If you thought last week’s musician Myles Kennedy was a busy man, then you haven’t heard everything guitar player Joel Hoekstra
has on his plate. Not only has he been touring with Night Ranger
on a major outing with Journey and Foreigner, but in between those dates he performs in Rock Of Ages
and travels with the Trans Siberian Orchestra
in the fall and winter.
So being able to catch him with some free time was lucky for Glide
. With an off day in Dallas, the very talented and extremely affable Mr Hoekstra shared with us his memories of being a young kid near Chicago, how Angus Young has influenced him and why his personality shines through every time he hits the lighted stage.Hi Joel, what’s happening in your world? Where are you now?
We’re in Dallas. I actually had just been out on the street. We had a day off and I was getting myself a little food. I wanted to get back to the room. Didn’t want to do an interview in a restaurant and be obnoxious and stuff.Oh, I don’t think you could be obnoxious. You seem like a very nice guy and I appreciate you taking the time to talk with me today.
Oh no worriesSo how long have you been with Night Ranger?
I started up full time in January of 2008.Oh man, so you’re still a baby in the band.
I’ve been with them almost four years. Although we’ve had a very active four years with me in the band so I feel quite a bit like a veteran actually with them at this point, you know, cause we’ve done so many shows together and shared so many cool experiences.I noticed that you smile a lot up there on stage. You must be having the time of your life.
Yeah, that’s always really been the way I’ve been on a stage. I just really like showing people that I am really lucky to have the job I have, you know. I mean, if you want to call it a job; it’s much more than that (laughs). But being able to play guitar for a living and not only do that but play music that I love. I’m one of the lucky people in the world, so I don’t like to fight that. I like to show people how lucky I feel like I am.Well, why don’t you tell us about your childhood.
I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago and my parents are both classical musicians so out of the gate they had me learning a lot of classical music. They had me on cello at age three and had me on piano from age seven to ten or something. But like most young boys I was a total jock. I just loved playing baseball and basketball and football. Basically it took me hearing AC/DC to make me realize that I really did love music; cause I used to fight taking all those classical lessons. Everything changed when I heard AC/DC and then I wanted my first electric guitar and I haven’t looked back since.What did you find was so great about AC/DC?
I think it was really Angus Young in particular and the way he performed with a lot of energy and enthusiasm and that’s something that definitely still is a part of what I do even today, I feel, in a little way. Obviously, you know, I’m not imitating Angus Young up there but I feel that a lot of the same traits that he has I try and bring across when I play.When did you discover the guitar?
I guess I was eleven.Do you remember the song that made you want to play?
The first song that I actually liked was Billy Squier’s “Stroke” (laughs). When I heard that on the radio I was like, “That tune’s cool”. And then I got turned on to Back In Black
, which was the first album that I really listened to that just made me go like, “I’ve got to play”. And so it was really AC/DC; and of course Black Sabbath, and Ozzy was already solo at that point, so those were kind of the next things that I picked up on. I was definitely a thoroughbred metal guy when I started out (laughs). I loved metal.What was your first guitar and how did you get it?
Well, oddly enough, I had begged my mom for a guitar and it turns out my step-mom had an acoustic guitar that they said, “Well, why don’t we get you some lessons and start out on that and we’ll get you an electric if things go well.” I ended up with a teacher who was teaching me how to read notes on the first three strings and I just couldn’t help but think, man, this isn’t what I had in mind (laughs). I was kind of like, I wanted to rock, you know. Luckily I had a friend who said, “Hey man, you should switch over to my teacher. I got this guy that teaches me how to play AC/DC and Black Sabbath”. So we went up to that store and they sold electric guitars there and I got an Electra-Westone and that was the first guitar. It was red with just awful body style, just hideously eighties (laughs). I sold it after I played for a year and I really wish I still had that guitar. But I used to plug into my home stereo, that’s how old school it was (laughs). They didn’t buy me an amp, I just plugged that guitar right into my home stereo and ended up blowing the speakers and everything, I’d crank it up so loud.What was the first song that you learned how to play?
I learned “Paranoid” from Black SabbathDo you remember your first band?
Yeah, absolutely. Somebody just sent me an old flyer of ours the other day and I died laughing for about five straight hours. They were called Outcry. I was about fifteen and I started gigging with them and I was literally playing in bars and stuff when I was sixteen, seventeen years old. They’d sneak me in through the back or explain to the owners in advance that we got this kid who plays guitar for us. Most of the places would say, “It’s ok, just you guys keep an eye on him, you’re responsible for him”, this and that. But yeah, it was called Outcry and we had our own songs. We played a lot of our own music and then we did covers by like Dokken, all the eighties stuff, you know. We were really into Dokken, actually really into Stryper, oddly enough. We were at that age so lots of stuff like that.Was that like your first time performing on stage? Were you with that band or did it come earlier?
Well, I mean, outside of having to do performances on piano and cello when I was really young, which kind of doesn’t count, we played the drummer’s high school talent show. It was at Eisenhower High School and that was my first gig. I was so nervous I couldn’t move my feet. I remember that I got out on stage and I was so terrified and nervous that I literally couldn’t move them.How old were you?
I think fifteen.Do you remember the first concert that you went to?
Oh yeah, absolutely. I went to go see Iron Maiden. It was Quiet Riot and Iron Maiden at UIC Pavilion and it was killer, great show (laughs). It was the Piece Of Mind tour. I think I was in seventh grade or something. That was probably right when I started guitar. I was probably eleven (laughs) and my mom let me go to an Iron Maiden concert. Pretty cool of her.Did that like seal your fate that that was what you wanted to do?
