reb's history and frequently asked questions reb's history and frequently asked questions

interview with reb, january 2005
For some reason, we are all forced to face adversity at times. We can only imagine the stress that came when Winger was in its downfall. How did that entire experience change you and what are your views on the music industry today as opposed to then? What interests or excites you most about today's musical landscape, and conversely, what bothers or upsets you most the current music scene? Who are you currently listening to?

The experience was very sudden. I had just bought a house on the lake in Florida and life was good. We spent years on one record that was by far our best, and I figured it had to at least go gold, since our last one went platinum, and this one was better. If the record went gold I would have gotten like a $200,000 publishing advance. Life was good.

So we released the record and went out on the road and thatís when the floor fell out from under us practically overnight. Some guy came to the bus with a copy of Beavis and Butthead and in it they hung a nerd up by his underwear while he wore his Winger t-shirt. They went to his house, and his loser family (including the dog) were all wearing Winger t-shirts. That week people stopped coming to our shows and record sales came to a screeching halt. "Down incognito" was taking off at radio when DJís just dropped it from their playlists because they were too embarrassed to have their station associated with it. A month later I called Atlantic records and they had never heard of Winger.

So, how did it change me? When you are just going up and up and all of the sudden you go straight down, it changes you for the better... eventually. I am sure I was getting a little cocky. That went right out the window. I had lived the perfect life up until then, so I was due for some kind of disaster. It changed me very much by making me have to grow up fast. It was like in Conan the Barbarian, were he was yanked from his happy life and was made to push a heavy thing that did nothing for 10 years. I am definitely more like someoneís Dad than I was before the dark time.

As far as todayís music scene, I am the worst. All the music I hear on the radio now is either a remake or a blatant rip off. We all rip people off, but the trick is to make it your own. I just listen to talk radio most of the time. I am a songwriter, so when I hear something new, I donít usually get off on it because I am too busy listening to how it was recorded and how it was written. I have been marred by years of recording. I never listen to music but my own, but in rare cases, like when I am setting up the studio, or fixing something I will throw something on. If I want to rock, I will crank Toys in the Attic. If I am mellow, I will play Steely Dan. They just donít make original music like that anymore, as far as I know, and I donít know much. I mean, has anyone even come close to Led Zep, or the Who, or Van Halen? The sounds I hear today bum me out. When I was addicted to music, all you heard on the radio were bands with killer guitars players and unique styles of song writing, and everything rocked. Even Toto and Peter Frampton and Heart rocked. Bands were cool then.

How do you think your career would have differed if you'd not met Kip and joined Winger?

I was doing sessions at the time and I was starting to hate it. I was in a few bands in New York that never panned out. I am sure I was meant to meet Kip, because through the years no one has helped me through life more. When my father met him he said "Stick with that boy! Heís a shark, and youíre Bambi with a penis!" If I hadnít met Kip I wouldnít know how to write a song, mix a song, or stand up for myself, so I couldnít imagine any other path. I donít know any other geniuses. I really lucked out having him as a friend.

Over the past several years/bands, you've had the opportunity to play in dual and single guitarist postitions. Do you prefer playing the "lead", i.e. Dokken, where you can showcase more, or with another guitarist where the overall sound is fuller, as you did with Winger, Whitesnake and Alice Cooper? What were the major differences in performing with each band of these bands?

Being the only guitarist in a rock band is much more creatively open for me, as I am sure Dio was for Doug. I mean Don would leave the stage and you could just blow for as long as you wanted. In Winger, Paul was mainly a rhythm player at the time, so I did most of the solos. Still in a three piece you can change up the song as you play it, cause there is only one guy you have to yell "go to the five chord!" to. That shit is fun. The best jams I have ever had are with my three piece here in town. With Alice, it was a 50/50 split with the solos. In Whitesnake, Doug got the gig first and since his style is so perfect for Sykes, he gets the big solos. He does that stuff way better than me. Iím very happy with the Steve Vai type solos I get to do.

When you are on an extended tour, are there any songs that you really can't stand playing over and over? If so, how do you keep them fresh? Are there any songs that you never get tired of playing?

