WHITESNAKE (Live at the Metro Radio Arena, Newcastle, U.K., December 9, 2015)
Photo: Mick Burgess

After 7 years in Night Ranger Joel Hoekstra decided to leave and head for Whitesnake but not before recording a new solo album Dying To Live. Mick Burgess chatted to Joel about his new album and recording the Purple album with Whitesnake.

Your new solo album Dying To Live is out very soon. Are you looking forward to the release date

Absolutely yes. It’s been a labour of love for me during my down time over the last year or two. I’m very excited for this one to come out. I think it’s an album that a lot of the fans who’ve got to know me from the bands I have been in, have wanted from me. I think my previous solo albums were instrumental ones that you’d expect from a guitar player so for me to put an album more of a Rock album is pretty exciting. I think my fans are going to like it.

Have you got anything special lined up for the album launch?

I think a new single will be out on the day of release. The label is doing a great job supporting me for me so far putting out 5 singles to create a buzz. That’s a wonderful thing. I think the trick is getting the word out about it and word of mouth is doing great so far.

Why did you decide to release a solo album just after joining Whitesnake? Is this something you’d already done before joining?

The album was already in the works so when I met David in May 2014 I said what I had going on. David is wonderful in every respect and I’m not just saying that because he is sitting next to me (loud laugh from David Coverdale !!!) but he’s a true musician and he likes to see his players work at their skills and craft so as long as we’re ready to go and give Whitesnake top priority, then it’s all fine.

The album has a great mix of Journey style Melodic Rockers and classic heavy Rockers in the Rainbow vein. Is that what you were setting out to make when you first started writing?

A lot of the style of the music was written for the personnel who play on the record, especially the singers. I think I’d describe it as melodic Hard Rock and is like Dio at its heaviest and Foreigner at its most melodic. Russell Allen does that Ronnie James Dio hard style of singing so well, so a lot of the writing was based on that. Jeff Scott Soto is really brilliant for the AOR material that everyone likes him for, so some of the material was written for that. If I was going to sit down and write with David it would be more Blues based Rock. I think considering the members on the album I went down the right avenue having that mix of styles. I think the feeling I’m getting so far is that everyone seems to have different favourites on the album which is great. It’s a little tricky to promote as every time a new single comes out people think the whole album is like that and that’s certainly not the case. The album has a sound and a flow to it but it is diverse. It can get pretty heavy but also has some Foreigner-ish ballad type songs on it as well. I always loved the diversity of Led Zeppelin where everything was different but again I do love AC/DC too where every song sounds the same but I do prefer diversity in a band and I hope I’ve achieved that with my record.

You have Jeff Scott Soto and Russell Allen on the album. Why did you decide to use two singer rather than just one or the other?

They are just two of the best singers out there in the Classic Rock scene. I love both of their voices and thought it’d be cool to have them both sing on the album and their different approach to singing brought the diversity that I was looking for.

Did you consider asking David Coverdale to sing one or did you want to keep this separate to Whitesnake?

We were totally fully immersed in the Purple album and as soon as I got the gig we were really focussed on that. This for me was something I did on downtime and it was something my fans have wanted me to do for quite some time and something I’ve wanted to do as well.

Chloe Lowery from Trans-Siberian Orchestra duets with Jeff on the final track on the album. Who’s idea was it to do that?

She’s a superstar. She is amazing and I believe she is one of the best female singers in the world. She’s a gem of a person with absolutely no ego at all. Sooner or later she’s going to be known everywhere. She gives the album that big epic ending

Your rhythm section includes Tony Franklin and Vinnie Appice. How did they get involved?

The band came together piece by piece. Tony Franklin was first and we’d worked together on the VHF Project that was like a Psychedelic instrumental album. I thought he was the perfect bass player so I thought I’d start with him on this project. He recommended Vinnie Appice, he’s a great character on the drums and he really gave the songs a real creative spin. Russell Allen had signed up to do the Trans-Siberian Orchestra tour and I hadn’t really heard any Symphony X at that point. I was blown away at what a great singer he is. I started doing 7 songs with Russell with a view to getting a deal with Frontiers. I called in a favour from Jeff, who is a great guy and a good friend and we’ve worked together on other things in the past. I called him up and said that I knew he was way over qualified but asked if he’d sing backing vocals. When it became clear it was becoming a project album, I asked him to sing lead too. It just brings more to the party having two great singers on the record. All of the musicians did a great job. Even when I got all my guitars down there was still room for keyboards and Derek Sherinian came in and did a great job adding those. Again he was another one over qualified for the gig but I’m really grateful he helped me out on it.

When you wrote the music, how did you present this to the band? Did you have demos prepared to show what you wanted or did you jam your ideas together?

