Interview With Joel Hoekstra
Of Whitesnake, Cher, Trans-Siberian Orchestra

Rockin’ Interviews- When did you start playing guitar and what inspired that?

Joel Hoekstra-”I started playing guitar in 7th grade, I think I was 11 years old and it was pretty much AC/DC and it was not only hearing Angus Young, but seeing him because I thought he just looked so cool, his whole stage presence was just really inspiring to me.”

R.I.-You’re very educated in music theory, what made you want to pursue things from that side?

J.H.- “That was definitely my parents because they were classical musicians and my dad, in particular, taught music theory at a college and for a minute my dad was actually one of my teachers in school. So I enjoy music theory and I think you can come up with ideas through music theory too. It’s not just by ear, music theory is something that can lead you to new ideas, where ear is only gonna guide you to what's familiar.”

R.I.- Tell me about your time in Night Ranger.

J.H.- “I had a lot of fun, it was a good learning experience for me. That was definitely one of those moments that I would consider a break in my career. So I learned a lot from those guys in the 7 years I spent with them.”

R.I.- What was the first Whitesnake song you heard and was being in the band something that felt full circle for you?

J.H.- “I’m not entirely sure but I think it might’ve been Slow An’ Easy, back when Slide It In came out, there started to be some inklings of them in the U.S. I think I’d heard of Whitesnake before that, but everybody in the U.S. started listening to Whitesnake when Slide It In came out. That’s been the story of most of my career in recent years, playing with a lot of my heros from when I was younger. So it’s a really cool feeling.”

R.I.- How did you get the Whitesnake gig?

J.H.- “The hard part was getting an audition. So I got some help from Foreigner’s manager Phil Carson because I’d filled in for Mick Jones before, and I kinda thought to myself, who would know Dave Coverdale, that David would respect, and I thought of Phil. So Phil reached out to David and got me an audition and things went really great with that.”

R.I.- What are some of the differences between being in a big, elaborate show like Trans-Siberian Orchestra versus a 5 or 6 piece band like Whitesnake?

J.H.- “Trans- Siberian Orchestra is really one  of a kind, there’s really nothing to compare it to. It’s a hybrid of a lot of things. Being in Whitesnake is like being in a band, so there’s a lot of common elements there from playing with Whitesnake to playing with other bands. There’s a lot of people involved in Trans-Siberian Orchestra, a lot of decisions are made from a lot more people involved. There’s lots of elements I love of each gig. The key is, in life, to focus on all the positives.”

R.I.- What is the best part of playing live?

J.H.-”Connecting with all the people, the adrenaline and enthusiasm you receive from people.”

R.I.- How do you balance your music career with you family and other commitments?

J.H.- “I make sure when I’m home, I dedicate all my time to my family and nowhere else. Thank god for Facetime.”

R.I.- How do you remember so many songs from so many different bands?

J.H.- “I review them a lot and practice them a lot leading into situations.”

R.I.- Tell me about your rig.

J.H.- “It’s different for each scenario. For Whitesnake I use amps. I use the Friedman BE 100 amps and I have the Les Pauls that were built for me by Gibson Custom and a couple Fender Strats I use and a great atomic Les Paul style guitar. I always use Taylor Acoustics, that’s basically the idea of it. I use Fractal Axe Effects, for effects only with Whitesnake for the Delays and Reverbs and things of that nature. With Trans- Siberian Orchestra, there’s not really the ability to have amps on stage, so we run direct through the Fractal Effects and that has kinda become the same for me with Cher these days.”

R.I.- What’s your favorite part of the Monsters of Rock Cruise?

J.H- “Playing my set. I have an annual thing I do, which the name is always slightly different, it’s like the Joel Hoekstra’s Bloody Mary Hangover Jam or something to that effect. It happens early one of the mornings where I start out playing some mellow acoustic for everybody to wake them up and I pour Bloody Marys and give away free sh*t. I just like connecting with the people on a more intimate level for that set instead of playing a big show where I can’t really interact with them. That’s kind of the whole point of that cruise and that’s why people go on that cruise is to hangout with people that they normally go see from big crowds, that they don’t get the opportunity to hangout with. I feel the same way and I feel I’m a good fit for that cruise. I’m not one of those guys who locks himself in the cabin for the week. I enjoy the opportunity to get out and hangout and thank people for their support and spend time with familiar faces who come to see a lot of the shows.”

R.I.- What’s the hardest thing you’ve had to overcome in the music industry?

J.H.-”I used to be the guy who has no stage presence and had no look but now sometimes I'm the guy who has the stage presence and the look but people say isn't as good as some of the other guitar players so go figure. You can never win, just try to do the best you can, there’s always gonna be naysayers. It’s annoying as, I can’t say the word here but it starts with an fu and ends with a k.”

R.I.- How do you handle people who say things like that to you?

J.H.- “They usually don’t say it right to you, they usually say it in the safety of their own keyboard. But it’s really just a matter of being logical about it and not being emotional about it because in the end it’s about how much work you put in cause the work is what makes you “good” or “bad”. But most people don’t even know what’s good and what’s bad. I find in the classic rock scene most people are judged on how good they are by how famous they are. So there’s always that thought. I didn’t have the privilege of being around in the 80’s to sell millions of albums and have people say I’m great because I can rest on my laurels from an album I made 35 years ago.”

R.I.- Who is one band or musicians you were especially surprised to work with?

J.H.-”Oh they were all a surprise. Where I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, you’re not supposed to do any of the things I do for a living. In high school, people used to laugh at me just because I play guitar or thinking that I was gonna do any of this stuff. I feel like I’m doing more than anybody ever thought I would do, including myself on a level. It’s all about a daily approach, being productive everyday.”

R.I.- How do you tune into playing so many different genres?

J.H.-”One of the things that happened to me, I went to Guitar Institute of Technology in Hollywood, like I did the whole thing. I left home and did the whole, I’m gonna go away and I’m gonna hopefully become famous, right about when Smells Like Teen Spirit came out, when Nirvana really broke. So the guitar solo became the least cool thing in the world. So it spawned a point in my life where I had to become useful as a musician and as a guitarist without leaning back on my chops. At the time, it really sucked because I was just hoping to be a technique guitar hero when I was younger. But in the end, it turned out to be the best thing that’s ever happened  to me because I think it turned me into a much more well rounded musician. I gained a lot of experience through desperation of having to make a living with my guitar. It forced me to get better at a lot of stuff that might of not happened to the guys who became guitar heros at 21 and they just had their own sound.”


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© 2020 by Shannon Wilk.

Located in Connecticut, USA
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