I always hated Easy Come Easy Go. I always hated acoustic shows cause I couldnít rock, except that last jam at the Hard Rock with Kip was awesome. Somehow it rocked. Alice used to play some songs I wasnít crazy about and you just play through it to get to the good stuff. I jammed with those guys six months ago and every song was great. In Whitesnake, David always picks cool songs. He really knows music in general and he knows what his different audiences like from country to country.

What song do you feel represents your personal style most?

Well, I am a closet crooner. I write acoustic mellow love songs with funky beats that never see the light of day and my family always gets down on me to reinvent myself and finish that stuff. It is total radio stuff. One day. Anyway, Masquerade came out the way I wanted it to. It is a pretty good representation of what I do on the guitar and what I do as a guitar riff songwriter. Iíd say Sorrow Stained Eyes and Fanatic sum it all up.

At what age did you first show any musical ability and what instrument could you get a grip on first?

Iíll never forget when I was four years old and the family was watching Mannix on tv. We always had a piano in the house and when the show came on, I went over and started jamming with the theme. Everyone acted like it was this big deal. Mom sent me to various schools and Dad hired professionals to come in and survey me so they could tell him if I was any good. I took an aptitude test at Johnís Hopkins and they told my Dad I was good for nothing, except I scored some of the highest marks they had ever seen in music. It was pretty cool. They played two notes and you had to tell them if the second note was sharp or flat (higher or lower) as they came closer together. Dad got the test question wrong, where the notes were like a fifth apart. He was tone deaf, but had great rhythm. I am sure I would fail it now, as I have become quite the lip reader. Anyway, after that, Dad let me quit high school and join a rock band. I wanted to be Elton John and studied piano until I was thirteen. Then I heard Kiss!

Do you ever get intimidated playing in the company of certain other guitarists? Who would it scare you to have to trade licks with?

I played for Yngwie on his weird guitar and I sucked while he shook his head at how awful I was. Back then I couldnít play the blues for shit. I studied blues licks after Alice and now I feel comfortable with anybody. I feel so comfortable with a guitar now that I have played one for almost thirty years. I was 28 when I shamed Yngwie. Iíve always been pretty good at improvising, but learning the blues was key to jamming with scary guitarists.

It's always interesting to hear what sounds you get out of which pickups and which guitars. Would you consider creating a "log" for any of your upcoming projects where you list what gear (guitar, pickups, pedals, amps, etc) you use on each song (verse, chorus, solo, etc) for those of us gearheads?

If you ask me, it all sounds almost exactly the same! Correct me if Iím wrong because I haven't heard "me" for a while, but I think 95% of the time itís just me through the Marshall with a little extra hair and jizz (distortion and reverb respectively) for solos. If there is anything else itís just some program on the Pod that worked, or maybe once in a blue moon I will do something with the chorus from the whammy pedal. When I got the Dokken gig, I had to switch all my pickups to Dimarzioís for the Lynch tone. I have EMGís in one guitar and they sound a little fuller, but you canít get those really bitey solo tones. Here is the log:

My guitar
My Marshall
My Boss distortion pedal for solos

I never switch anything. Itís usually whatever guitar I grab. I canít tell the difference between guitar rhythms on tape. Can you? I think I always sound basically the same.

In regard to playing acoustically, can you make an acoustic sound "ballsy" too? If so, what do you do to get the crunch from an acoustic guitar? Are the dials on your amps dialed the same as an electric or different? How do you like performing acoustically and do you think you'll be doing any more acoustic shows like you did with Kip in Vegas and Pittsburgh?

Yes, a ballsy anything is good except piccolo. I hate a ballsy piccolo. Live, I just plug it in to the mixer and mess with the eq until it sounds as good as possible. Direct tends to sound thin with boomy low end, so I cut the low end and add mids like 1 or 2k. Always use one of those soundhole things. In the studio I get a great acoustic sound with two channels. One for direct, and one miked with a Nueman TLM 103, usually over the fretboard towards the end, and you have to play with the distance to get it perfect. Soundhole thing bad here.

I never liked acoustic rock performances until I jammed with Kip in Vegas. If there is any opportunity to do it again, I would jump at the chance.

