“To be perfectly honest, I’m not happy sitting around like this,” says Reb Beach. The hotshot guitarist is speaking from his home in Pittsburgh. He’s lived in the same house for decades, but he admits he never sees much of it.
With his dual membership in Winger and Whitesnake (in the latter he shares axe duties with Joel Hoekstra), Beach is usually on the road for nine out of 12 months in any given year – and that’s how he prefers it. “Playing for people is what I do. I’ve been a performer for 31 years, and that’s how I make a living.”
He reveals that 2020 was all lined up to be a banner year financially. “I was going to make a shitload of money,” he says. “It was going to be my best year since 1989. I was going to tour everywhere, and the schedules with both bands were mapped out beautifully.
“Then COVID hit and everything came to a halt. I was in Singapore and I got the news that I had to fly home, and this is where I’ve been since March. It’s a real bummer.”
Even so, things haven’t been all bad. At home, Beach gets to spend quality time with his 7-year-old granddaughter, Bella, and he’s been brushing up on his guitar skills.
“One thing that’s kept me busy is giving guitar lessons, which I love,” he says. “I do them on Skype with people all over the world. A lot of guitarists want to learn how to play Winger solos, which has forced me to go back and analyze what I did when I recorded them. It’s improved my playing quite a bit. I never understood all the techniques I used when I laid these things down. It’s been enlightening.”
At the same time, he often finds himself conversing online with people who don’t even play guitar.
“They just want to hang out with me for an hour,” he says. “They ask me questions like, ‘What’s David Coverdale really like?’ or ‘Tell us about Kip Winger.’
“I had one couple from Glasgow, Scotland, a guy and his wife, and each week they would sit on their couch and drink Guinness. All they wanted was for me to be their drinking buddy and regale them with tales of the road. I loved it. Hey, if they wanted to talk about the weather, that was fine by me.”
Not counting his 1993 set, The Fusion Demos, a compilation of his early DIY recordings, Beach has issued only one proper solo album, 2001’s Masquerade.
Being Mr. Homebody for much of the past year has afforded him the opportunity to finish his long-gestating second solo effort, A View from the Inside, an all-instrumental guitarathon that harkens back to the late-'80s days of Satriani, Vai and Morse.
The album contains gnashing, full-on metal chargers like Cutting Loose and Black Magic (a version of which appeared on Guitar World’s very own The Guitars That Rule the World CD back in 1991) and extravagant fusion jams such as The Way Home and Hawkdance. Beach even shows off some heretofore-hidden funk chops on the slippery groovers Little Robots and Attack of the Massive.
“A lot of this stuff has been sitting in my hard drive for years, so it feels good to finally get it done and out there,” he says. “If 2020 had been a normal year, I probably wouldn’t have finished it – I would’ve been on the road. Actually, I have to credit Kip for this.
“We were trying to figure out what the hell to do because we couldn’t tour, and he said, ‘What’s going on with that record you’ve been messing around with?’ I said, ‘I’ve got 10 songs that are pretty much done,’ and he said, ‘Why don’t you release it?’” He laughs and adds, “Sometimes I just need a kick in the pants to see what’s right in front of me.”
Aside from what you mentioned, have you been doing any non-musical things while you’ve been home?
“Nah. I keep hearing people say they’re learning a new language or writing a novel – all these amazing things! I don’t know… That’s just not me. I’m all about music. When I was a kid, I took an aptitude test to see what I was good at, and it basically said I had absolutely no aptitude for anything whatsoever except for music. [Laughs]
“And that’s really what I’ve done my whole life. That’s all I want to do. And can I just say that I can’t wait to get out there and play again?”
I think you’ve said it. I’m curious about something… David Coverdale has a history of going through guitar players. You’ve maintained your place in the band for a long time now. Why is that?
“You want to know something wild? I’m the 46th member of the band! Isn’t that crazy? There’s been so many incarnations of Whitesnake, and I’ve been a member for 17 years. That’s longer than anybody except David.
“If I can attribute it to anything, I think it’s because I’m very easy to work with. I don’t like to make waves. I have a strong singing voice, so that’s a good thing. It’s hard to find a guitar player who can sing in tune and has a pleasing voice. So I’ve got that going for me.
“But really, I think I’m a pretty non-aggressive guy, and that’s helped me when I’m surrounded by some guys who can get a little aggressive. I show up on time and do my job. As long as there’s nice Coors Light at the gig, I’ll be there.”
How do you generally balance being in Whitesnake and Winger? I imagine you’d have some scheduling conflicts from time to time.
“For the longest time it wasn’t a problem because Kip was so busy. He’s always writing symphonies and Broadway shows. Plus, Rod [Morgenstein] is a drum professor at Berklee for most of the year, so his hands are full. Scheduling Winger around Whitesnake has never really been an issue.
“As far as Whitesnake is concerned in the future, we’re just going to have to see what David wants to do. I know he doesn’t want to mess around with Covid.
