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From Broadway to the Arena: Joel Hoekstra Is the Rock God You Don’t Know by Name… Yet.
Let’s face it. To get your own feature story at MusicPlayers.com, you’ve got to be doing some serious stuff as an artist, which usually means that our discerning readership already knows who you are by name. Enter Joel Hoekstra, whom you may recognize by sight, and whom you’ve probably heard many times before, yet his name remains a mystery to most. He’s a wicked guitarist who plays rock and metal all year long, all over the world, with many of the biggest rock acts of all time.
What’s your day gig like? For Hoekstra, it could be his guitar playing duties in the hit Broadway show, Rock of Ages. That’s only until holiday time, when he takes to the arenas with the Trans Siberian Orchestra. Previously, he played in Love, Janis, and other NYC stage sensations including Tarzan, The Boy From Oz, and La Cage Aux Folles.
But maybe you know Hoekstra as the guitar player who replaced Jeff Watson in the multi-platinum arena rock band, Night Ranger. Or maybe you saw him fill in for Mick Jones on the last Foreigner world tour. Perhaps you’ve heard him play on records, or on tour, with guys like Jeff Scott Soto, John Waite, Ted Nugent, Eric Martin, and a wide range of classic artists from the heyday of hair metal.
Wherever you find Hoekstra, if you are inspired by guitar players with chops, technique, and showmanship, you would be wise to check out what this mighty guitar player brings to the task at hand. A tireless work ethic, solid command of theory, and the desire to give each artist exactly what they need, Hoekstra can settle into any gig in record time. How many players can learn an artist’s set in one week, then fly in to play a headlining gig on someone else’s guitar rig without a single rehearsal with the band? Yes, he’s that kind of player, and we were fortunate enough to spend some time talking with him about his latest recordings and performances.
“I just loved AC/DC when I first heard them, and wanted
MPc: You’re like the rock god that nobody knows about.
MPc: Looking at your musical resume and seeing all the major hard rock and metal acts you’ve played with is just really mind boggling. It’s like, who haven’t you played with?
JH: Yeah. It could be a bit deceptive. I mean, I’ve played with a lot of people on that resume through Jim Peterik’s World Stage gigs. And also those Scrap Metal shows. So, you know, a lot of the people, I’ve only had the privilege of playing with a couple of times, playing their hits and whatnot. But yeah, as far as I’m concerned, it’s just a blessing to be able to make a living playing guitar, and I have been working extremely hard at it, especially the last four, five years.
MPc: Your day gig — the Broadway hit show, Rock of Ages… that’s got to be the greatest cover band gig on the planet for a fan of hard rock.
JH: Yeah. It’s a little, again, a little deceptive in that it sounds like it would be a straight-up cover gig, but really it’s not. It’s its own thing. A lot of those songs are chopped up into pieces or medleys with each other or in different keys or arranged so that two of them fit together. So, really getting the show down is kind of its own thing. It definitely helps to know the songs, but it’s also not just playing cover songs up there. You know, they did a really nice job of arranging the music to fit the story, and the story does a really good job of poking fun at the ‘80s clichés and whatnot, but the music is really tastefully represented. We don’t make fun of the music at all, I think. I’m a big fan of the ‘80s music and the songs in that show.
MPc: If we look at the different facets of what you do, they all have very different requirements in terms of the equipment and gear you’re playing. While we’re on the subject of Rock of Ages, I imagine you don’t have the luxury of bringing a big, loud tube amp to the Broadway theater?
JH: We’ve done both. We started off-Broadway at the Brooks Atkinson [Theater] on Broadway with EVH III heads and iso cabs. So we had everything isolated and miked and it just became a little bit difficult in terms of noise at a point. With theater, it can be very, very difficult to… you know, during dialogue, you can’t have any amp hiss, so a lot of it was always getting back to the clean channel, without having to gate the amp too heavily, because you lose sustain, and we don’t have cabinets throwing back [sound] onto our guitars onstage to create the circle you need to create feedback or any sustain.
