Whitesnake - Summer 2019

Joel Hoekstra

Whitesnake have just released their incredible 12th new studio album, Flesh & Blood, and it has very much been an unexpected album in the sense that band leader and vocalist David Coverdale had openly shared his intentions to retire following The Purple Album and the supporting tour in 2015. But David’s decision to postpone the claiming of his pension has resulted in a truly exceptional album of the very best in classic rock and one which proudly maintains that indisputable Whitesnake sound. The Flesh & Blood tour is already well underway, and it’s 20 shows in that we catch up with guitarist Joel Hoekstra just outside Greensburg in Pittsburgh. The band are enjoying a day off though we curious to understand what that really means. For Joel today has very much been about doing his very best to relax. That means catching up with The Cubs and his beloved NBA. In fact, Joel has just demonstrated his own particularly advanced skills in this area by sharing a recent video of himself shooting hoops on social media. It’s yet another skill that massively impresses us. But overall Joel says that a day off is all about "just simple stuff". As the sun beats down we make ourselves comfortable and ready ourselves to hear all about the making of Flesh & Blood

Let me come straight on to the music. Whitesnake have just released your new album Flesh and Blood – and what an incredible album this is! It’s been out 3 days. What sort of things are going through your mind at album release time?


It’s just exciting and great to finally have it out in the world and it just feels like the next step for me with Whitesnake. Coming from recording obviously on The Purple Album and this one being able to co-write with David and having a co-production credit just feels like the next step of evolution for me within the band. 


Let’s pick up on a few of those activities because when you joined for The Purple Album and tour, David Coverdale was quite open that this may be his swan song and that perhaps the completion of that tour would mark his retirement. However, the success and joy the band experienced on that tour and throughout the whole Purple Album experience meant that retirement plans were shelved. At what point did you know there would be a new album?


That’s going to be hard to pinpoint for me. David and I wrote together just out of sheer enjoyment when I went out to work on Unzipped with him. At the time it was going to be for Unzipped and then we worked on After All and at some point after we were just kind of working on versions of the hits and things like that. I plugged in a Les Paul and write Trouble Is Your Middle Name. So we wrote a couple of songs together there and I think that was maybe his way of gauging if he enjoyed writing with me or if he could write with me. Those were the first 2 songs we wrote and I think he had a similar experience with Reb (Beach – guitarist), having Reb out for something where they wrote and he said "Okay,I’ll do an album". He first told Reb, and I don’t know the exact date, but I think he wanted to make sure he enjoyed writing with both of us. 


Just thinking of those songwriting sessions, what sort of brief do you give yourself or what sort of mindset do you put yourself in when writing a Whitesnake song?


Gosh! It depends on the idea. David usually gives you an idea and says "Where would you go from here?" because he has lots of ideas. He’s always writing. And he would present it to either Reb or myself and say "Where would you take it?". It has to be very instinctual and quick when you write with David. He doesn’t like to labour over it and over-write. There’s a lot of people that fall into that trap. If it doesn’t come together naturally and hit him then it’s not going to be a Whitesnake song. So the Whitesnake side of things takes care of itself in lot of ways. You do the very best you can to give him your first instinct and he’ll either just tell you yes or no! For the most part we were on the same page but he’s very direct which is awesome. If there’s something you’re playing for him that he doesn’t really like he’s not going to be like fake polite and say "Oh, that’s cool" and head down a road knowing he doesn’t really like it. He’ll just say "No, that doesn’t really do it for me"… "Okay, how about this?". So that’s pretty much the mindset. You work quickly with David and then Reb and I would take those songs that we came up with and demo them up. So it would be basically a drum machine or midi drums, Reb or myself - one of us would play bass - and we’d play the songs for David and maybe make a few arrangement changes or whatever on those demos before sending all the stuff to Tommy (Aldridge- drums) and to Michael (Devin – bass), and to Michele (Luppe – keyboards) and getting everybody prepared to come in and record. 


Now you mentioned earlier about an evolution or the next step in terms of your role within the band and focussing specifically on your co-writing and whether David did or didn’t like your contributions, clearly he did because of the album’s 13 tracks you co-wrote 6 of them (Good to See You Again, Gonna Be Alright, Hey You (You Make Me Rock), Trouble Is Your Middle Name, Well I Never and After All). That must make you feel really proud to how such a huge share of the songwriting credits.


Yeah, obviously I’m really proud to have any level of involvement that David deems appropriate with this band. I mean that’s the task or the job at hand - to make David want to come to work and not let him retire! (Laughs!) Keep him going and keep him enthused! So yeah, whatever that may be, that’s what I like to try and do.  I think that’s the job, and obviously to keep the fans happy – and to make myself happy – but to keep David happy, have him motivated and psyched up about Whitesnake! 


One thing I wanted to get a little bit more insight into is when it came to recording the tracks, how you and Reb decided which parts you would each take. You mentioned that following the songwriting sessions the two of you would get together and demo the tracks up. What is a part of this process that those sort of decisions were made?


Well, no matter what, we each wanted to play rhythm on the songs so we would learn each other’s riffs depending on who wrote them or came up with them. We wanted the Les Paul and essentially the super-Strat, Floyd Rose sound throughout the album. So the rhythms we each played at all times and then the solos, that really came down to what Reb wanted to do. So Reb more or less picked out the sections he wanted to play over and I just played over all the rest. So that’s the way it worked. It was very easy and Reb’s easy to work with in that regard. He doesn’t want to play every single solo and neither do I so we don’t really have a competition in that department. I think there’s a healthy decent level of competition in terms of our pushing each other to play good stuff. He’s obviously a great guitar player. But I think we are both kind of self-motivated and self-driven to play well more  than by (being in competition with) each other.