When you write a song, does the music or do the lyrics come first? Do melodies come to you just out of the blue or do you have to be in songwriting mode?

Licks always come first. I always have a live mike and sing while I am writing the riff, to make sure it is good to sing over, not too busy and to help determine if it is a verse or a chorus or whatever. I always jam along with drums. I have a bunch of melodies in my head that have been there for so long. Some are from when I was like in the fifth grade. I usually canít remember what day it is, or what year it is, or how old I am, but I remember almost every piece of music that ever entered my head.

Even a musical genius has occasional dry spells. What shakes you out of a creative slump? Where do you look for inspiration and what or who has inspired you the most for any particular song?

I may pull out some cdís in the genre Iím writing for inspiration. I always reference any old blues stuff to get my chops up. Blind Lemon... whatever I can dig up.

I am writing a song now that I wrote the verse and chorus to months ago. I got back from the road and recently addressed it again. It is the best song on the record so far. Kip actually gave me the best compliment he ever has about it, saying that it was one of those songs you write a few times in your lifetime and that I did it with that one. He is hard to impress, or maybe he was just in a good mood. I have been working on how to finish the damn thing for a solid week now. I have tried twenty different solo sections and they either go into it fine and go back into it crappily, or vice versa. It is becoming stairway to heaven, which the song is not. Itís more like " More than a feeling", but not so happy. If an idea doesnít flow smoothly in and out, the next thing you do is try changing the key of the idea. No help this time. It is just a very special song and it would be a crime to just slap something on there. If I played it for Kip, he would know exactly what to do. I guess thatís my next move, because at this point the record will be done in 2007. So, I am in a slump right now and Kip is my inspiration, as usual. Actually, writing about it like this may help!

What do you find most interesting about the recording process (technically, musically)? Do you have a preference between playing live and being in the studio?

The grass is always greener, but I was ALWAYS a ham, and made to perform. I have been performing onstage since I was very young. Easily for me the most interesting and satisfying thing about recording is how you can make moments by just adding one part. It always is SO interesting to see how a song develops and the eighteen billion different versions I go through until it all works. You would think I would get better at it, but it still takes me way too long. I have 20 different versions of everything on Masquerade. Always the end result is best, but sometimes there are vibes I couldnít recreate. It is always so amazing that little things make a big difference, the mix being at the top of the list. Mix a snare too loud and see how it bums out the vibe cranked in headphones. Also, if your drums are programmed well it makes a big difference. It has to sound good at mach 10. I always have to take low end off my guitars. They always boom out the mix.

Out of all the positive feedback consistently given on the song Black Magic, can we expect to hear another original instrumental?

God, the cheesy drums on that song make me wince. I stuck a good one on Masquerade. I donít have any instrumental ideas I can think of right now, but it would be nice for this record I am doing with Doug Pinnick. Hell, jam in E with that guy and Bobís your Uncle. I will see what happens. I need twelve songs and I only have 9, so that could save time, or not. Doug writes lyrics in his sleep.

If you could put together your own "all star" band, what musicians/artists would you personally choose?

I would do the fusion stuff with Marco Mendoza, Rod Morgenstein and Timothy Drury. Iíd get Andy Timmons for that too. Also, Marcoís percussion guys with all the bongos and shit. Now that is my dream. Crushing, untouchable band with great tunes. I always wanted to be an artist like Jean Luc Ponty, or Santana.

I've read that Kiss was your second ever concert and that Ace was a hero of yours. Imagine Gene and Paul ask you to join the next Kiss tour to replace Ace - make up-wise, what "character" would you like to be?

I would be a bunny. Haha! No, I would be something cool like a spider. I would be an arachnid of some sort. A big green praying mantis and I would chew the head off a praying mantis dummy that came out of the floor. I would have big backlit red eyes that shot lasers and I would skateboard on a ramp that looked like a tree.

Of all the rock bands that have split up, had original members leave, etc, what band would you most like to see reform and why?

David Lee Roth was the best front man that ever walked the earth. I guess none of them need the money.

Bearing in mind the tragic Dimebag situation, have you ever questioned your safety on or off stage?