So, at a point when we switched to the Fractal Axe FX, we did that when we moved to the Helen Hayes Theater. And they worked out great for us. It definitely makes the setup a little simpler. And a lot of being on that gig, it’s about keeping the setup simple, because you don’t want to be fixing your gear up onstage in front of everybody. We don’t have guitar techs. And you’re onstage the entire show, so if something goes wrong, say it’s with a pedal or with a patch cable on our old setup, there we were in front of everybody distracting from the show itself, trying to figure out what was wrong.
So, with the Fractal, it’s great. We just use a little Tech 21 MIDI Mouse to advance patches and we don’t have anything to worry about. I basically use a volume pedal and the Fractal, that’s it. It gets a lot of variables out of there in terms of what can go wrong on the deck.
MPc: I assume you play with in-ear monitors?
JH: Yeah. We use in-ears on the show. In fact, I use [Ultimate Ears] in-ears on basically all the gigs I’m doing nowadays. It’s kind of become the industry standard. You know, we fought it, Brad Gillis and I fought it for a long time in Night Ranger, and we’ve finally given in.
MPc: Yeah, I hadn’t even gotten to the Night Ranger chapter of this conversation yet. So, being a guy that lives equally in the modeled-amp world and the tube-amp world, you have probablygained some practical insight for players that have been debating, should I get an Axe FX, or should I get a Pod, or any of the other modeling products?
JH: As far as I’ve heard, the Fractal is the best modeling product out there. And I’m not saying I’m 100% a fan of using modeling products; I actually really love using real amps. It just sometimes comes down to looking at a gig from a practical standpoint. A lot of times the guitars in Rock of Ages are not the loudest thing in the mix, to say the least. So what’s more important? Having something that’s going to give you 95% of your tone that’s going to work and be simpler and quieter—you understand what I’m saying? Or you could make the setup more complicated to go for that 5% extra that you’re probably going to get out of using a real setup. You know, for me, there’s still nothing like using a real amp and a mike cabinet.
MPc: Agreed [laughs]. Now, one of the other high profile gigs that you play every year, the Trans Siberian Orchestra, what’s that show like?
JH: TSO, for those that haven’t seen it… it’s like a one-of-a-kind total spectacle of a production. Paul O’Neill just does an amazing job with pouring his heart and soul and budget into the production, it’s just outstanding. In terms of pyro, lights, fog, it’s just totally over the top. And the set is amazing. There’s two groups, on each side of the country. For the winter tour, there’s 19 semis that bring the setup around and nine buses, I think… ten buses last year. So, yeah, it’s a big, big organization. Super-super cool thing to be a part of, I really love it.
MPc: How did you end up on the path of being a session guy and a Broadway guy, as opposed to the traditional home in a rock or metal band of your own? How did you forge this particular musical path?
JH: Well, I think the Broadway thing just comes out of living in New York City. It just finds you. I mean, I have a friend who lives two blocks away here who plays a lot in the pit shows, and so I ended up subbing for him through him asking me. And also in New York, it’s expensive to live here, so you do all kinds of things to make money playing guitar. So I subbed for him on The Boy from Oz, then La Cage Aux Folles, and then the show, Tarzan. And that is really how I got the Rock of Ages show, because the music supervisor for Rock of Ages was the keyboard player for Tarzan. So he remembered me when it came time to hire the band. He was the guy making the calls and he remembered me from Tarzan. So, oddly enough, it had nothing to do with Night Ranger or anything, it had to do with me playing a show called Tarzan for getting Rock of Ages.
JH: New York is just like that. You end up getting theater gigs because that’s what’s going on here, and as far as playing with a lot of other people, I guess it’s just basically because I haven’t found the one band to completely become my full-time job around the clock. I would totally be willing to do that at some point, but then again I also dig this, too. It’s a lot of fun and it keeps things fresh and, you know, gives me an opportunity to meet a lot of people and just do the best I can. I enjoy doing that.