The Whitesnake tour started on 12th April in Newkirk and so far the band have played 20 shows with another 26 to go. It’s great to see that the band are playing a lot of the new songs on tour, with examples being Hey You (You Make Me Rock), Trouble Is Your Middle Name, Shut Up and Kiss Me and Get Up. What made you choose these particular songs from the Flesh and Blood album and what has the audiences’ reactions been to the new material so far?


Well the set list pretty much always starts and ends with David. He will usually copy in Reb and myself and ask "What do you guys think?" But it’s usually David’s idea of what the set is going to look like. The new songs have gone over so well that it’s kind of almost shocked us a bit (laughs!). I mean there are some simplistic choruses that just translate really, really well live, that gang vocal approach of Hey You, Trouble Is Your Middle Name or Shut Up and Kiss Me, so those 3 choruses in particular have latched on really well, even to people who hadn’t even heard the songs coming in. So when they are listening to the songs for the very first time, they’re able to kind of grab on to, I guess, the word is the ‘hook’, right? It’s been awesome to watch the stuff be so well received!


Good To See You Again, which is one of your co-writes, is a song with a genuine message of how good it is to be back and more importantly about the band and fans reuniting, and it’s performed in the most powerfully thrilling way. As well as opening the album it would also be the perfect song to open the live shows so I wonder why in fact it doesn’t. Is there a specific reason?


I really don’t know! Again, David kind puts the set list ideas and the ideas about songs together but that one wasn’t on there. I think there has been some talk about it but I really don’t know! I can’t say to David "Hey, I think we should play Good To See You Again". It’s really David’s call.


One of the most famous shows in Whitesnake’s history was when the band headlined the Monsters Of Rock Show at Donington Park in the UK in 1990, almost 30 years ago. The band return to Donington Park on 14th June to perform at Download. What does it mean to be playing this highly prestigious festival?


Gosh, you make me nervous! (Laughs!) It’s obviously very exciting! I’m really excited. I’ve never played Download before so for me it will be a mixture of being really nervous, happy and excited all simultaneously!


On the same day, close Whitesnake friends Def Leppard will also be playing, and of course this won’t be the first time you’ve shared a stage. Will this event be, and are festivals in general, a great way to catch up with friends?


Yeah, I would say they are! Obviously to be on any bill with the other bands gives you the opportunity to catch up a bit back stage. I love the Def Leppard guys. We did that 2015 co-headline tour in the UK with them. It was a dream come true for me. Those guys were my heroes growing up as well. It gave the opportunity to get to know some of my childhood heroes and idols. Vivian (Campbell – Def Leppard guitarist) came up and played Still Of The Night with us. It was just too cool! Really, really fun stuff! So I love them. I play Phil’s (Collen - Def Leppard guitarist) model Jackson guitar on the Cher gig so we’ve had some correspondences about that as well, and it’s just gotten to be good friends with those guys and they’re great.


I would like to take a moment just to talk about guitars. Your Whitesnake custom Les Pauls are becoming quite iconic in their own right! Are there any plans to release production models of those guitars?


No, I don’t think so. It would obviously have to be a huge Whitesnake fan or someone in a tribute band that would buy it, just off of having the Whitesnake artwork on the top. So that immediately out of the gate kind of limits who would purchase it so I don’t think Gibson has any plans to do it, although at the Custom Shop I’m sure they would be more than willing to make a replication for somebody. The medallions though were outsourced because I had those made at a mint which I think is no longer open. At the time it was called Northwest Territorial Mint. So that would obviously be tricky but someone could probably find a way! But thank you so much! And of course Atomic did a great job on the Purple Swarovski Crystal Whitesnake guitar and Fender helped me as well with the USA strats.


As well as being a Whitesnake you do of course play guitar for Cher who will be touring the UK in October. Will you be on that tour, Joel?


The end of the year is complicated right now so all I really know is kind of through August, just being able to do the residency with Cher in Las Vegas at the moment. So when this US run is over I will be in Canada with her for 10 days and then in August playing a residency is Las Vegas – that’s all I know as far as Cher goes right now. 


Back to Whitesnake, after this run of dates which concludes in Bogotá, Columbia on the 10th of October are there any plans for any future tours, and more widely, what’s next for Whitesnake after October?


Well that’s got to come from David really. I don’t think we really know but I would assume there would be some more touring in support of the record yet. So in terms of what level that would be I don’t have the answers. 

As our conversation draws to a close, we reflect on what an incredibly strong record Flesh & Blood actually is and how lucky the fans are that the record was actually made. David Coverdale did talk about the possibility of exiting the stage permanently at the end of The Purple Tour but there is perhaps something very special about this line up of the band that prompted those plans to change. The standard of musicianship is perhaps the strongest it’s ever been but more than anything the sheer chemistry creates something simply magical. It’s no wonder that this Whitesnake line up has been a constant for many years. It’s also wonderful to hear Joel talk with the utmost respect and admiration for David, and more broadly how he clearly doesn’t take his success for granted. Joel is never anywhere else other than cloud nine and this he shows within his songwriting and with every performance. He is simply spellbinding!


Flesh & Blood is available now. Find out more at www.whitesnake.com and enjoy the video to the lead single Shut Up and Kiss Me below.


Special thanks are given to @SteveWhitesnake.