Reb Beach discusses his session work, Winger and other projects, as well as for some advice preparing a future in the music business.
Reb Beach is best known for his work in Winger, but before that he was working as a session player where he worked with people like the Bee Gees, Arid Mardin and Chaka Khan. After Winger, he played with Alice Cooper, Dokken, Night Ranger, Doug Pinnick, Whitesnake and released his own solo material. In this interview, I asked Beach about his session work, Winger and his other projects, as well as for some advice preparing for a future in the music business.
How did you get into doing the sessions work?
I hung around in music stores in New York city on 48th street. I used to go to Manny’s or Sam Ash and I’d play all their guitars. I got to know all the guys that worked there and they told me about an audition for this girl on Atlantic Records. They were looking for a guitar player to join the band and play on the record. They had used a bunch of other guitar players including Rick Derringer. They just couldn’t find the right sound and the right guy. So, I went to the audition and there were like 20 people there, all guitar players, and some of them were wearing spandex and had their total ’80s rock outfits on with their hair all poofed up. I was just wearing jeans and my sweatshirt.
So, I go into the audition and all the other guys in the band were wearing jeans and a sweatshirt and they said, ‘finally a normal guy.’ I played and I got the part. When I went in to do the session I had never played through a Marshall amp before and I was super nervous. Alice Cooper was playing and recording in the next room, and their guitar player came up and came over. I asked him if he knew how to work a Marshall amp and showed me how to do it. I think they paid me $500 dollars and the producer was Beau Hill. He liked my playing a lot and he ended up using me on everything else he did after that. Not only because he thought I was a good player, but because I did it super cheap and I wasn’t in the union. He turned the other producer onto me saying ‘this dumb kid will do it for $500 bucks,’ but that’s how I got started.
While I was attending the Atlanta Institute of Music, drummer Kenny Aronoff did a clinic where he talked about session work and the union. Did you ever end up joining the union?
Well, eventually I joined the New York A.F. of M. (American Federation of Musicians) because it was necessary for Atlantic to pay me not under the table and so I could make more money. It was only for that time while I was doing session work that I was in the union. It never helped me, but it was a good thing.
That’s interesting. I didn’t know that you had to be in the union in order for them to pay you.
At first, they just handed me cash, but to do the bigger sessions like the Bee Gees, Arid Mardin and Chaka Khan — that type of thing had to be by the book.
Would you have any advice for someone trying to break into that field [session work]?
Not really. You just call a bunch of studios and tell them that you’re available. I haven’t done session work in a long time. I play on people’s stuff at my house now, when people ask me to play on their stuff. I have pro tools and I just do it in my garage. I just got Billy Sheehan to play on my record. I send him a track and he sends it back to me through the Internet. But, advice for session players would be: word travels. You start doing things with your friends. If you know anyone who’s recording, tell him you’ll do it for cheap and you’ll throw some solos on there. Word gets around that you’re easy to work with is a big factor. If you don’t have a big head, you’re a good player and your timing is good, that’s really important. A lot of guitar players rush. I used to do that. I used to play so ahead of the beat. I really had to learn to play behind the beat.
What did you do to fix that?
I just got yelled at a lot. (Laughs all around) I concentrate on it now, and, when I’m playing, I make sure the click track is nice and loud.
I myself am best friends with my metronome and I’m always trying to be dead on with the beat. What you’re saying is to be behind the beat?
Well, I don’t know about drummers. I would think that with a drummer you would want to be exactly on the beat. When I am playing guitar, and bass too, it’s cooler to just sit back on the beat a little, just to give it more of a groove because if it’s totally exact it won’t have that human feel to it.
Okay, next topic. This is a little later in your life. By now, many people have read the story between Winger and “Beavis and Butthead.” At what point, after you saw the Stewart character with the Winger shirt, did you notice things had changed for Winger?
That week. The week it came out. A couple days after it came out some kid brought us a video of it on our bus and we all watched and said ‘Oh No.’ Ticket sales halted abruptly. We went from selling a couple thousand tickets to a couple hundred tickets. Just because you wouldn’t be caught dead at a Winger show. Metallica didn’t help either with them throwing darts at Kip’s poster in their biggest video. It happened to all the bands, but we got it worse than anybody, which is too bad because it’s a great band.
Did you try to do anything to fight the creators of “Beavis and Butthead”?
We asked around and there were a couple things. One is they didn’t use the Winger logo. They just drew it in pencil on a shirt. So, going after them legally was a tough fight. The other thing was public perception. We didn’t want to be big cry babies and seem like the wimps that they think we are. It happened to everybody. It wasn’t just us. We did get it worse than anyone else, but everyone was done. Extreme, Mr Big, all those bands just went down the tubes. It was a drag for us because our best album had just come out. I just bought a new house in Florida on the lake. I had to sell it eight months later and I sold all my guitars. Twenty of them. I lived for a year on selling guitars and amps. That year was the dark time. Then I got Alice, so it’s cool.
I keep reading and hearing about you and Alice crossing paths like you were somehow linked and were suppose to play together.
