Joel Hoekstra

Road Warrior
Joel Hoekstra
Joel Hoekstra: Enzo Mazzeo.

The busiest man in hard rock, Joel Hoekstra spends his life touring, recording, and jamming with Whitesnake, Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Iconic, and pop icon Cher. In-between, he joined Revolution Saints, the power trio led by Journey drummer Deen Castronovo and just delivered the powerhouse effort Eagle Flight.

How did you land the Revolution Saints gig?
Well, Doug Aldrich decided he was stepping aside and basically recommended that I come [play guitar]. Luckily, I have a good relationship with everyone at Frontiers Music, Deen Castronovo, and [Foreigner/Dokken bassist] Jeff Pilson, so the stars aligned. I’ve known Deen since I was in Night Ranger and we opened for Journey. Oddly enough, Deen, Jeff, and myself were on a tour together in 2011; I even ended up filling in for Mick Jones of Foreigner for a bit, so I’ve worked with Jeff, as well. That was a big tour – about 20,000 fans every night for months.

You and Doug seem to move in the same circles. Have you ever worked together, or do you just replace each other in bands?
(laughs) I guess people see the long blond hair and Les Paul goldtop, and figure we have similarities. Whatever the case, Doug’s great and I think it’s cool that we have a friendship, not a rivalry. Life’s too short for that s**t.

How did you break into the sideman world? What skills did you bring to the table?
My philosophy is to work hard on a daily basis and see where everything goes; I’ve always had an open mind regarding what type of work I do with music. That’s why I’ve worked with Cher, played in the pits on Broadway or with hip-hop and acid-jazz bands, and released my own albums. It just so happens that the thing that took off for me was playing the music that inspired me to start playing.

Eagle Flight is a guitar-intensive album, with lots of layers. How will you pull that off in concert?
Kyle Gass is teaching me how to grow extra arms, like he did during the “Master Exploder” scene from The Pick of Destiny (laughs). For shows, I guess we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. Hey, Jimmy Page played lots of overdubs, as well – there’s nothing wrong with stripping it down a bit live.

Obviously there’s a musical connection to Journey’s style of melodic hard rock. How do you convey a melodic, powerful vibe without sounding like Neal Schon?
My runs are really quite different from Neal’s. I tend to use more legato, hybrid picking, and tapping as far as active phrases, while he alternate-picks quite a bit. Neal has always been an influence on me though as far as playing melodic hooks. I listened to Journey’s Greatest Hits a ridiculous amount as a younger man. Neal is a phenomenal player and has been very good to me.

What gear did you use on the album?
I really only used my Les Paul goldtop, Jackson PC-1, and my Taylor Builder’s Series for acoustic stuff. I tracked everything in my apartment, so it’s modeling and plug-ins. On tour, I’ll opt for real amps.

How many gigs do you play in a year? It can’t be easy to be a touring musician and living out of a suitcase.
Well, it depends on the year. In 2019, I was on the road for 285 days. There were years when Rock of Ages was running eight shows a week on Broadway and TSO was doing eight shows a week on tour, so I had more gigs than there were days in the year. Recording, collaboration videos, and virtual teaching became more important after Covid, while touring fell back to more-reasonable levels. But in ’23 I’ll play about 125 shows. I’ll also record five or six records, do loads of sessions, and teach about 20 lessons a week.

Describe the differences between your various gigs. How is your role in Cher’s band different from, say, Whitesnake?
Every gig has different responsibilities. With Cher, the band is in the background, on the bandstand, for 95 percent of the gig. There are a few step-out moments with her or on my own that carry tremendous pressure. With Whitesnake and Trans Siberian Orchestra, I perform visually quite a bit. Also, with Whitesnake I sing backing vocals and don’t with the other two.

Seriously, what is Cher like?
Cher’s great. Very professional and focused, yet sometimes does things like take everyone to the movies. So, there you are at the theater, standing next to Cher – who’s waiting in line for popcorn!

This article originally appeared in VG’s June 2023 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.

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