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Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Exclusive Interview: Whitesnake's Joel Hoekstra on 'Jukebox Heroes Tour', Playing with Cher & More


If you're a rock fan then Joel Hoekstra is a man who needs precious little introduction. He spent several years onstage in the Broadway production of Rock of Ages and used that experience to launch a career that has him now playing beside some of his childhood heroes. Hoekstra believes that greatness comes from playing as often as he can and working with bands like Foreigner, Night Ranger and of course, Whitesnake (to name only a few) has helped to shape him into a versatile virtuoso. 

Hoekstra has been busy with Whitesnake rehearsal's this week as the band is gearing up to hit the road for the Juke Box Heroes Tour with Jason Bonham and Foreigner, but he was kind enough to give me a few minutes of his time.

(Photo: Cate Meighan)

Cate Meighan: I know that Whitesnake's rehearsals just started a few days ago, how's it going so far?

Joel Hoekstra: We started on June 4th and it's really great to see the guys. Everyone in this lineup gets along so well and that makes it really great to be back together again. The band sounds really tight already. Everybody did their homework leading into rehearsal (laughing) and is remembering all of the songs. David (Coverdale) is in great spirits and is singing fantastic, so we're all excited to get back out on the road again.

CM: You were last on the road together for the greatest hits tour two years ago. How will this show compare to that one?

JH: It's different in that we're sharing the bill and playing the bigger venues this time around. It's going to be a great night of classic rock. Jason Bonham will be playing all of the Led Zeppelin stuff and it just doesn't get much cooler than that. Of course, then you'll get the Whitesnake catalog and the Foreigner catalog which means that it's realistically going to be a night where just about everyone knows every song played. That's the kind of show that just doesn't come around that often.

CM: There has been so much excitement and speculation surrounding the new album, Flesh & Blood, which recently had its' release date pushed back. Is there a chance that the first single from that project, "Shut Up & Kiss Me" might make its' way into the setlist?

JH: I'm not 100% able to discuss the setlist (laughing) because it might get me in a bit of trouble. I'm sure it'll be up online right after the first show so I've got to at least make you wait until then to find out!

CM: How does it feel to have the band back together again?

JH: It's really great to be back. I've spent a decent amount of time with David and Reb (Beach) over the last year working on the new music, which is cool. I feel like my relationship with both of them has grown. Just to finally see everyone else too and have us all together is truly the best part.

CM: I know that mixing it up and doing different kinds of projects seems to have really become your forte. Michael Sweet of Stryper recently mentioned working on something bluesy with you. Can you tell me more about that?

JH: It's in both of our plans to do that and hopefully while I'm out on this tour I can send him some ideas. We both like to work quickly and Michael is so talented and just a super nice guy. It's going to get done, I promise (laughing). We just have to find the time in our schedules to actually get together and do it. It'll be cool though because we're on the same page with exactly what we want to do.

I had a friend take me to see Stryper when I was a kid and still in school. They put on such a great show, I was totally blown away. They put on such a killer show even back in the 80's. Now to actually know the band and to be able to call them my friends is just incredible.

CM: I bet that kind of scenario happens to you a lot now!

JH: It really has been a recurring story over the last ten years of my career- getting to know guys that I looked up to as gods when I was a kid. There was a moment this year when I was out with David (Coverdale) for his birthday. It was just him, his wife, Reb and I at his birthday dinner. I sat there for a minute just thinking that if someone had ever told me when I was still in high school that this moment would eventually be happening I would never have believed it (laughing). I would never have thought that it would ever be possible. I have a lot of moments of clarity like that and it's really cool.

CM: I know that you've spent the early part of this year working with Cher and the rest of her band in Las Vegas. How was that experience?

JH: It was great. My interaction with her was so limited though. The most that I've talked to her is a minute before we would go onstage when we're in a circle exchanging pleasantries. That's literally about it (laughing). She's great to work for though and it's a very professional organization. The musicians are amazing and it has been a real joy for me to have a chance to get to know a lot of them.

It has been really nice to broaden my horizons during my downtime from Whitesnake and break that rock stereotype a little bit. There are showman moments in it where I get to step out and then there are moments when I get to step out with someone that's a pop icon. She's a legendary performer and the set is really diverse musically, which is fun. I get to play anything from 60's pop to disco, all the way up to her 80's hard rock thing. There's a lot happening stylistically and that's fun from a musical perspective for me to be able to play it.

(Photo: Jay Marz)

CM: Does mixing stuff up help you to stay creative?

JH: I really just want to keep working and mixing things up allows me to get paid while becoming a better player. That's how I've always wanted to establish becoming great on the guitar and I think that playing a lot is how you get really good at it. Wherever life takes you and whatever opportunity presents itself, that's how you're meant to get good at it.

I love actually making music. I love being part of a band and musical scenarios where I'm working with other musicians and doing the best that I can with that. I also live in NYC and so just the sheer expense of it means that I should keep working and making money to pay my bills (laughing).

CM: After all of these years of playing with so many great musicians, what inspires you these days?

JH: I keep going to improve.. My definition of success is to never have to do anything other than play guitar. That's the modern day musical dream for me. Forget about someday wanting to own a mansion with 17 sports cars that I can crash and replace whenever I want to (laughing). I'm just trying to work and have a good time while doing it. Hopefully, I'll even be considered a good guy in the process.

It really is a job for us. Sure there's a lot of fantasy to it because you get to be onstage in front of an audience and sometimes you're treated really well, but essentially, it comes down to working hard. I keep that in my head at all times because it's important to keep yourself grounded. Ego will kill your career. I think you need to work hard and then as opportunities present themselves, do what you can with them. That creates your life story more than just having one solid goal. You can't make your goals that narrow.

As a kid I never would have said that I wanted to play guitar in a Broadway show, it was not on my radar at all but doing Rock of Ages turned out to be a huge break for me. It was a six-year gig that changed my whole financial reality. I did the best that I could with it and it led me to right now. I think that you need to do your best with every single thing and then you'll see where it leads you.

It sounds like a cliche, but I do believe that the harder you work the luckier you'll get. Just about every big moment that I've had I can actually trace back to another moment that made no financial sense for me to be doing at the time (laughing). Sometimes you need to do things for the experience and to invest in yourself. You plant some seeds and then wait to see what eventually grows.

CM: What would you like to say to those fans that have supported and continue to support you in everything that you do?

JH: I appreciate their support so much and I try to be thankful every day for the chance to do all of this. I have a laundry list of things that I'm thankful for every day and the fans are definitely on it. It's amazing to be making a living playing music and to have the opportunity to do all of this. The fans are a big part of what makes it all possible.

If you don't already have tickets to the Jukebox Heroes Tour with Whitesnake, Jason Bonham and Foreigner then check out tour dates here. Visit Joel's personal site here to stay up to date 
on everything that he's doing.

Image may contain: one or more people and people playing musical instruments
(Photo: Allan Zilkowsky Photography)






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