Probably only because it was a fluke that Alice was working nearby on my first session. Kip had a connection with Beau Hill who was producing. Kip wrote a song with them. Beau Hill introduced me to Kip. Kip and I became roommates and Kip got the bass playing gig with Alice Cooper so Kip went out with Alice and I got his mail and stayed in his apartment. That was my connection with Alice. Kip was with Al before Winger. The Winger bombed and Alice was holding auditions and I had to borrow the money from Kip to fly to the rehearsal to the audition.
Post Winger you’ve done a lot. You were in Alice Cooper for so long what was next after that?
After Alice it was Dokken.
Am I wrong? Because I swore that I read somewhere that you did a stint with Deep Purple.
No, I wish. I would be a rich man. Winger toured with Deep Purple for a small amount of time, but that’s it. I did Dokken and Whitesnake. I did Night Ranger for a year.
You did something with the King’s X bass player Doug Pinnick right?
Yeah, that was really awesome. That was really really good. If you get a chance to hear that you would really like it. It took me years to write that record. I got a lot of help from Kip Winger on that. He helped produce it. I had all these ideas that needed endings and bridges. They were mostly written and it took me years to write them. The Italian record label wanted me to use a typical European singer of that ilk. A total like super high voice like the Europe guy. I wanted to do something different. Everything on that label sounded like that at the time and I always wanted to work with Doug Pinnick because I though he had such a unique voice. I really wanted to hear his voice over my straight ahead rock rhythms. Other than the progressive stuff I’ve heard him sing on with King’s X; I wanted to to hear what it sounded like over some really poppy Def Leppardy kind of music.
It ended up being a really interesting project and people love that album. The label has actually been bugging me to do another one.
You have a Reb Beach record coming out right?
Yeah, it’s an instrumental record. It’s almost done. I am doing bass and drums last. So, probably next month I will go in and record. I don’t have a title yet. I have been working on this stuff forever, but I’m always touring, so I can only do it in bits and pieces. This year David took the year off, so I’ve been able to put my nose to the grindstone with it.
Do you have a guess when you might release it?
Definitely by the end of the year?
Winger’s last record was released in 2009. When’s the next scheduled release for a new Winger album?
We haven’t even started it yet, so I wouldn’t hold my breath. Although, Kip is a master. He’s a musical genius and an arranging god. We wrote that whole album in 10 days. When I listen to it, I am still shocked that it took us 10 days to write it. He’s like General Kip. He really cracks the whip. You wake up at 10:00 and you just work all day and into the night. Beating that record is going to be tough. When you go in with a goal of something that good and your standards set so high sometimes you can get frustrated and it takes longer, but I have faith in Kip. He just sits me down and hands me a doobie and records everything I play, and arranges it to a song that he can sing over. I didn’t even know I could write songs until I met him! I would write songs for my wife, who was my girlfriend at the time, some love songs and make her cry, but that’s it. I had never really written a rock song. I didn’t know I had it in me. Kip says I am good at it.
Have you ever had tendonitis or Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
Yeah, I have tendonitis.
What do you do about it?
Nothing. I’m a lazy guy, so I don’t do anything until it becomes an issue. It’s not really effecting my playing except for on humid days. If it’s raining or if it’s humid, I lock up when I am playing. Other than that, I am not having a problem with it, yet, but you’re suppose to wear a brace on your wrist. I am always using my hand, so I am glad it’s not to that point yet.
Do you do anything to warm up before a show?
I have to warm up or else I can’t play. When I pick up the guitar I can barely play because my fingers get really stiff. I just noodle around for 15 minutes before I go on. I have to. I’ll just play some major and minor scales up and down the neck.
Have you ever though of doing some online teaching through Skype like Dave Ellefson with Rocksource 360?
Yeah! Especially now that I’m not working. I just haven’t gotten it together. You know, the thing is Dave Ellefson is a teacher. He’s got that type of personality. I’m okay except I taught myself and unless you want to learn my specific style, which is the tapping thing, basically I don’t think I’d be the right guy. I don’t remember how I taught myself. If you wanted to learn something that I did I would have to look at it with you myself to explain it to teach it properly. So, I have to put together a program. Some easy stuff and some harder stuff just to be prepared. I don’t want to be caught with my pants down and have a guy spend $100 bucks and feel like he didn’t get enough.
I learned from Molly Hatchet, which is the best album to learn solos. It’s just solo 101. The easiest solos. All of the most basic licks and they go on forever. It’s all tuned to normal E standard. It’s a great record to lean from.
If you could go back in time right before you started doing session work what would advice would you give yourself for the future.
Save your money is the most important thing. I wish I had invested and had been smarter with my money, but everyone thinks that. Musically, I don’t know what I would have said. There’s been a couple of times where I wish I knew how to read music. If I had been able to read music I would have gotten Hall and Oates, but I had I wouldn’t been able to get Whitesnake and that worked better for me because I am not a jazz cat. I don’t know all the inversions you would have to know to be able to play all those killer songs, and it’s more mellow and I like to spread my legs wide and run around on stage while banging my head.
Winger plays Wild Bill’s in Atlanta on Saturday August 4. Be sure to catch Reb Beach and the rest of the band on this tour.