Doing the jobs that I’m doing, it’s not always about… well, it’s never about me. It’s about the other people. You’re trying to make them happy. Because they’re the ones hiring you, and so I think I’m good at that. I think I’m good at making the other people happy instead of looking to get my own rocks off on it.
MPc: With all the theater work you do, I would assume that command of music theory plays an important role in those gigs. Do you need to read more than tab for this work? And do you have to join the musician's union? What's your advice to younger guitar players on the subject of music theory?
JH: [For theater work] tab plays no role whatsoever. Reading is important. I am not the greatest reader, but anytime I've gotten the chance to sub for someone, I was also able to get a recording. As far as joining the musicians union goes, you don't have to join, but it definitely helps. Broadway shows are all union, but many off-Broadway shows are not.
MPc: When you’re not busy with Rock of Ages and TSO, you’re also the other guitarist in Night Ranger with Brad Gillis. How did you get the Night Ranger gig? It’s had to have been kind of intimidating stepping into Jeff Watson’s shoes.
JH: Actually, earlier I mentioned Jim Peterik’s World Stage. Jim is the cofounder of the band, Ides of March, and also the band, Survivor. He’s written a lot of hit songs: “Eye of the Tiger,” and he wrote that .38 Special stuff [including] “Hold On Loosely” and “Caught Up in You.” So Jim has events, usually once, twice a year, called World Stage where he has a lot of his friends come out to sing their hits. And Kelly [Keagy] from Night Ranger was always one of the guests, and I was always in the house band for this. So I get to learn everybody’s hits and have everybody come out. You know, Rik Emmett from Triumph, Don Barnes from .38 Special, and the list goes on and on. I play with so many people on that. Tom Kiefer, Kip Winger, Alan Parsons—just a huge list of stars. And they’ll come out and sing their hits.
Anyway, so I would see Kelly about once or twice a year and one year, he came in and said that Jeff Watson was no longer with the band and I just basically asked if I could get a shot at it and he said, “Well, you know, we’re playing with Reb Beach right now, but he’s going to need to go back to Whitesnake. So I’ll keep you in mind.” And about a week later he called and he said, “Hey, Reb needs to miss a gig in about a month.” He needed to go play with Winger, I think, and they gave me a shot at filling in. The only hitch was I couldn’t rehearse or basically do anything with them, I just had to, like, fly to the show and get on stage and do the show. And it was the headlining show! I think I had another tour at that point, in Europe with somebody, and I came back and I had about a week and a half to get 25 Night Ranger songs together and then flew to Michigan, and played this gig with them. And it went really well and everybody had a good time and so, when it came time for Reb to go back to Whitesnake, they gave me a shot at it full-time. And things have worked out well.
MPc: Did you have to specifically develop some eight-finger technique to play some of Jeff’s solos? [Jeff is renowned for his two-handed tapping technique] Or did you always have that as part of your chops?
JH: No, I was really lucky in that I had a great teacher in the ‘80s named T.J. Helmerich, who made quite a name for himself playing the 8-finger technique himself, more in the fusion world. He has great albums out with Brett Garsed that a lot of guitar players are familiar with.
Anyway, T.J. was one of my first teachers, and he had me started on 8-finger when I was about 13, 14 years old. And I remember learning the “Rock in America” solo actually when I was 14. I would practice it in my room. And so it’s kind of amazing, in a way, how that worked out, and sometimes things tend to go full circle. You know, you go through years of nobody wanting to see anybody put their right hand on the fingerboard and then all of a sudden it becomes the most important thing that I know how to do again.
Certainly it’s an honor to do the best I can to recreate what Jeff did with the band in their heyday and even on our new album, on Somewhere in California, I try to get a little bit of my 8-finger in on my own, too, to kind of continue that element of the band’s sound.
