Interview: Joel Hoekstra Discusses Night Ranger’s New Live Acoustic CD/DVD, '24 Strings & A Drummer'
It’s not often that a guitarist grows up listening to one of his favorite bands, and then has the opportunity to become part of that band’s legacy.
But Joel Hoekstra is no ordinary guitarist. His guitar wizardry has allowed him to live out his dream and become a driving force with Night Ranger.
It’s the same dedication to his craft that makes Hoekstra one of the hardest-working rock guitarists today. But don’t take my word for it. Just take a look at his resume. Not only does he share guitar duties with Brad Gillis in the band whose songs (“Don’t Tell Me You Love Me," “(You Can Still) Rock in America” and “Sister Christian”) have become staples of classic rock radio, but he continues to perform as part of the hit Broadway musical Rock of Ages.
Did I mention that Hoekstra finds time to tour with Trans-Siberian Orchestra? And then there was the time he pulled double duty and filled in for Mick Jones of Foreigner. Which begs the question: When does the man ever find time to sleep?
Next month, Night Ranger will unleash a new package of music to celebrate the band’s 30th anniversary. The album, 24 Strings & A Drummer is a live CD/DVD featuring acoustic arrangements of the band’s hits.
I had the opportunity to speak with Hoekstra about the new CD as well as his own musical journey. He also gives good advice for up-and-coming guitarists and tells a great rock and roll story.
GUITAR WORLD: It’s been a busy few years for Night Ranger. Tell me about what the band has been up to.
We really have been busy. Last summer, we released a new studio album called Somewhere in California and toured the world to support it. This October, to help celebrate the 30th anniversary of the band, we’re releasing a greatest hits, acoustic, CD/DVD package called 24 Strings & A Drummer. It’s a live album we recorded at Bob Weir’s studio in northern California. It was an intimate, invitation-only performance.
Why a live album?
We really wanted to do something different for the die-hard fans, the ones who’ve been following Night Ranger since the very beginning. In addition to it being a live recording, we’ve also updated many of the songs we do vocally and added new sections to them.
You're one the hardest-working guitarists in the business. How do you do it all?
I love what I do and just having the opportunity is amazing. I perform eight shows of Rock of Ages each week, so whenever I’m not with Night Ranger or touring with TSO, I’m at home in New York. The blessing of doing Rock of Ages is that it keeps you sharp. I love all of the songs that we do and I get to be on stage the entire time.
You’ve also released a few solo albums as well, right?
Yes. I’ve released three solo records. The first two are a combination of rock and fusion. Virgil Donati from Planet X is on drums. He’s also worked with Steve Vai. The bass player is Ricc Fierrabracci, who’s played with artists like Andy Summers, Frank Gambale and Chick Corea. The third album is an acoustic album filled with chord/melody songs.
Do you have any advice for up-and-coming players?
The one common thread all guitar players who’ve gotten good on the instrument share is that they’ve spent a lot of time working on their craft. It’s not about how you hold your pick or what kind of amp you have. The truth is, there are many different ways to approach the instrument, but if you want to become good, you just have to spend a lot of time with it.
Are there any plans in the works to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Midnight Madness album next year?
There’s been some talk about it, but nothing concrete yet. I do know that at the top of next year we plan on heading back into the studio to start writing and recording a new album.
How did you get your start with Night Ranger?
That’s an interesting story. I had originally met Kelly (Keagy) through Jim Peterik’s World Stage. I was in the house band at the time, and Kelly was one of the many guests who would come out to play the hits. I saw him once every year for a number of years before he came in one day and mentioned that Jeff [Watson] wasn’t with the band anymore. I remember speaking with him about it.
About a week or so later, Kelly called me up and told me that Reb Beach (who was filling in while Whitesnake were on hiatus) was going to have to miss a show and said they were either going to have cancel the gig or they could give me a shot. The only thing was, I had about eight days to learn all of the songs, and we wouldn’t be able to rehearse together before hand. It was a situation where I would just have to go in and do the gig. The show itself was going to be my audition. No pressure, though. [laughs.]
You had never met Jack [Blades] or Brad [Gillis] prior to that show?
No, the only person I knew was Kelly. I actually met Brad and Jack for the first time while we were grabbing our luggage in baggage claim at the Detroit airport the night before the show. By the time we all got to the hotel, it was pretty much lights-out and straight to bed. The show was great and I wound up being offered the gig. It was definitely one of the highlights of my career.
Growing up, I used to have a whole wall in my room decorated with pictures torn out of guitar magazines of players I admired, and Brad and Jeff were both up there. For me to now have the opportunity to be a part of Night Ranger is surreal.
When you’re up there on stage, is there ever a time when you look over at Kelly’s drum riser, see the Night Ranger logo and just go, “WOW!”?
I’ve been with the band for five years now, so I look at it more like we’re all just really good friends. But every once in a while it will just hit me, and I’ll still think: “Wow! This is pretty freaking cool!”
James Wood is a writer, musician and self-proclaimed metalhead who maintains his own website, GoJimmyGo.net. His articles and interviews are written on a variety of topics with passion and humor. You can follow him on Twitter @JimEWood.
Joel Hoekstra and Brad Gillis