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WESTROCK: Whitesnake’s Hoekstra on his new solo album and recording during lockdowns

Ernest Skinner interviews Joel Hoekstra. He even plays a few preview chords just for Western Readers.

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I had the chance to chat with Whitesnake guitarist Joel Hoekstra about his dynamite solo project Hoekstra 13. This is his second solo album after Running Games from Hoekstra 13 and it has been getting rave reviews from around the world since he released a couple tracks in advance of the February 12 release date for the commoners.

When I tell you the Whitesnake and Trans Siberian Orchestra (TSO) guitar player’s new album is dynamite, it’s because it truly is. It is more work to BS your way through a subpar performance than to just avoid it altogether, so referring to the above, it’s seriously on the mark as one of the best new hard rock melodic albums I have heard in a few years.

Joel Hoekstra has a special preview for western standard readers

In case you have been in lockdown for the better part of the last 20 years, Joel is one of the classiest axe masters out there. He has toured as Cher’s guitarist, performed in Broadway’s Rock of Ages, and had stints with Night Ranger, but his claim to fame is clearly his stage presence and melodic mastery with Whitesnake and the TSO.

To sum up Running Games, it’s a very smooth and crunchy riff-oriented album with power vocals from Russell Allen, who many would agree is one of the best all-around singers in the world. Early on, Russ made a name for himself by belting them out with hard rock legends Symphony X.

Listening to the album, you are going to hear many great things, and an Yngwie Malmsteen vibe is one of them for many a reason. Rounding out the all-star lineup are Derek Sherinian (Sons of Apollo, Dream Theatre), Tony Franklin (Blue Murder, The Firm), Vinny Appice (Dio, Black Sabbath), and last but not least, Jeff Scott Soto (Sons of Apollo, Yngwie Malmsteen, TSO) on backing vocals.

The musical influences that Joel is fond of are apparent at times. In addition to his own style – which encompasses a vast library of sounds – there is no doubt that Satriani, Vai, Vandenberg, Viv Campbell, David Gilmour – and maybe even Ernest Skinner – are part of his musical DNA.

On tracks from the album “Fantasy” and “Reach the Sky”, I hear a Whitesnake-meets-Led Zeppelin beat, and Pink Floyd guitar tone at times.

To put things in perspective, I spoke with three world-class guitarists and had them listen to the album and this is what they told me.

Rik Emmett (Triumph): “There is an elite group of rock guitarists on the planet, a small handful of consummate professionals who can play with full mastery of technique and passion.  Joel Hoekstra is one of them. When it comes to the added value of stage presence, charisma, and physical style, he’s the total rock god package. Running Games is dynamite, but on the track (Finish Line) he’s a full-blown fire-breathing monster. There are arc-welding sparks flying off the guitar parts on this track.”

Sean Kelly (Nelly Furtado, Lee Aaron, Helix, Crash Kelly): “Joel is one of the best guitarists I have ever seen live; a perfect blend of melodic maturity and dazzling technical proficiency. I had the pleasure of sharing a bill with him in Oklahoma when I was in Helix and he was in Night Ranger. Running Games is an amazing piece of Classic melodic metal art with a modern production touch. It is delivered with all the taste and firepower we’ve come to expect from Joel.”

Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal: “[I] love this album and Joel! Joel has it all – emotion, virtuosity, identity; he’s a great songwriter, great showman, and he’s a great dude.”

Before you go and order the album and read my summary of my chat with Joel; check out this wild tune below and you’ll hear what all the fuss is about. I also need to ask: is it me, or does anybody else feel a Surfing with the Alien nostalgia via Joe Satriani with this animated video and Joes’ album cover?

Family Dude

Joel was just as upbeat as the first time I interviewed him. Sometimes you can sense that the artist is tired, bored, or just doesn’t want to repeat the same thing over and over again. Joel’s energy was ceaseless from the time he picked up the phone with a “hey dude”.

We didn’t just talk music, but also his family. The rock star is refreshingly grounded with his wife of 17-years and two youngsters, aged nine and five. Following in his old man’s footsteps, his nine-year-old son is currently into Iron Maiden. When asked what his five-year-old daughter listens to, he responds with a chuckle, “Frozen.”  

If you’re a guitarist and are wondering; he used about three guitars in recording Running Games. He used a Taylor on acoustic, a Strat for the cleaner parts, and of course his prized gold top Les Paul. The album was recorded remotely during the COVID lockdown, and Joel thinks it is the way to go.”It doesn’t put pressure on you playing in your own studio, as you play when you are in the mood”

I could go on about Running Games and Joel, but I have to get back to listening to it. Get your copy via Amazon, Apple Music, or check out his website at www.joelhoekstra.com.

On a somber note – please keep Rik Emmett in your thoughts tonight, as he told me his father passed away yesterday morning.