MPc: So you’re now a formal part of the writing process, as well?
JH: Yeah, they definitely let us: Eric Levy, our new keyboard player, and myself, they definitely let us come up with our own parts in the studio. And they even called us in to write on a few of the tunes, too, on Somewhere in California. So the guys are really cool like that. They like to have a band’s sound. They’re not at all overbearing and standing over our shoulders telling us what to do. In fact, a lot of times, Jack, at the studio Jack would be in the room with me… We record at Jack Blade’s studio in northern California, and sometimes he stood out there with me for an hour and he’d go, “Look, you’re fine.” He liked all the decisions that we were making. And he would just go hang out in the house and a couple of hours later I’d tell him, “Hey, come out and check out what I did, dude.” And it was a real cool process, man. Recording the album last year was a blast. Great way to start the year.
MPc: I saw that you appear on the new Jack Blades solo record, as well.
JH: Yeah, which was actually done, recorded, before Somewhere in California. It just took longer to get released. But, yeah, I was able to play, almost all the solos on it. I think Brad plays one of the solos. And I played a lot of the rhythm guitar stuff, all the electric rhythms. And Will Evankovich, from Shaw-Blades, did a great job playing acoustic and I think some electric rhythm stuff. And he did great job with the background vocals. It was kind of like Jack’s buddies and friends that he’s been working with. And, you know, it’s a great album. It was nice for me, [as] I got to play maybe some things I can’t in Night Ranger or on a lot of the gigs I’ve been doing lately, [like] getting back to playing slide guitar and 12-string guitar and volume swells and some things like that that don’t necessarily fit into a lot of the harder rock gigs that I’ve been doing lately.
MPc: How did you get involved with Jimi Jamison and his album, Crossroads Moment?
JH: That was through Jim Peterik again. Jim produced that album. So, Jimi and I, Jimi Jamison and I hit it off through Scrap Metal, which is basically, that was a band with the Nelson twins, Mark Slaughter, and Kelly from Night Ranger, and myself. We just basically would go out and play everybody’s hits. And we’d have some great singers come out, like Joe Lynn Turner or Eric Martin from Mr. Big, and Jimi Jamison would come out and sing the Survivor stuff. So Jimi and I got along great. We both said, man, hope we can work together at some point and, when Peterik went to produce his album, they gave me a holler.
MPc: Your name keeps turning up all over the place around MusicPlayers.com because right now we’re listening to the new Jeff Scott Soto record. And once again, again, you’re the man of the hour [laughs]. So tell me a little bit about that record.
JH: With that particular one, Jeff contacted me. We had met through doing Trans Siberian Orchestra. Jeff tours with TSO West and I tour with TSO East, so even though we don’t go out on the same tour, per se, we see each other at the rehearsals for that. And so we get to hang for a couple of weeks each time, the last two years. And basically we just get along really well and he thought, yeah, I’ll see if Joel wants to write something with me.
And at the time, I was out with Night Ranger, I was out with Journey and Foreigner, so it was difficult for me to get done, but I sent him a few song ideas and he really liked two of them. And that’s what’s on the album. And he asked me to play on those two songs, as well: the song “Look Inside Your Heart” and also the song “Never-ending War.” And, luckily enough for me, “Look Inside Your Heart” was what the label liked as the first single, so that’s the one that got the initial release action, per se. There’s a video for it you can check out on YouTube.
And, you know, for me, it’s a total pleasure. I think Jeff’s one of the best hard rock singers of all time, man. I mean, he—I’ve been obviously listening to him since Yngwie. And following his career. So I’m just getting a long line of guitar players that he’s played with and I’m just proud to be a part of it and really glad that Jeff asked me to be a small part of Damage Control. I hope everybody goes and checks it out, man. He’s kickass. [Editor’s Note: Check out our review of this great new CD here.]
“Hey, this isn’t about me showing off on guitar.