I think it was already sealed at that point. As soon as I started learning the songs on guitar that was really what did it. My sister still talks about like literally when I learned that song “Paranoid” that I would just sit and play that riff and play it for hours straight. I was just, you know, playing one riff and she would just be going crazy, going “shut up” (laughs) as all big sisters would do. But like I said, the first concert was great but I was already wanting to do what I’m doing now (laughs). Did you have the long hair then?
I grew it out really long about nineteen through twenty-two years old or something like that. And then the nineties stuff hit and everybody got the obligatory bob hair cut that everybody was doing. Eventually I went back to short and then grew my hair out again, not to do Night Ranger or anything, but I was in a show called Love, Janis
and it was about Janis Joplin and I did about fourteen hundred performances of that; in New York, about half of those and then half on the road. So during that time I thought, man, I’m playing a sixties rock star, I’d better grow my hair out, you know, and grow sideburns and all this stuff. So that was why my hair got long and then it just worked out perfect, timing wise, that I ended up hooking up with Night Ranger and with Rock Of Ages and TSO and whatnot.What’s it like being on stage in something like Love, Janis?
It’s great. The nice thing about that is when you’re on stage you really don’t have to worry about anything else. All the other troubles in your life go away, makes everything feel inconsequential. The only thing that matters at that moment is exactly what is happening at that moment right then. You can leave all your troubles at the side of the stage, so to speak.Do you remember the first real rock star that you ever met?
Man, you know, I was really into like, as lame as this is going to sound and people aren’t going to be able to relate to this in the column, but there were some really good local bands where I grew up with really great players. And those guys were rock stars to me, you know. They were playing in bars or whatnot but for me it was really cool. So some of the guys from those bands were, you know, more like starstruck stuff.
By the time I moved to LA in 1990 for a couple of years, I went to GIT and I worked at Cherokee Studios and I met so many celebrities in that time span that it didn’t hold as big of an impact to me as real celebrities at that point (laughs). There were so many of them, so many famous musicians around at that point but it’s always fun still. I love being able to meet bands that I admire through what we’re doing right now. Brad Gillis and I went to see Queensryche the other night in San Antonio and I was just a huge Queensryche fan growing up. I’ve met those guys before but briefly, you know, and the other night to get to see their show and then we all ended up hanging out afterwards was just really cool. And they’re just such great guys and man what a great band those guys are. They just blew our minds live. Brad and I were just looking at each other going, “I can’t believe how good these guys are”. And they were such nice guys, such real musicians.What would you say has been one of your most memorable moments on stage so far in your career?
If I could split it as the two craziest moments, just because they were so pressure filled, but the first time I played with Night Ranger and really the first time I filled in for Mick Jones with Foreigner, just because that one I only had a day to get the music down. So I only knew that was happening for one day. There was so much kind of pressure and yet a lot of emotions involved. Everybody from the tour was on the side like rooting and it was really kind of cool.
And the first time I played with Night Ranger was just super special, just cause same deal, we really didn’t have time to go through anything. There’s something about having that unknown thing that makes those two gigs just totally stand out, is like really totally cool.Who would you say was your biggest influence as a musician and why?
You know, I’d have to split that between just saying Angus Young, just cause of his showmanship and making me want to play the guitar, and then I’d have to say I had a teacher for I guess the first couple of years of playing named TJ Helmerich. A great musician that has fusion albums out and I learned an awful lot from him, just how to play guitar and he was a good mentor cause I always felt I had a high bar to try and reach. He was a really great guitar player so I was always practicing really hard to get to that level.So what’s going on in your musical world?
I’m doing Trans Siberian Orchestra again this year and it starts rehearsals October 25 and that goes through the year, through December 30. They do eight shows a week and I think there’s something like sixty-seven shows this year. So I’m looking at that after being out on this tour for about four or five months (laughs). It’s a big year for road work but those are uptown problems to have, so to speak. You know, there’s so many guitar players that would love to trade for the opportunity to play amphitheaters and arenas for seven straight months so I’m really making the most of it right now.Are you going to do another solo album?
I would love to. I just don’t have a lot of time right now. I mean, it’s very difficult. Come next year, we’ll see what the top of the year looks like, if I can have time to squeeze something in; but even then I’ll be back at Rock Of Ages and that’s eight shows a week at home. You know, really I’m so busy the last couple of years I think I’ve topped four hundred shows a year, just between the eight a week at TSO and Rock Of Ages and then considering radio promos and things like that as well or Tv appearances, I would say I’m somewhere in the neighborhood of four hundred shows a year. So I’m pretty busy right now (laughs). But I love doing all this. The whole trick with that is, I don’t know if I ever want to make that how I need to make a living, cause I don’t necessarily want to feel any of that kind of pressure. I just love to record and do whatever it is that I feel like doing at that point. It kind of comes down to down time for that and I hope I get some down time but I still kind of hope I don’t (laughs).You must have no life outside of playing your guitar?
There’s plenty of time. I mean, keeping in mind that on the tour Night Ranger’s set is fairly short and I have time to keep up with other interests. I still love sports, I still follow the Chicago teams from when I grew up. I still follow the Bulls and the Cubs, so I love keeping up with that and I love movies. You know, just regular stuff.One of the most respected guitar players of the modern world joins us next week = Mark Tremonti of Alter Bridge.