Joel Hoekstra of Whitesnake by Anne Erickson

Joel Hoekstra is one of rock's hardest working guitarists, having spent years juggling work between Night Ranger, Trans-Siberian Orchestra and Broadway's "Rock of Ages," among other projects. Last year, Hoekstra joined Whitesnake and went into the studio with David Coverdale to put a creative spin on Coverdale-era Deep Purple songs. "The Purple Album" came from those sessions, and now, Whitesnake are on the road in support of the set.

Hoekstra is almost always spotted shredding one of his prized Les Pauls.

"I think the Les Paul is the perfect combination of having that fat tone and the punchy, cutting sound," Hoekstra told Gibson.com. "It’s the perfect guitar."

Hoekstra spoke with us about his experience joining Whitesnake ("I think the Whitesnake material is really a guitarist’s dream"), his upcoming solo release and why the Gibson Les Paul is his guitar of choice.

Congratulations on “The Purple Album.” What was it like to revisit these Deep Purple songs?

It was a total honor for me and a great time, as well. We flexed our creative muscles a lot more than people realized. A lot of the Deep Purple songs had one guitar riff going on at a time, and we focused more on a duel guitar attack, so for me, it was about coming up with a second guitar part to go along with the riffs. David Coverdale allowed us to come up with our own twists and solos on these proven songs.

Listening to the set, it certainly feels like you put your own creative spin on these classics.

Absolutely. We weren’t going to lean as heavily on the keyboard sound going in, and it was really about reinventing that. Some of the songs are really, really different. "Holy Man" and "Sail Away" are completely different. Many songs are really reinvented, and with others, we leaned closer to the original versions but "Snaked" them up, as David likes to say!

Joel Hoekstra of Whitesnake by Anne Erickson

What was it like going into the studio with David Coverdale and working on this album, this being your first time recording with Whitesnake?

David is great. He was very supportive of everybody playing like themselves. He wanted to capture a true sound of this band and lineup. As a new player, that’s great when you have rock royalty like David Coverdale telling you, "Be yourself.' He was incredibly positive and supportive, and he’s a great musician and great hang. He’s so much fun to be around. One of the cooler moments was when we got to do "Soldier of Fortune." I tracked the main guitar live with him singing, and most of what you hear on the lead vocal on the record was what he tracked right there.

Joel Hoekstra of Whitesnake by Anne Erickson

What’s are some of the differences between playing guitar in Whitesnake as opposed to Night Ranger and Trans-Siberian Orchestra?

I think the Whitesnake material is really a guitarist’s dream. It's great, riff-driven music. You get all these great guitar riffs out of the gate and classic solos. There is a great history of amazing players coming through the band, so it's always an honor to follow in their footsteps. I feel blessed.

Let’s talk guitars! What are your main guitars on the road and in the studio? I see you with Les Pauls in concert all the time.

Yes, and on this current tour, I have new Gibsons! Upon getting the Whitesnake gig, I was inspired to reach out to some of my favorite gear companies, and I’ve been a longtime Gibson player, so I reached out to the Custom Shop and told them my idea of having a white and black Les Paul with the Whitesnake medallian set in the body. They're gold-plated medallions. The Gibsons sound totally amazing. There is something cool about starting in a brand new band, and having brand new gear makes it all the more fun.

Joel Hoekstra of Whitesnake by Anne Erickson

What makes Gibson guitars the right fit for you?

There’s nothing like Gibson, as far as tone and playability, period. It's been awesome to fire my new Les Pauls up on this tour.

Besides the new black and white Les Pauls, what other Gibsons are in your rig?

Well, I didn’t have the new guitars when I tracked the new album, because there wasn't enough time, so I was playing my '57 Reissue Goldtop that I used for my entire time in Night Ranger. It's been my main guitar for quite some time. It’s become my warmup guitar on this tour, believe it or not! It's my practice guitar on the bus and backstage. For "The Purple Album" I used that, and I also used my black and white Custom that I’ve used in Trans for five years. They all sound slightly different. Each has its own qualities. I used my black Custom for heavier rhythms and white Custom for arpeggiated rhythms. I played all three of those 100% on my album with Joel Hoekstra's 13. That’s the name of my side project.

Joel Hoekstra of Whitesnake by Anne Erickson

Speaking about that, tell me about your new project, Joel Hoekstra's 13.

The album should come out in October. It's hard melodic classic rock that I did all the writing on, and there's a stellar lineup of musicians from the classic rock scene on the album. My previous solo albums were from years ago, and they were more rock fusion instrumental material that featured my guitar playing. On this one, I wanted to focus on good rock songs. They all have ripping solos in them, but it's more about showing fans my taste in the hard melodic rock genre.

Photos by Anne Erickson