MPc: We really like that new record. Now, of course, you’ve done a lot of work with all these great hard rock bands that have been still together through the decades. And it was interesting to see that you ended up touring last year with Foreigner. That seems like more of a different vibe altogether, being more classic rock than metal.
JH: It’s a different vibe, but it was sort of a sense of immediacy. We didn’t have much time to think about it on either end. Mick Jones basically just fell ill on the tour. It was Journey, Foreigner, Night Ranger. And Foreigner’s manager, Phil Carson called me and just said, “Hey, y’know, Mick wasn’t well on stage tonight and you think you might be able to get the set together for Virginia Beach?” And, basically, it didn’t sound like I was really going to go on, but I thought, “Yeah, sure, I’ll start working on it, Phil, no problem.” And then I talked to [bassist] Jeff Pilson and he said, “No, dude, you don’t understand—you’re on.” Y’know? [laughs] I went, okay! I had about 24 hours to get Foreigner’s set down. Which I mean, you know, we’re all familiar with the songs, but nailing a set with the count-ins and the endings and all the nuances of the live presentation of the songs is a totally different thing.
So I just dug in really hard for 24 hours and flew down to Virginia and went on. And it was totally cool. It was really, really fun. Everybody was, like, hanging out in the wings. Y’know, Neal [Schon] and Arnel [Pineda] from Journey, hanging out watching, and all the crews were checking it out, just seeing what was going to happen. Everybody was kind of buzzing about it on the tour. It was really fun.
And so I was able to do about nine shows with them. And then it just became clear that it wasn’t going to work with Mick getting back for the tour, so everybody sort of thought it best to bring in a guy to do the job, you know, so…
But I had a great time playing those shows with them. They’re a great band. I love that particular lineup that they have nowadays, it’s awesome. [Vocalist] Kelly Hansen’s just a monster, and really every person in that band. Jeff Pilson’s a very underrated rock bass player and great background vocalist.
So had a killer time jamming with those dudes. And, y’know, doing that, it wasn’t so much about me playing like me, anyway, it was more about me playing like Mick. I just learned Mick’s stuff as close as I could to Mick and even played it on his gear—his guitars and everything, to kind of make everybody feel as comfortable as possible. And that’s something you learn by doing Broadway stuff, too, y’know? You learn, like, hey, this isn’t about me showing off on guitar. This is about making these guys feel comfortable, getting in and just being a pro, y’know? Just trying to make everybody feel at home, like as if they’re playing with Mick.
MPc: I was going to ask, what do you pack gear-wise for these gig? You get called in for a lot of these emergency fly-in dates.
JH: Well, like I said, with that, I just kept going on Mick’s stuff. And I really, I always have that philosophy, because what you have to realize is these gigs are always bigger than you are. You can try and reinvent it, but it’s going to make everybody else around you feel that much more uncomfortable. So basically any gig I’ve gone in on, I always say, well, what was the guy before using? And try and adapt that philosophy and work with that so everybody’s used to the sound.
Like with TSO, when I was asked to join, Alex Skolnick had been there basically for 10 years now, in that position. So, obviously, instead of just going, “Well, here’s what I use,” I’m going to say, “Well, what was Alex using?” And it turned out they had his gear still, basically owned by TSO. So I just said, “Let’s keep going with that.”
MPc: Most of the time, I associate you with the Gibson Les Paul. Is that your No. 1 go-to guitar?
JH: Yeah, it has kind of turned into that. Funny enough, it took a long time for me to get there. But nowadays, I just have a hard time liking anything else over it, in the studio and—y’know, people say when you double a track, you shouldn’t use the same guitar or same style guitar, you should double it with a Strat or whatever. But usually, whenever I do that, I go, “You know what? It just sounds better with two Les Pauls to me.” You know? [laughs]
So I really, I’ve turned into a Les Paul guy. And I have four go-to Les Pauls. The Gold Top is my No. 1 choice with Night Ranger. And, again, there was a certain amount of that, too, that’s just like paying respect to what Jeff Watson did for so many years in the band and wanting the vibe to remain the same in the band. I don’t want to be standing on stage with a pink Kramer, you know? [laughs] If Jeff Watson has painted the legacy of being a Gold Top Les Paul player in the band for so many years, then it’s sort of my duty to make the fans and the band feel as much at ease about what’s happening as possible. That’s the way I look at it, at least.
