shot. I think that's the hard part. I think some people are just getting to know who I am and a lot of people still don't know who I am so I think it's just about getting the word out. I think if they like it, please understand I'm still the underdog in the equation and have no delusions of grandeur to speak of so I just very much appreciate the support and the opportunity to make a living doing what I'm doing. It's a great job to have. Playing rock guitar is pretty much what I set out to do when I was 11 years old so I really haven't had to make any major career decisions in my life and that's a beautiful thing. Hopefully I can get through the rest of my life doing it and that will be success for me.

It's been a really good feeling for me the last 7 or 8 years to get on the run I've had. With Night Ranger, it was a very big break for me, getting the show Rock Of Ages and having that run for 6 years, doing the last 5 years in Trans-Siberian Orchestra and now, of course, ending up in Whitesnake. It's been a great transition from struggling musician to guy who's doing all right with it. It's cool for me to be the underdog and it feels like things are working out for him but at the same time I always want to stay humble and let people know that I appreciate that opportunity and I don't take it for granted because I think there's a lot of great players out there that don't necessarily get to build a great career. It's just tough.

Joel, thanks so much for sitting down and really getting to talk about the Joel Hoekstra history. It was so much fun and I really hope you enjoyed your interview.

Absolutely, it was a great chat. I appreciate it.