I have dodged bottles. Ahhh, who can forget the Winger, Sepultura, Primus concert in Germany? They opened for us! Half the place left when we got onstage and the other half showed their distaste with various projectiles. I thought about it when we lost Dimebag and I have never even considered it. There have been bomb threats, but thatís different. I think there would be more dangerous people at a Pantera show than at a Winger show. I guess it could happen to anyone who has a fan base, though. There are some nuts out there. Itís scary as hell. Dimebagís loss definitely has made me more aware. He was a good guy. Scary.

I know it's been joked about on the forum, but would you seriously consider ever writing a book or even a cookbook? You have such a great way of telling stories and have had such an interesting life!

Someone once told me to write everything down. I didnít. I am not very responsible. I batted around the idea of writing a book about a year ago. EVERYONE on whatever bus says I should write one from the outrageous stuff that has happened to me over the years. Most of it is sexual and most of it makes me look like an idiot. I think Iíll wait for retirement when I donít still have to worry about getting gigs!

Can you give us any detail on projects you're currently working on?

I am sitting here in hell. The deadline keeps getting closer and I keep driving myself crazy trying to write Sgt. Pepper. I am doing a record with Doug Pinnick, Timothy Drury and Frankie Banali. I tore my hair out with Masquerade. It was, by far, the hardest thing I have ever done. I resigned myself to thinking that on this one I would pull back baby. Just go with the flow. It donít matter. Slap a little butta on it, itíd be aite. Yeah Right!!! Anyway, I am consumed with finishing this record and after some major technical difficulties (never EVER touch your computer on a shaggy rug with your socks on. Toast!), I am off and running, except for this one ^&*#@!*&%! song. Right. Anyway, I am teaching an audio recording course at Carnegie Mellon University on February 16th. I am also judging the battle of the bands at the Hard Rock in Pittsburgh every Wednesday in February. They have promised me free beer and have no idea what they have gotten into. HA! Also, Kip invited me to his house in February, so maybe we will do some writing.

So how was the European tour? What were your personal highlights of the trip?

As Iíve said before, there is nothing like driving a souped up Mercedes 140mph on the Autobahn! I will never forget that. It was three and a half months of touring, so it was a long time without my wife and kids. We all got to know each other pretty well on that tour. The highlights for me were whenever we got the royal treatment, which was about half the time. We stayed in hotels that were exotic and that is when I am most happy. I spend a lot of dough, but I LOVE to pamper myself. It is great to order room service and rent a "first run" movie. I huddled by my computer and listened live to the Steeler games every Sunday on at three in the morning. Timothy discovered and I called everyone all over the world practically for free from my laptop. On days off I would explore the little towns just enough to make a "Recluse Pack" as we called it, which consisted of Beer, water, food I understood, cigarettes and a diet pepsi for the morning. Many hotels had high-speed internet access and I didnít have that at home at the time, so I liked flying around on that. Sometimes I did the James Bond thing and wore the fancy slippers and robe in the closet, drank anything classy in the mini bar and ordered a nice fillet. Beach. Reb Beach. I met Jackson Browne. Our flight was cancelled once (thank God - it was a blizzard!) and we took a train which was very cool because they had beer AND wireless internet... on a train! I liked it much more than flying.

Is there a lot of preparation that goes into a tour of that length - I'm thinking of fitness, rehearsal, gear repairs and setups, etc?

The people at the gym know when I am touring because I am never there otherwise! About 6 weeks before the gig, I go on Atkins and work out three or four times a week. I have to have all the guitars set up by either John Suhr or a local guy I know who does good work. Both amps have to be re-tubed and biased. I have to learn songs, which can be a lot of work. Trans Siberian Orchestra was by far the hardest. I actually had to learn other styles of playing. The kids said if they heard flight of the bumblebee at half speed one more time they would freak out. I had to learn how to pick every note, so I started slow. I am always surprised at how quickly the stuff comes back to me, be it Winger or Whitesnake.

How does your live rig differ from what you use in the studio?

