Forever Employable Stories: Joel Hoekstra, Guitarist for Whitesnake

In anticipation of the launch of my new book, Forever Employable, I’ll be sharing a series of interviews and stories from people from all different professions who have created a platform for themselves to make them forever employable. I couldn’t be more thrilled that the first one of these is with guitarist extraordinaire Joel Hoekstra, guitarist for Whitesnake, Cher and many other bands.

Determination and Productivity: How Whitesnake’s guitarist stays Forever Employable

On the day I turned 15 I went to the Brendan Byrne Arena at The Meadowlands in New Jersey to see legendary hard rock band Whitesnake. It was one of those shows that solidified as a formative memory of my heavy metal-filled teenage years. You could imagine my excitement then when current Whitesnake guitarist Joel Hoekstra agreed to an interview with me through a short exchange of Instagram DM’s. Why did I reach out to Joel? As a longtime follower of Joel’s it dawned on me as I was finishing up the manuscript for Forever Employable that he embodied many of the qualities I promote in the book. 

Joel’s success today comes from years of hard work, dedication and building a community, platform and network around him that continues to produce new opportunities regularly. In a sense, he’s spent his whole career working towards becoming forever employable. With live shows shut down for the foreseeable future he isn’t panicked about what he’ll do next or where his next paycheck will come from. He has diversified the distribution of his talent across a variety of channels including live touring (with Whitesnake, Cher (yes, that Cher) and Trans-Siberian Orchestra), writing for Guitar World magazine, teaching guitar, collaborating with artists around the world, and giving master classes to name a few. 

Watch the entire interview between Joel and I

After speaking with Joel I came away with the realization that he has brought to life the five qualities of being forever employable that I write about in the book. Here’s how:

Entrepreneurialism

“In order to be a guitar player, you have to play guitar.” This may sound obvious but it drove Joel to play guitar every day. Joel gave lessons, picked up session gigs, and ensured he was getting paid to play guitar as much as possible. Despite family pressure to “get a real job,” he put in the work to build his skills and offerings in daily increments. This meant picking up gigs that others didn’t want to do like learning 300 pages of music for musicals like The Boy From Oz, La Cage Aux Folles and Tarzan just to be able to substitute for players when they couldn’t make their gigs. He then used that as a launching point to land the guitar spot for the smash hit musical, Rock of Ages. Rock of Ages which turned into Joel’s best paying gig at the time and lasted for 6 years.  

Self Confidence

There’s a lot of risk in jumping into a new endeavour without much preparation. This is especially true in music performance. This didn’t stop Joel from accepting a gig with Night Ranger after being asked to sub in for their guitarist one evening. That turned into a lengthy gig. Shortly after that, while Joel was on tour with Journey, Foreigner and his current band Night Ranger, Mick Jones of Foreigner fell ill threatening the viability of the entire tour. Joel was offered the opportunity to fill in for Mick. The catch? He had to learn the Foreigner set in 24 hours. Jumping in, Joel accepted the challenge and flew down to Virginia Beach one day later to perform the set in front of 20,000 people (and by people, I mean Foreigner fans who knew every word to every song) later that evening. 

The saying goes that luck happens when opportunity meets preparation. Joel had been preparing for these moments his whole life and when the opportunity arrived he wasn’t afraid to go for it.

Continuous Learning

Joel’s parents started him out playing classical music on the cello. He moved on to acoustic guitar and quickly switched to electric guitar to “play those Black Sabbath songs.” Over his career he’s played pop music, hard rock, broadway musicals, a myriad of other bands all while collaborating with a diverse set of musicians, musical directors, global superstars and close friends. Each experience teaches him something new and makes him a better player. Not only that, it provides him with new material he can share with his fans whether it’s through videos and photos on Instagram or “how to” articles in Guitar World. 

Improvement

As we were trying to schedule our call, I tried to get 45 minutes at time of day that worked for both of us. Joel told me that because he was quarantined with his young children the only time of day he could speak was around 9pm (Eastern time) and only for 30 minutes. Why? Because that was “playing time” for him. This was the time of day where he worked on his playing, his own material, recorded for others or just jammed. This is the time that he teaches lessons (via Skype at the moment) as well. All of this leads to him playing guitar which in turn makes him a better guitar player and creates new ideas and opportunities to build on. 

Reinvention

First and foremost Joel’s a guitar player. But over the years he has continuously reinvented himself as a teacher, collaborator, writer and masterclass facilitator. He continues to take his experience and his passion and share it with his community and network of fans and followers. As the world of live touring collapses during the global pandemic, he’s not sitting at home worrying about his next paycheck — something many touring guitarists are doing — because the diversification of his offerings keeps him busy and, most importantly, playing guitar. 

One thing that struck me during our chat was Joel’s generosity and humility. He responds to all of his DM’s on social media. Case in point — I was a total stranger who messaged him out of the blue and asked for his time. Within 24 hours we were speaking on Skype. He broadly shares what he’s up to and how his community can engage with him. The activities outside of live touring, shunned by many musicians, are “the work” to Joel. And it’s this “work that creates work” and keeps him forever employable, stable in a crazy world and sought after in a heavily competitive industry. \m/