By Andrew Catania
Reb Beach is a household name with Winger and Whitesnake fans alike. Reb is now the lead guitarist of Whitesnake and contributes his ideas to the upcoming release of Flesh and Blood. Reb and I discuss the upcoming Whitesnake album and Winger.
You’re quite a talented guitarist, and many people agree with me. Do you think the Beavis and Butthead stigma has finally gone away and people see you and the rest of Winger are talented and successful musicians?
RB: I think the older I get, the more people think I’m not as silly, any more. So that’s good to hear. You know. From the whole Winger stigma, thing. It’s like Winger’s been touring for so long that I think the entire Beavis and Butthead thing is starting to go away. I see a lot of people who are coming to our shows and singing all of the words and when you see Kip up there, just instantly, the first thing you think, is “Man, the guy just sings his ass off.” You know, he sings like a bird. There is no disputing the talent of Winger. You see, it’s like Rod is a professor at Berkley. (Laughing) You, know?
I think Joel (Hoekstra) was a great addition to the band and it seems like you guys compliment each other quite well.
RB: Me, too. He is very nice. He’s very positive. He is a great diplomat. He is very diplomatic. (Laughing) Which I like. The guy can read anything. He can sight read. He can learn anything just by reading it. He’s perfect. And he’s a real showman, so he’s ideal for all of that kind of stuff. He is perfect for Cher, to tell you the truth.
With you being the lead guitarist now, did you have any more say than you did, in the previous albums you participated in?
RB: Well, yeah, I’m the music director. (Laughing) Before, I had no say. On anything. I didn’t do any of the writing. I’d show up and play a solo, and that was it. The solo would be mixed incredibly low. And be made to sound as small as possible. (Chuckling). There was the live album wherein Slide It In, Doug starts the song with this huge opening…(demonstrates the sound…laughing)
So this time, I was there for the whole making of the record. I wrote with David, made decisions, co-produced, and I picked the songs I wanted to solo on. I gave Joel the rest. I split it right down the middle.
Did that not happen for you when you were with Doug and all of the rest of them?
RB: No, no. Doug was in charge. I just came in, played a solo and left. That’s it. I didn’t write anything. I had no say in anything. Not in the production, the mixing or anything. It was all Doug.
You’re a talented songwriter; I’m surprised you didn’t have any input before this.
RB: I wanted to write with David. I’m a songwriter. I’m a bonafide songwriter. I’ve written 6 top 40 singles. So I was looking forward to the chance to write with David finally. And it went well. I was a different experience than I thought it would be. It was very enlightening. It goes very quickly when you’re writing with David. (Chuckling) It’s not a long process.
When you’re writing with David, does he have any expectations set forth about how he wants it to sound? Or does he give you creativity to find a sound that is very Whitesnake-ish?
RB: It all starts with David. It’s hard to get one of your ideas to David, you know? He doesn’t have a lot of patience. So, if you play him something, he better like it right away or forget it. He’ll know right away when he hears it. He’ll say, “Save that for Winger, Darling” (Laughing)
The best way to inspire David is to play your idea on an acoustic guitar. Just pick up an acoustic, and play. If your idea is good enough, to encourage him only on an acoustic, then chances are he’ll like it. If it’s a two or three chord rock thing and not too complicated. He doesn’t dig progressive. He loves, you know, the Rolling Stones. Just play him something that is an old blues-inspired rock, and he’s all over it. So that is how I ended up writing with him. When I came in, he had like ten ideas already. We didn’t even get to my stuff until later on in the project. He had so many ideas. It’s the same way, too. He’ll play them on an acoustic first and sing along. He even has the words, you know, like Well I Never. That was the first song he had. The second I heard it, I was like, meh, it’s kind of silly. Then I couldn’t get it out of my head. For weeks, It was just like, we have to do that song. I could not get it out of my head. It’s just the most fabulous hook ever. A lot of his stuff was like that.
Do any of the songs on there stick out to you more? Do you have a specific favorite? Or is it kind of hard to pick and choose?