MPc: What Night Ranger song do you think is or was the most challenging to learn to play?
JH: Jeff’s solo in “Don’t Tell Me You Love Me” is a bear! I don’t care who you are, that’s a hard friggin’ solo to play, man. I have to warm up for that one every time, especially when we do acoustic shows. It’s the stuff that nightmares are made of, you know? Every time we’re on a radio station at seven in the morning, I’ve got to get up at six to start warming up on that solo on acoustic, otherwise I’m going to fall on my face. So that’s a tough one for me.
And I think most people would probably answer the “Rock In America” solo because of the 8-finger, but thankfully, like I said, I learned that really early on, so the 8-finger technique for me isn’t as tricky, but it’s more Jeff’s speed with just being a picker. His flat-pick, he’s a really good, fast, flat-picking guitar player.
MPc: I’ve seen when you and Brad do some acoustic instrumental stuff together, it’s just really awe-inspiring.
JH: Oh, cool! We have a song that Brad and I wrote when I stayed at his place. One time we—I forget, we were just between gigs on a road trip or something and I just crashed at his place and we just hung out and playing acoustics on a couch. We basically do that every time I’m at his place, that’s like him and I, we hang out like we’re 13 years old with our guitars and just jam and screw around. And so we wrote this song called “L.A. No-Name.” And anybody can check that out, there’s YouTubes of it.
I don’t know if it’s available yet for purchase, it was the Japanese bonus track. I think I uploaded it to YouTube, so if anybody goes to YouTube, they can just look for “L.A. No-Name” and with that, for me, that song is based more on a hybrid picking technique, I’m using the pick and my fingers. And that, definitely a huge influence on me was Brett Garsed, T.J.’s guitar-playing partner for those albums. Brett’s really, really a fluid hybrid picker. His right hand, he picks with his pinky and everything and he’s been a good influence on me with that, with trying to get all that going.
“If you don’t like the way a guitar sounds,
MPc: Listening to the variety of projects that you’ve been playing on and writing on, it’s really hard to nail down any specific influence on you. Where did your musical influence come from?
JH: You have to start with: my parents are both classical musicians, so they had me doing cello when I was 3 and piano I think from the age of 7 till about 10 or 11. I begged off of that, I just hated it. But it was good for me, all the training that I got in those years. And then basically I fell in love with guitar through Angus Young. I just loved AC/DC when I first heard them and wanted to be Angus Young, and probably still do want to be Angus Young.
So, him and Tony Iommi and Randy Rhodes were really my first guitar influences. Just straight-up metal. And then I kind of branched off into players that were more, I guess not as hard rock, but more melodic. Alex Lifeson, Neal Schon, Tom Scholz—loved the Boston stuff. I wore that stuff out. I still love the Trevor Rabin stuff with Yes. Anyway. That kind of stuff, and I went through the phase, definitely, of trying to get Satriani and Vai and Yngwie and the guys with all the chops together.
Ever since I got out of school, it’s become more about what do I need to learn for whatever gig I’m doing. And that has been pretty diverse. I’ve gone through learning tenor banjo for pit gigs out here in New York or all-acoustic stuff for singer-songwriters, where the gig is more about background vocals, and simpler songs and, you know, all that stuff has been good for me. It’s all played a role. I also spent a long time playing a [Broadway] show called “Love, Janis” that was the music of Janis Joplin. So I spent… I did about 1,400 shows of that and that was a lot of using an SG through a clean Fender Super Reverb, playing that ‘60s style of rock, which has a lot of blues running through it. A lot of—kind of that psychedelic blues style, that’s a big influence on me. Just however I could make a living, that’s become the influence, you know? [laughs]
MPc: Yes. Can you tell me some more about the specs on your Les Paul guitars? What year? What kind of pickups do you like? Are the guitars stock or are they custom shop?