Ernest Skinner is the Westrock columnist for the Western Standard


Ernest Skinner is the WestRock columnist for the Western Standard. He has interviewed the likes of Bryan Adams, David Ellefson, Rob Halford, Adrian Vandenberg, and members of bands such as Motley Crue, Whitesnake, Buckcherry, Tesla, Styx, Cheap Trick, Genesis, the Scorpions and dozens and dozens more. He has been published in, Rocknation Magazine, MUEN Magazine, Montreal Rocks, The Rock Source Magazine, Wawa News, and many others.

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WATCH: Man openly smoking meth on Calgary’s C-Train

The video shows a man consuming what appears to be meth on the train in downtown Calgary outside of the Western Standard’s offices.

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For nearly a year now, I have been using Calgary’s LRT system in order to get to the downtown offices of the Western Standard. There aren’t many daily downtown commuters anymore, but the price of parking is still set at boom-time levels. While public transit has always drawn something of a seedy element to it, the rapid deterioration of conditions on trains and in the stations in the last few months has been shocking.

I am a moderately healthy middle-aged man, and I feel nervous while riding on city transit. I can only imagine how women or those less confident in defending themselves must feel.

After one of my more harrowing rides in a train that was populated almost exclusively by addicts in various conditions of consciousness, I put out a tweet on the matter. The responses from others who had been having similar incidents on city transit came quickly. I was far from alone in what I had observed.

A gentleman shared a video with me that he had taken of a man openly smoking meth on the C-Train while passengers sat next to him. Watch below:

Video of man smoking meth on Calgary’s C-train, downtown

The video was recorded on February 5th on the Blue Line. The fellow got on the train at 8th street, smoked his meth, and got off again at 3rd street. He smoked his bowl as he traveled straight past the front doors to our offices. For him, the train was a comfortable, warm, safe consumption site.

The man who took the video understandably wants to remain anonymous. He assures me as a daily commuter that this is a common sight and from what I have seen I can believe it. As seen in the video, a woman sat next to the meth smoker at one of the stops. The fellow taking the video asked her later why she didn’t move. She replied: “If I moved every time someone was doing something like that, I would be getting up to move every day.”.

It’s hard to decide which is more disturbing: how indifferent the meth smoker was, or how blasé the fellow passenger has become about it.

Other tweets like the one below show’s the typical mess and leftover drug paraphernalia to be found on trains lately.

This problem is getting visibly worse every week and the city can’t afford to ignore it any longer. Not every addict on these trains and in the stations is as polite or passive as the fellow in the video. Many are aggressive and disturbed. They often intimidate passengers with panhandling demands and can also often be seen fighting with each other.

Addicts are people in need of help, but that doesn’t mean that they are harmless.

The cold weather makes this problem more acute. Trains provide a convenient spot to warm up and get out of the wind. Desperate addicts can hardly be blamed for using them.

The solution is not so simple as tossing homeless addicts off of trains and out of LRT stations. These people need somewhere to go.

We are in the midst of an addiction epidemic. The causes leading to this epidemic are fodder for another story. The only feasible solution we have right now is expanding addiction treatment. As one who has spent countless nights in church basements in support meetings around North America, I have learned a thing or two about addiction. One of the big lessons is that most addicts simply can’t stop without help. They can’t simply get tired of the addiction and go cold turkey. It takes treatment and support systems and we don’t have nearly enough.

To his credit, Premier Jason Kenney has seen this need and his government has been working to add addiction treatment beds by the thousands. It still never seems to be enough, but it is going in the right direction. Safe consumption sites may help keep addicts alive, but it is only prolonging the inevitable if treatment and support isn’t available.

The city needs to find a way to get the addicts out of the transit system and into some sort of safe-shelters. Not an easy task but an essential one.

Calgary’s downtown is already a virtual ghost town. Ground-level retail and hospitality businesses are gone for the most part, and the office buildings are nearly empty. There are initiatives that intend to help grow the residential population of downtown Calgary. We can rest assured those initiatives will be doomed to failure until the mess of drug-addled homeless people is addressed. Nobody in their right mind wants to move into that right now.

Cory Morgan is the Podcast Editor and a columnist for the Western Standard

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Retired soldier using haunting past to help homeless vets in Calgary

And now Hopkins is turning his focus to create Guardians for Heroes, a charity whose sole focus is to try and end the scourge of homelessness amongst veterans

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Dean Hopkins has seen the absolute worst humanity has to offer.

But now he’s using the haunting memories he has to try and help homeless veterans in Calgary who have fallen through society’s cracks.

Hopkins is the founder of One Direction Calgary, a charitable organization whose focus is to bring groups and charities together. To achieve greater success through collaboration.

And now he’s turning his energy to create Guardians for Heroes, a charity whose sole focus is to try and end the scourge of homelessness amongst veterans, many of them suffering from the mental effects of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.