RB: No, my favorite one is the one I wrote, sorry, that will read terribly. (Laughing). But I worked and worked and worked on Sands of Time. I had four different versions of it until David would do it. I wanted a song on there that was like Forevermore, which was a brilliant song that Doug Aldrich wrote. You need an epic instrumental ending to the album. With a big solo and with a cool Led Zepplin vibe, that’s what I was going for. David said, no and no and no, endlessly. On the fourth time, he went for it. I was thrilled. And that is my favorite song by far. It sounds the most Whitesnake to me. And I like the other songs that I was involved with…I love Hey You because I had that written forever. It’s cool for me to play that song live. Even though the album’s not even out yet, the whole audience is singing Hey You. And it’s cool because I wrote that. It’s like Wow! There are all these people singing the song with the riff that I came up with.
Working with David, does he have it in the back of his mind trying to re-create the ’87 album? And the excitement that it had, or is he past that and wants to put out what he wants to?
RB: It’s a conglomeration. He’s more inspired by the music that he loves. The guy is a music aficionado. He has one of the most significant music collections on Apple, literally than anyone else. He’s in the top 20, of people who have the most music on their iPhones, or iPad, He’s got like 100’s of gigabytes of music. Terabytes of music. He’s inspired by old Blues music, and classical…he listens to all kinds of music. And he knows a lot about it — especially the bands from his era. If you play him an idea and it sounds like an old Jeff Beck and Rod Stewart song from the Faces, he will jump all over that. Anything that sounds like the bands from back in his day. He will be very inspired that. I think that is where he takes his inspiration from the most.
What kind of issues did you have delayed the release of Flesh and Blood?
RB: Yeah. Major, major issues. Just technical matters. Things like computers just winked out. Just completely went. We had to go to a back-up and just all kinds of nightmares. I have mixes of this album that are a year old, from March. That’s how long ago it was worked on. It was mixed in March of last year. There just kept being all of these setbacks. David is always making changes. We did it at his house, so there was a lot of interruptions. Just stuff happened. David got sick at one point, and he had knee surgery. Just little things, too, that would stop the sessions. It ended up just taking a long time. Also, there was a hell of a lot of songs. There were 16 songs. So that didn’t help. (Chuckling)
In terms of your sound and tone, has your tone changed over the years? I don’t think it has much.
RB: No. not at all. It just always sounds like me. EMG’s and Marshall-style amp. It will sound like me with me. I hate Kempers. I am not a bells and whistles type of guy. Just go directly into your Marshall and play away.
I know a lot of guys love the sound they get out of their kempers. They tour around with them
RB: They’re great. But if you compare that to the real thing, I’m sorry, It’s night and day. At least to me. They still haven’t perfected the art of simulating a real amp. They haven’t perfected it. It’s great for the studio, don’t get me wrong. But I would never use it for my main sound. It’s great for when you need a particular sound, like a clean sound, a compressed, clean sound, with a chorus on it. Nothing beats a kemper; you can dial up whatever you need. It’s very very cool. But, as far as my main tone, my Marshall or my Suhr head which is just a modified Marshall. Suhr has been modifying my Marshalls for 20 years. And it sounds just like the OD100 when he does.
When did you make the change from Ibanez to Suhr?
RB: Since Ibanez wanted me to play crappy guitars. They put me from the front page to the back page of their booklet. Winger stopped selling records, and they wanted me to play these Strats that were pieces of shit. And I had a relationship with John Suhr because I bought my first Pensa Suhr in 1983, for $1200. I took out a loan, and I fell in love with the guitar. I paid $1200 for it and stayed friends with John Suhr, who went on to do his own company. I did play the Voyager guitar with Ibanez, and that was a great guitar. One of these days I would love to get back with Ibanez and play that guitar because it was a great guitar.
You’re a plug and play guitar player?
RB: Completely. I’ve always been that way. I’ll add a little delay, now and then. Joel thinks I’m crazy. He looks at me and cocks his head because I plug a delay into the back of my head. It drives him crazy. He’s like why you would do that? You set the echo to be like the perfect echo for every song. So every tempo is correct. And I’m like hey, it’s rock and roll, so how cares? (chuckling) Just slap an echo on there, you know?