I basically had my guitars down to a click track and I’d put the vocal melodies down on my guitar and harmonies too so they could get a sense of hearing what it would sound like. I spared them hearing my vocals though. I sent them to Vinnie who laid down his drums then Tony who did his parts and it kind of developed like that.

Did you get the chance to record the band together in the studio?

No, not at all. It was very much done the way it is done in the modern age. I think that gets a bad rap as people say that they weren’t in the room together but at the same time you have everybody not feeling the pressure of having a producer over their shoulder or doing too many takes and feeling self-conscious so there’s something good everyone using their home studios.

You produced the album. How did you approach the production side of the record?

I wanted the guys to let the songs roll with whatever their first instincts were. I wanted their personalities to show up on it. With Vinnie I gave him my scratch guitars to a click track and in many cases he took the songs in completely different places to where I’d envisaged them. The song Dying To Live for instance has the really slow verses and the fast chorus was all down to Vinnie so rather than go with what I had in my head I decided to just go with what Vinnie had suggested. I went with his instincts so it does have this band feel to it. I wrote all the music, the words and everything but I think by letting the musicians first instincts come through on it gave it more personality. I see that as a positive part of the process. I did work with Russell on some of his parts and that worked out positively too. On Changes I had a different verse melody and Russell changed that and he really did co-write that song. He took the verse in a more Foreigner direction where I was looking at something more Queensrÿche. Russell took that song to a different place with his changes so from that point of view the collaborative way of working really did work out. Maybe if this album does do well it would be fun if maybe we could all collaborate together someday and see what came out. The sky would be the limit for this line up.

Did you consider using an outside producer or is this something you wanted to control yourself?

It just started off as my own thing and I was happy that I’d got a good sound and I did OK with the production. I had a great mix engineer like Chris Collier which was half the battle. I think I was consistent with the musicians in terms of what instruments were used, I used one amplifier and one guitar, the Les Paul for the whole album. It just gave it a sound so it wasn’t too scattered. I knew the writing was going to be a little diverse from the heavier songs to the ballads and the more poppy stuff. So the key was to find the right mix engineer, have consistency with the instruments and let the players play what they wanted to give it personality.

Do you hope to play some live shows at some point?

David is looking to have an active year next year and he’s very enthused right now. That’s a great thing for all of us. He has a couple of ideas that he’s talking about at the moment so it’ll be busy for Whitesnake next year which is a wonderful thing.

How did you end up joining Whitesnake?

I put out some feelers when I heard that the position was available but didn’t hear anything back at first, there were crickets on the end of the phone !!! I think it was a combination of me knocking on the door and a couple of highly respected people recommending me to David. That led to us meeting at the end of May where David filled me in about The Purple Album and touring plans and it all sounded like a really fantastic opportunity for me to join one of my favourite bands. This is a guitarist’s dream, what great material.

Was it a tough decision to leave Nightranger?

It had a lot more to do with me wanting to join Whitesnake than it did to me wanting to leave Nightranger. I’ll always cherish my time in Nightranger. I spent 7 years with them and we’re like brothers. I was especially close to Brad Gillis and we’re always in touch. I think Brad understands that it was a great opportunity for me. I love those guys, they will always be my brothers. We shared a lot of great life experiences together. We did a couple of great albums together and the acoustic DVD so we had a really productive period together. I would never rule out anything down the road with those guys and if the situation was right I’d play with them again.

Your first record was The Purple Album, a cover of David Coverdale’s songs from Deep Purple. Had you discussed this project before you joined?

Pre-production was already firmly in place by the time I came in. The songs had already been selected. In fact my audition was basically playing along to the pre-production notes including Lady Double Dealer. David put that up and had me have a stab at constructing a solo and I ended up constructing the harmony solo which is what pretty much ended up on the album. We then did some work on Sail Away. I kind of think that my creative muscles got exercised a bit on The Purple Album. You have a lot of songs based on one guitar riff and as I’d come in to the project quite late, Reb Beech had a lot of those covered so I had to think about doing something different like adding a texture or making up a second guitar part or finding a way to put a unique stamp on the songs so a lot of that came down to me. Being able to do what we wanted on the solos was great fun. I feel like that despite the songs were already pre-existing and very well known, it was still a very creative process.

It must be quite a daunting prospect handling Ritchie Blackmore’s work. How did you approach interpreting Ritchie’s music?