Hopkins knows how these veterans feel, with a three-decade career behind him in the British military, that took him to the world’s hotspots.

The 57-year-old did a whopping 16 tours of duty – everywhere from Iraq to North Ireland to Africa.

Hopkins working on an orphanage project he developed in Kosovo after the war

But it was a scene 28 years ago in Bosnia that haunts Hopkins and steers his charity work to this day.

Hopkins was in charge of an observation post in Bosnia, in command of peacekeeping troops who had orders to observe and not engage.

Hopkins refuses any elaboration to the story but there’s no doubt it lit the fire currently burning within.

“What I saw in Bosnia was terrible, the worst of humanity. I decided right then I would find a peaceful city in a peaceful country and try and give back to veterans,” he said.

Taking a break on counter-terrorist operation. Hopkins adopted the stray dog and called in Gunner

After three decades of accepting the Queen’s shilling, Hopkins decided to retire to Calgary.

“The people here are the best people I’ve found anywhere,” Hopkins said.

In the last 12 months, Hopkins has brought together the Calgary Veterans Food Bank and Hoggin Alberta to start work on a sanctuary, away from the city, for stressed former vets.

The group plans to build 28 cabins on their land to get the veterans back to nature – with fishing, hunting and camping. 

Hopkins taking a short break before Zero hour in Africa.

“I’m very passionate when I see homeless veterans that have fallen through the cracks of a society that sees them as a liability,” he said.

Hopkins realizes his dream is now at a point, that it will need government grants and other donations to succeed the way he wants. He estimates it will take $14 million to get Guardians for Heroes fully working.

Not only would Guardians for Heroes help veterans, but Hopkins said it would be open to all past and current emergency workers.

He’s urging all veterans groups to contact him and work together for the greater good.

“There are a plethora of veterans groups out there – from biker ones to hunting ones. I want to know all about them and what work they do. I want to talk to them and start collaborating with all the different groups.”

Waiting for helicopter insertion, on a six-month counter-terrorist deployment. 

“My strengths are organizing groups and acting as a mediator. To be honest, we will need the premier (Kenney) on this. We need someone in our group that can navigate the corridors of power to the person in charge of the cash register,” Hopkins said.

“People say it can’t be done. But people who know me, know that if I set my mind to it, I will get it done, whether it takes five years, 10 years, 20 years.”

Once established in Alberta, Hopkins hopes to extend across the country with his front-line “Stand Down” centres.

“All military people understand what ‘Stand Down’ means,” Hopkins said, adding he hopes to set up centres where front-line workers can bring in homeless vets who will be met with staff who can start the process of getting their lives turned around.

One Direction

Hopkins said services for veterans in Canada are about 10 years behind what they are currently offered in Europe.

“What I’m asking now is for people who have a similar vision to call me. I’m just a cog in what could become a very big machine,” Hopkins said.

The One Direction charity can be accessed through their website.

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WESTROCK: Big Sugar on their Alberta anthem, and what’s next for the band

The Western Standard spoke with Gordie Johnson of Big Sugar.

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I was excited to interview Gordie Johnson of Big Sugar on a live Western Standard broadcast, but with tech issues, I had to stand on the sidelines and watch our Publisher Derek Fildebrandt do it for me. As a Big Sugar fanboy, he didn’t seem to mind though. C’est la vie.

There was much respect though as I viewed and could hear Derek apologizing and giving me props for setting up the interview. In fact, Derek told Gordie that during the application for the job as the Western Standard’s new music columnist, that if I could get an interview with one his favorite Canadian artists Big Sugar, I had the job.

It took me 24 hours to set it up. I got the job.

The beginning of the interview was some chit chat back and forth and Derek made it known that he was a huge Big Sugar fan and that he originally was just going to be my kind of Ed McMahaon or Paul Shaffer, but fate must have been involved and he had Gordie all to himself. “Maybe there’s some subterfuge going on” he joked.

Cover of Eternity Now (photo credit: Big Sugar)

In case you are not aware, Big Sugar was formed in Toronto in 1988 and over the years the band has released 11 studio albums with the most recent being ‘Eternity Now’, which for various reasons took two years to record. The band and Gordie have also received many Juno nominations and many of their albums have hit Gold or Platinum status. In addition to ‘Eternity Now’, the band decided to also rerelease a vinyl version of one of their best selling albums, ‘Hemi-Vision’ this past year.

Gordie was asked about his musical influences and across the board styles.

“Well music is just the language I speak and I hear funk in my heavy metal. I hear rock when I listen to reggae, and that’s what a Big Sugar show is about; there is so much complexity and it makes you move and feel good”

The interview then got a bit scary (for me} as Derek mentioned that I said that Gordie resembled Julian from the Trailer Park Boys.