I always believe it just comes down to the person playing guitar. You can make a $300 guitar sound great. It’s just all in the person’s hands. That’s what I’ve always believed.
RB: I believe it too. There’s an old story of when Van Halen first came out. They were opening for Ted Nugent. And Eddie Van Halen played Nugent’s guitar. With his rig and everything. And he sounded exactly like Van Halen. And if Ted Nugent were to play through Eddie’s platform, he would sound exactly like himself. So Eddie playing through his rig sounds like Van Halen, and Nugent playing through Eddie’s rig would sound like Nugent. Ted Nugent played my guitar once, not too long ago. He picked it up and played for me. I think it was his new song, a few years ago. He started playing my guitar, and it went out of tune within 5 seconds it was unplayable. It went out of tune so quickly because of the fine tune positioning. It’s right where he plays. He just rolled them all out of tune. And he said he couldn’t play with a Floyd Rose. I can’t play with those silly things. (Laughing)
I know you’ve been with Winger since the inception. How different is it between working with Kip and working with David? Is it the same, or just different philosophies?
RB: Well, it’s completely different. They are very different people. With David, when you sit down to write with him, its usually, he’s got an idea. So he plays it for you, and you have to come up with stuff quickly. Its all there and it’s done very quickly. You don’t get more than 10 or 15 minutes to do anything. So you have to stay with him and stay focused or else you won’t be in the game. He’ll tell you to fuck off. He goes bang, bang, bang. And trust me, you must be right with him. You have to say, I like that, but what if we went to this chord, and you have to have ideas right away. If you don’t, he won’t be inspired, and he’ll write it with someone else. So, it’s fascinating and very up-tempo and quick.
With Kip and I, it’s very laid back. We smoke a doobie and (laughing) whatever happens, happens. You know, there’s plenty of time.
With Winger, we write ten songs in 10 days. But with Whitesnake, it took us two years to do the record. It is a different process.
How do you think you have evolved as a player over the years?
RB: I was a good guitar player when I was 16. I would hear stuff when I was a kid and I always just had a good ear, I’m not like tooting my own horn, but I happen to have a keen ear, (Thank you, god) for giving me a good ear. So I can make up melodies, and I know my neck well enough to play those melodies that come into my head. And I can play any note on a guitar and bend it, so it sounds good. If I’m stuck on a solo, I can hit a harmonic and bend it with a whammy bar to a good note and hang out on it until I figure out what to do next. I only know a few scales. I’m not like Joel Hoekstra who knows every scale in the world. I was playing a cool chord yesterday, and he told me it was a B sharp 11. I had no idea what a B Sharp 11 was. But it sounded cool that I wrote that, though. I was like proud of myself. I was like I wrote a B sharp 11, (Laughing). So, it’s just all by ear.
Are you allowed to improvise on stage, with Whitesnake, versus Winger? Or do you stick to the song?
RB: No, the solos, you can play whatever you want. David is cool with it. As long as he doesn’t hear something he doesn’t like. He’s okay with it. The more melodic, the better, with David there are a few things he made me play on the album, like melody wise. You know, “play this” (exampled), and I had to play that. One thing, though, is that there was shorter solo on Shut Up and Kiss Me, a blistering solos, and David hated it and said play it slower. I did and ended up playing something way better. That solo on Shut Up and Kiss Me, was him telling me to slow it down. And I’m glad he did because it turned out way better. My favorite solo on the album is from the one I wrote, Sands of Time,
Do you have a solo album coming out?
RB: It’s coming out in the Fall. I’ve had it forever. It’s an instrumental. Yeah, it’s excellent.
My little fan base, for a long time, have been asking where is a solo album. I’ve been talking about it for years. It’s done and probably come out on Frontiers. It will be out in the Fall; It’s going to be called, A View From the Inside. But that’s tentative.
Check out Flesh and Blood will be released on May 10, 2019, via Frontiers Records.
For more information on Reb Beach please go to https://www.facebook.com/RebBeach/