You can’t let that stuff get too inside your head. You have to approach it as a musician and with the same principles that make you who you are. For me that’s hard work and making sure I do my very best and to move forward with that. The first thing I did was to spend a few weeks listening to the original songs to get myself very familiar with them and then I transcribed them all. I then came into the studio and forgot all that I’d done before. I came up with some guitar passages in the middle and the acoustic piece at the end of Holy Man and the talk box stuff on The Gypsy and the tapping on Lay Down Stay Down were my little bits and pieces that I added to the arrangements. I thought they were little signature add ons that would make the songs sound cool. A lot of the arrangements are completely different. I think a lot of people thought when they first heard about the project that we were just going to re-record them like Purple did them note for note. We just wanted to put our spin on it. There’s so many bands these days that re-record their songs for publishing purposes but we wanted to do it slightly differently and give people another cool version of the songs to listen to and most people seem to really like it.

Do you know if he’s heard it yet?

I don’t know actually. I think David has sent him a copy but I haven’t heard if he’s said anything yet.

Which song did you enjoy doing the most?

I think I’m just more than happy to be doing this so it’s hard to pick a particular favourite. I enjoyed them all. I love the Hard Rocking stuff like Burn and Stormbringer but I also loved the acoustic stuff like Sail Away and Soldier of Fortune. There’s a lot of great tracks that I wasn’t familiar with coming into the project like The Gypsy, what a great tune that is. For me I just enjoyed the process and every step of the way.

Have you started writing new material together or is it still early days?

Well, I just got out here yesterday so we’ve only just started really. We’ve run through a couple of things already. We’ve got some ideas right out of the gate that sound really, really cool. It’s a real honour for me to have the opportunity to write with David.

In December you’re in the UK playing arena shows with Def Leppard and Black Star Riders. Are you looking forward to that?

I’m hugely looking forward to this tour because I think a lot of the stuff I’ve been involved with over the last few years from Nightranger, Rock of Ages and The Trans-Siberian Orchestra have predominantly been touring The United States. For me to get the opportunity to get over to the UK and Europe with Whitesnake is huge for me. To meet new people and play for new fans is really exciting for me. This is my very first tour of the UK so I can’t wait to play. I’ve only ever played in London so to be able to play around the country will be great. David tells me that the show up in Newcastle is always a very special one for him as he was born and raised in that part of the country so that should make for a great show. Having Def Leppard and Black Star Riders too. What a great night of Rock.

That’s a great line up for the fans. Will there be some friendly rivalry between the bands?

I know David and Joe Elliott are really good friends and I know the Def Leppard boys and they are great guys. I tend to come from the school of looking at what people do well and appreciate them for what they do rather than try to compete but I’m very much competing with myself on a daily basis.

What sort of show will you be doing? Will you be celebrating the Deep Purple material or will it be more traditional Whitesnake songs?

I’m not sure how much I can divulge of the set but I know David is constructing the set for Europe and Japan and I’m sure some of the Deep Purple stuff will be well represented alongside the Whitesnake classics. It’ll certainly make for a cool set. It really will be a treat. We’ve just finished a three month run in America and every night after the show we were saying to each other how much we love playing our set. I think some of the guys who have been in the band for a while like Tommy Aldridge are really excited by playing some of these Deep Purple songs.

The UK tour will take you right up to the end of the year. What’s next for you after the tour?

I’d love to find some avenue for support for my album, Dying To Live so maybe I could see if I could make some time to fit in something there. David has two different things that he’s talking about for next year in terms of recording. I think he’s planning on more live dates next year too so there’ll be a lot of Whitesnake and whatever I can fit around that for Dying To Live. I also have a project at a very early stage with Michael Sweet of Stryper so it’ll be something like what he did with George Lynch, so I’m really looking forward to working with him. I want to stay productive on a daily basis but my main priority is Whitesnake and anything else will have to fit around that but it’s sure to be a busy year.

Joel Hoekstra’s new album Dying To Live is out on 18th October on Frontiers Records. For more information see and

Whitesnake tour with Def Leppard and Black Star Riders starting on 6th December in Dublin and ending on 19th December in Sheffield.

For more details visit


  • Mick Burgess

    Mick is a reviewer and photographer here at Metal Express Radio, based in the North-East of England. He first fell in love with music after hearing Jeff Wayne's spectacular The War of the Worlds in the cold winter of 1978. Then in the summer of '79 he discovered a copy of Kiss Alive II amongst his sister’s record collection, which literally blew him away! He then quickly found Van Halen I and Rainbow's Down To Earth, and he was well on the way to being rescued from Top 40 radio hell!   Over the ensuing years, he's enjoyed the Classic Rock music of Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple; the AOR of Journey and Foreigner; the Pomp of Styx and Kansas; the Progressive Metal of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Symphony X; the Goth Metal of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica, and a whole host of other great bands that are too numerous to mention. When he's not listening to music, he watches Sunderland lose more football (soccer) matches than they win, and occasionally, if he has to, he goes to work as a property lawyer.

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