“Julian” from Trailer Park Boys

“Tell Ernest I’m going to kick his ass after school” was the singer-guitarist’s reply.

From there we delved into how the impact of Gary Lowe’s passing a couple years ago after a two year battle with cancer had on the band.

“First of all, it was devastating and there was no getting over it…I mean I know his kids and Gary was unique in what he brought to the studio and our friendship was unique. Moving forward, I didn’t hire guys to sound like him; I hired guys to be themselves and that is why Big Sugar has been successful over the years.”

As I noted above, Fildebrandt is a pretty much a Big Sugar groupie. He literally talked my ear off about Gordie and his favourite Sugar song, ‘All Hell for a Basement’.

I listened to the song and although I liked the vibe and groove, the important thing I noted is that the title was attributed to the famous poet laureate Rudyard Kipling who was born in Bombay in 1865 and traveled the world and wrote and studied. In 1907, his travels landed him in Medicine Hat, Alberta. There he coined the phrase “All hell for a Basement” referring to the region’s vast reserves of natural gas beneath the soil.

Gordie confirmed that fact. “Back in the day in downtown Medicine Hat, they literally would just stick a pipe in the ground and light it and use it for a street light” No joke.

Johnson grew up between Ontario and The Hat.

Although the song is written as kind of an athem for oil and natural gas rich Alberta, Gordie says it was more of a song about displacement as Newfoundlanders in their thousands crossed the country to find work in the oilfields as the cod fishing industry dried up.

“I just thought that was an amazing cultural phoenomena that was happening in Canada and nobody was talking about it.”

Johnston said that he still can’t play the song without tearing up.

“It’s a song about displaced people.”

“I wrote it about a young fellah – a guy in his 20s – who was working in the oilfield, who had moved from Newfoundland with his family…He couldn’t have been further from home. He was trying to make a new life for himself in Fort McMurray, Alberta.”

Johnson tells the story of a time he was in a Newfoundland pub drinking – and not preforming – and a traditional Irish folk group starting playing the song.

Another time he was working with a traditional Irish-folk musician from Newfoundland who told him – in a thick Newfie accent – “Big Sugar did not write that song. That’s a traditional old Newfoundlander song.”

Fildebrandt asked him if he believes he would get more blowback – or even get ‘canceled’ for releasing such an openly pro-oil and gas worker song. Johnson’s answer was shocking.

“We got in trouble back in 2001. You know why that song was never a radio single? Because record companies based in Toronto. You get 12 guys that live in Toronto sitting around a board room table, they say ‘ you can put that out, because they’re not going to play it anywhere else…People want to sing it everywhere we go. No record company execs have ever been as wrong as, shall be nameless.”

“We took the heat for it back in the day.” Johnston said they also took hell for putting a rock version of ‘O’Canada’ on the album.

To give more context of how much of a huge Gordie-fan Derek is, I had originally asked Gordies’ assistant if he could some how play the first couple of bars to ‘All Hell For a Basement’ either during the intro or ending of the interview. I was politely turned down through an email as Gordie was doing some session work and was just going to stop long enough to take the interview. At that point, I garnered a lot of respect for him.

Funny thing is that Derek (knowing this) persisted politely and since he was the host due to my technically-challenged demise, asked Gordie the same question. I laughed as Gordie very respectfully denied him and explained the situation…again.

I could feel the crushing blow and tearing of my new employer’s heart.

Although being in lockdown for the better part of 2020, it has still been a busy year for Gordie and Sugar as ‘Hemi-Vision’ was rereleased with some hidden gems on it that they pulled out of the vault such as a Beatles cover, and also the release of ‘Eternity Now’ by “Big Sugar 3.0”. It’s 3.0 according to Gordie because the band is always evolving, and with new members it was almost like a new band in many ways.

One of the questions that I had prepared and passed along during interview was to ask who Gordie thought was a great upcoming band or underrated artist. In a very honest and politically phrased answer, he said it would be a disservice to really mention anyone because there are so many that he would be regret if he forgot to mention someone.

The longer they chatted, Mr. Johnson did confess that he had a soft spot for the Vancouver music scene, as that is where he met his wife. He also coughed up that there are some really great musicians there and one happens to be his buddy Rich Hope.

“He’s one of those dudes that still rides his skateboard to work and has this big black Les Paul and he just embodies Rock n’ Roll and at my age he is still just shredding on it, and I can’t just limit it to Richie. Jay Sparrow is another one and the list goes on and on.”

So the moral of the story is that if you get Gordie to talk long enough, he’ll eventually slip up and I’m sure Ritchie and Jay appreciate the plug.

Ernest Skinner is the WestRock columnist for the Western Standard

Join Ernest for a live-streamed interview on Friday February 5 at 7 pm MST with Joel Hoekstra of Whitesnake and the Trans Siberian Orchestra.

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