“Whenever it’s safe to book a tour, I’m sure we will. My fear is that both bands will want to tour at the same time, so we’ll have to see what happens. Everything is 'wait and see' right now.”
I read an interview in which you said The Fusion Demos is a really big seller on iTunes.
“Yeah, that’s unreal! Some people say it’s their favorite record. One of the songs was recorded on a Fostex four-track cassette recorder – it’s super old. I was practically a kid when I recorded that stuff.
“Some people complain that it sounds like shit, and it does; it’s pretty noisy. But you know, enough people wanted to hear it, so why would I hold it back? I like to share as much of me as possible. [Pauses] That sounded kind of weird, didn’t it?”
A little. You’re an unabashed fan of Satriani, Vai and Steve Morse. To my ears, A View from the Inside sounds like a real mix of the three.
“Absolutely. You can hear my influences in there, all those guys. But you know, I’m still a big Jean-Luc Ponty fan. There’s a track called The Way Home that’s very Ponty. And on Little Robots I’m paying tribute to Larry Carlton. I’m really happy with how everything turned out, even if it is a little overproduced.“
Oh? How so?
“I worked on it for 10 years, so I think I tinkered too much. There’s a lot of little keyboard parts that I probably didn’t have to put on there. I played a lot of keyboards and bass on it, but I had some other people on the record: David Throckmorton and Robert Langley play drums, I’ve got Phillip Bynoe and John Hall doing some bass, and Michele Luppi and Paul Brown do some keyboards.
“Those tracks were before Covid hit. If I had the chance to do it over again, I’d make it more of a stripped-down live record. I’d love to put together a band and go out and just rip on guitar!“
Is it hard making a solo album without an outside producer? Do you miss having that outside voice telling you what you’re doing wrong?
“It is hard at times. I’m not the greatest producer, but I can do it. Yeah, it’s good to have a second opinion, especially if it’s somebody who knows what they’re doing. In one way or another, Kip is usually involved in whatever I do. He’s a genius. He’s amazing on Pro Tools, he’s a great producer and engineer, and he’s a great composer and arranger.“
So basically, he’s way better than you.
“Kinda. [Laughs] He is! He also helps me get my act together because I tend to be a little lazy and stuff.“
Can you point to any new playing techniques on the album?
“Hmmm, I need to think about that… Attack of the Massive was a real challenge for me because I pick every note. And the thing is, I never pick every note. I like not picking every note.
“That song took a few takes to get right. In the middle of the track, I wanted a breakdown that was reminiscent of Peter Frampton’s Do You Feel Like We Do? It would be a tour de force live thing.
“And then after that breakdown, I go into a solo with the keyboard. I thought, 'How groundbreaking is this? I’m going to double my guitar with that keyboard. I bet that’s never been done before!' Turns out it’s been done thousands of times.”
Right, but never by you.
“Exactly. So what I thought was really unique wasn’t unique at all; it was just unique for me.”
There’s a lot of funk on that song. Little Robots, too – in-the-pocket rhythm guitar, slap bass, groovy keyboard lines. When people think funk, they don’t normally think Reb Beach.
“Yeah, I know. That’s why I wanted to put those songs on the album. I wanted people to know it wasn’t just a hard rock record. It would be hard to write a full-on hard rock record and keep it interesting with no vocals. So there’s some rockers on there as well as the fusion and funk stuff.”
Your opening lick on Aurora Borealis sounds like bagpipes.
“That’s a technique I never did before. Playing that is a whole new reach with my left hand. I have my fingers really stretched out, and then I do this wild rhythm with tapping.
“My dad always used to tap his fingers on his car. He was tone deaf, but he had great rhythm. I think I got that from him. So I tried out this new tapping thing, and I think it came out nice – like bagpipes.”
There’s a moment midway through the song in which you play an incredible speedball of notes; it sounds as if each phrase is somehow getting away from you.
“Because they are! [Laughs] I almost didn’t do that because I’m barely touching the notes on the guitar. It comes down to really soft, fast notes, almost muted. It sounds like I was drunk, but I really wasn’t.
“I liked the dynamics of the whole thing – it gets louder, then softer, but everything is still going really fast. Remember how the Outlaws did that in Green Grass and High Tides? They were just blitzing on these fast riffs, but the notes sounded muted. That’s what I was thinking when I did it.“
What were your main guitars for the record?
“I’m a big John Suhr guy. I used the Suhr guitar I’ve always played, the Koa body with the Pau Ferro neck. That’s my old standby. I don’t use different guitars, and I don’t use Fractal and all that stuff.
“I use the one Marshall that John modded for me into a Mesa cabinet, and I’m good to go. The only effect is one of his Shiba Drive pedals. I get everything I need with that setup. The rest is up to me and my fingers.”
- Reb Beach's A View from the Inside is out now via Frontiers Records.