JH: Oh, everything’s always stock. I’m not a real big believer in changing up guitars. I think they’re built the way they are for a reason and, if you don’t like the way a guitar sounds, you should probably not play it. And I’m also really not that finicky about necks and things like that. I’m more, it’s normally just about how something sounds to me these days.
Without … really any of my gigs, despite the fact that they take some chops, there’s nothing happening on any of them that is going to be that drastically affected by the size of the neck or anything like that. And I just go with the Burstbuckers usually that come in the Les Pauls. And I’m a fan of all of the necks. I have two custom shops, I have the ‘57 reissue with the big neck that I play with Night Ranger. And then I have an Axcess model [equipped with a Floyd Rose tremolo] for anything, if I’m using a whammy or whatnot. I think that’s what I ended up cutting some of the Jeff Scott Soto stuff with.
I love all of them; I just don’t monkey with them much. The one thing I did have done with the Axcess model is I had my tech with Trans Siberian Orchestra put in a Fernandes Sustainer, which is really, really great. Because on TSO, the deck is really big and a lot of times you’re not getting any throw from the actual monitors on the ground. So it’s for sustain, and it’s invaluable to have the Fernandez sustainer in there. I love that product, period. I think it’s a very cool thing for today’s thing. If you’re recording at home, through a Fractal or something like that, it really helps to emulate getting feedback through a cabinet.
MPc: Now let’s talk about your amps. When you’re not out to do your best emulation of the authentic tone of someone in a classic band you’re touring with, what’s your sound? What’s your amp choice?
JH: I love the EVH III amps. I think those are really great. John Suhr makes some really killer amps, the Custom Audio Electronics amps. I have a PT100 and an OD100 SE+ that really rips. So, really, one of those two. And, if it’s a rental situation, if I have to get on a plane and play on a rental amp—that happens quite often with Night Ranger, I’m usually using a Marshall TSL. I really like Marshall amps, too.
I’ve never been able to quite get over the hump with using Mesa/Boogie with Night Ranger. I probably should have though. It’s more really, I think, what Jeff’s standard was. But it’s also worked out fairly well. Brad and I get a nice kind of balance between the two tones and, you know, that was always part of the cool thing with Night Ranger, too, I thought. You could always tell the difference between Jeff and Brad, so I try and keep that legacy going, too, as much as I can.
MPc: What are some of your go-to effects, either in pedals or in a rack?
JH: With Night Ranger it’s super-simple, man. Brad is a real plug-and-play guy and he really doesn’t like a lot of schmutz on his stuff, so I try to follow suit with that, too. And Brad is very smart with that, too, in that we do a lot of fly dates and it’s just more things that can go wrong.
So I just use a line 6 DL4 with it in the [effects] loop. And I have that back by the head and I’ll either just leave a quick slapback on or I have a setting for leads on some of the songs that I’ll use. And that’s it. And then, of course, at “Rock of Ages,” I’m using the Fractal and the effects on the Fractal are killer, they’re really clean and pristine, so that’s the deal there.
And, with TSO, there’s a TC Electronics G-Force that’s used for the delays and choruses.
MPc: I know that you endorse Big Bends Nut Sauce. Can you help our readers understand what it’s about, and if it’s worth using?