I donít go wireless and I donít use the clean sound, but sometimes I will put the pedalboard inline for solos if I need the whammy or the wah or the echos for spacey parts. I donít have the pedalboard inline for rhythms though, so it doesnít take away from the sound.

You've been using your Suhr guitars exclusively on the latest Whitesnake tour. Could you describe the differences between the four you are using and do you favour a particular instrument?

Well, I always go back to the original Suhr that I bought for $1800.00 on 48th street in New York in 1986. Dee Snider said it looked like a nice coffee table. I fell in love with it the first time I played it. I have to say the duplicate that John made me is preferable because it is MUCH lighter, it cuts a little more and the neck isnít so worn away that the high E slips off the neck, like on the original. I use those two the most, but the original is dearest to my heart. I still canít believe John beat it though. He is a genius. I got my guitars back from being shipped on a slow boat from Europe six weeks after the last gig. They were all still in tune!!! They went to New York and LA and New York again until they got to me (donít ask!). The prism guitar is great for strat tones, so I have to use it for the clean stuff, although John is building me one now for that. The caramel swirl one with the mirror pick guard I took from the Voyager we call "swirl" is the backstage guitar. That one needs EMGís. It sounds thin with the DiMarzioís for some reason, but plays like butter.

What are you using for your clean tone live?

As I have said before, I use a Guild Hartke bass head. It is made to be loud and clean. It has an effects loop, a graphic eq and compression. Itís like it was made for a huge clean tone. People always remark on my clean tone and it just sounds like it was made for guitar. There is no weirdness, which is what I expected when I came up with the idea and tried it. I figured "Bass head! Made to be loud and clean!"

I noticed you're using a Boss 'Metal Zone' pedal on your pedalboard. Is that for a solo boost and has it replaced your old standard Boss Overdrive?

Yeah itís better hands down, BUT THERE IS STILL SOMETHING I MISS ABOUT IT!!! The Metal Zone adds this Micheal Schenker thing to my tone that I am not going for. Itís got that thing that sounds like your wah is at the halfway mark going on. I am still searching, but at least my tone isnít thin anymore when I solo.

Do you have a regular practice regime?

I never practice. I am usually writing. My chops ALWAYS go down when I am home. On the road, itís the opposite. After soundcheck I play on the average three to four hours a day. I warm up and then play the blues for hours. I usually donít practice something, unless I am having trouble with a part, which doesnít happen often in rock. If I was in Trans Siberian, I would practice all the time!

What are the differences playing with Whitesnake compared to the previous bands you've been in?

Well, itís my first true headlining band. You just get treated a little better when youíre a headliner. Itís like when you go to the bank and you have a lot of money in there. The tellers seem to treat you better. My father always checked into hotels and made reservations at restaurants under Dr. Beach. He said the difference was uncanny. Better service all around. Playing with Tommy is a big thrill. He is a legend and still plays exactly the same way he did 20 years ago. He is in my top five best rock drummers. Marco and I have a thing on stage where we just mess with each other all night. We see how low we can get to the ground when we are jamming and point stuff out to each other and laugh a lot. Kip and I had a similar thing. He would punch me in the arm right before the solo. It hurt.

Do you have a favourite song in the Whitesnake set and if you could add a song to the set, what would it be?

Still of the Night is a thrill. David sings the crap out of it and sometimes I regress back to my childhood days of jamming along with records and wanting to be a rockstar. Love Ainít No Stranger is always a blast, even if I am having an off night. I also love Slow and Easy because of all the air in the tune. There is nothing quite like the joy of playing that song in a big arena. The band stops a lot and the natural reverb from the room gets me off every time. I heard a fast Whitesnake tune once that I really wanted to do but I forget the name. I love fast Dokken-y stuff. I miss Tooth and Nail.

You're currently working on a follow up to Masquerade, your first solo CD. How is it progressing and when can we expect a release?

Honestly? Next Winter. I will probably tour this summer after this record with Doug Pinnick.

A lot of people would love a live CD or DVD from one of the Reb Beach Project shows. Any chance of this happening?

The reason I have never done it is because in that band we mostly do covers. The stuff from Masquerade is impossible with a three piece. Every time I think about doing it, I think about the licensing and go to my next thought!