JH: Yeah, it’s just nut lube. Obviously, if you’ve played a Les Paul or any kind of non-locking [tremolo] system in your life, you’ve heard that thing where you’re tuning up your guitar and you hear “ding!” Well, that’s the string sticking in the nut, you know? Which is really the number one cause of those guitars going out of tune. So it’s very important, when you start getting down… certain people think Les Pauls never stay in tune. Well, they do if you string them correctly and lube the nut. That’s basically the whole trick. I mean, you can’t have too many winds. You have to get your stringing technique together. I would advise everybody to do that out there, to learn a really good string winding technique, it’s super important for keeping your guitars in tune and also using the Big Bends on the nut.
So basically what I’ll do is drop the tiniest little bit in each groove and it just keeps the string from binding in there. I think everybody’s had that moment where they go, Man, a minute ago that G string was sharp and now it’s flat. Well, it’s not the string and it’s not the neck. A lot of people think, oh, it must be the neck on this thing. It’s usually just that the string is binding at the nut. So, it’s a very important thing to take care of if you’re planning on keeping your guitars in tune. [laughs]
MPc: Very cool. Now, since there’s clearly no time for sleep in your life, do you also make time to giving lessons?
JH: [laughs] I really don’t give all that many lessons. I just have a private student or two these days. I’m not real big on it. I used to do a lot of teaching, years ago. Back when I lived in the Chicago area, I had 70-plus students a week for years. So I’m kind of burnt out on it, to be honest with you. But if I find a student that I enjoy teaching, I’ll give it a go.
MPc: What’s next? What are you working on now?
JH: Well, it’s going to be, as far as stuff coming up, I’m going to be in the Rock of Ages movie, that comes out June 15th. You can see me in a cameo. In the protest scene, basically they have me, Sebastian Bach, Nuno Bettencourt, Kevin Cronin from REO Speedwagon, and Debbie Gibson all around Russell Brand. And we’re basically singing across the street” to Catherine Zeta-Jones, who’s sort of leading a pack of PMRC type of women.
So keep an eye out for that. And also in late May—and, actually, in a video coming out, I was just in a video for Dee Snyder. He has an album out called Dee Does Broadway. And I’m in his video, “Mack the Knife,” with Mike Portnoy from Adrenaline Mob and all his other new projects. And Lee Rocker is the bass player from the Stray Cats. We had a lot of fun shooting the video, it was a blast. Portnoy’s playing this little practice kit and standing up like he’s Rikki Rockett. We had so much fun.
MPc: Did you play on the record, as well?
JH: No, Bob Kulick, who produced the record, played all the guitars on the album. But I am going to get an opportunity to play about a week of shows with Dee at the end of May, around the New York City area, promoting the album and we’ll be doing press.
And Jack Blades and I are going to be doing some press for his album coming up, too, so people can kind of keep an eye out for us on cable TV shows and radio—I think we might do Howard Stern coming up.
MPc: Cool. What about summertime tours? Anything you can announce yet?
JH: You know, Night Ranger’s got a busy summer lining up as we speak. Some of the highlights—we got M3 [Festival] coming up here in May, looking forward to that. And in June we’re going to go back over to London and play Islington Academy again and then Sweden Rock Festival just after that. So, I’m looking forward to that.
I’m not sure how official it is or if I should even talk about—we may be looking at shooting a live acoustic show this year for DVD release. And I think we’re working on lining up another deal for a new album, as well, in the studio. So we may at the end of the year, or the beginning of next year, go into the studio and record another album, too, which is very much something I’m looking forward to.
MPc: Now, we need to get serious and talk about the most essential part of being a rock and roll god... Any advice for keeping long hair in shape? [laughs]
JH: Pray! [laughs] No, I don’t know, man. The funniest part about me having long hair again these days is that I had short hair when I came to New York City 12 years ago. And I did so much of that show, Love, Janis, that was the music of Janis Joplin, where I was onstage the whole time for that, too, very similar to Rock of Ages, just a different vibe, I guess, but similar in that we’re onstage all the time playing rock. And I grew my hair out to look like Sam Andrew from Big Brother and the Holding Company. As soon as my hair got long, then it seems like everybody who played any ‘80s music hired me.
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