Guitar playing seems to be more popular than ever lately - any chance of Reb Beach on a G3 tour with Satch and Vai?

Yes. Who do I call? :)

There also seems to be a renewed interest in rock bands from the 80's - 80's metal is being called 'The new classic rock'! There seemed to be a lot of younger fans at the recent Whitesnake shows. Have you noticed this and what's your take on it?

My take is that fans from the eighties turn their children on to 80ís rock and kids love it. Kids like heavy guitars, especially with catchy tunes. Itís perfect for kids because it is rebellious (thatís what David calls me, by the way!), yet not depressing or violent. Anyway, itís much easier to take when the house is shaking from the Scorpions than if it was shaking from P. Diddy!

Your latest DVD, Homegrown, was a really refreshing change from the usual 'technique-driven' instructional DVDs - mainly because of your great sense of humor! Was it well received and are there any plans for a follow up?

I am completely surprised at the success of the video. I didnít want to release it because it was so amateurish, so I sent it to some fans and friends and EVERYONE loved it. It is our biggest seller and I constantly get compliments from satisfied customers. The guy who shot it is my friend Dan Kuniak and he owns almost every instructional video. He had the idea to film me just hangin' out at my house. He said that in all the videos he has itís just boring and glossed over and people would find just hangin' out with me refreshing. I guess the old boy was right! Go figure.

Has the internet affected the way you write, record and your day to day work?

Oh God yes! My computer went down the other day and it was like my child was in the hospital. My studio became a waiting room. I wake up to five to ten emails every day that all need responses. I have to go online and update drivers to make things work. I send files to people all the time of solos they put on their records. We are doing this Doug Pinnick thing totally through email!! Beau Hill once told me "Never leave yourself in the hands of someone else" and he was so right. I have spent years learning computers the hard way, trial and error. I am now totally self contained, and I can make a record just by myself, instead of too many chiefs and not enough Indians.

There seems to be quite a large amount of unreleased and demo Winger material that the sharks on e-bay are making money from selling. Lots of bands, including recently Metallica, have started selling live stuff online to beat the bootleggers - have you and Kip ever considered selling this stuff yourself online or are there publishing complications, etc?

Kipís the business man. I just drink beer and play guitar!

You have a very active forum on your site with a core group of fans and friends that have followed you for years. That must make you feel good?

Yes, it really is a great place. There are times when it does make me feel really good. Like sometimes I will need an answer to a question quickly and if I post it I will have the answer in ten minutes. They are all super knowledgable people and so funny!! Just the other day they posted a touched up picture of me in a gay sailor suit with lipstick. I'm so happy they are still there. Some of them like Kyle and Cherry and Jean and Koa and Guv have been there from the beginning and that makes me feel great. I am glad people like it there because those guys help me so much.

In a previous interview a few years ago you were asked "If you were stranded on a deserted island and could only choose five CD's to listen to - what would they be?" Has your choice changed?

Yes. I would bring my iPod. (Webmaster's note - Reb, that is a total cop out! :)

I've heard you enjoy playing videogames - are you playing anything at the moment?

In many ways I havenít grown up. Iíve always been into video games and grew up hanging around in arcades. I have a great imagination and video games are relaxing to me. Well, except for Doom 3. I always get uncomfortable in the dark alone on Mars with a faulty flashlight and monsters everywhere that want to eat me. It is so awesome that video games now are almost to the point where you are starring in your own action thriller. Itís better than watching a movie and I am constantly saying "no" to myself when I see the icon for Call of Duty, or Rome TOTAL WAR!!! I remember when I first played Rome. I said "Youíve got to be kidding me!!!!" "You are Guyus Julius. This is your army. You can order any squad to do whatever you ask by left clicking on them and right clicking on who you want them to mutilate while you watch." "Ok," I said, "Go scale that wall and kill that poor peasent and his donkey in the middle of the town square!"

They all yell "OY" and start running for the wall and the next thing you know eight hundred guys pile up on this guy and his donkey. What in life could be better? The one I want is Black and White 2, where you are a giant monster God and you can pick people up and eat them or stick them in a catapult and launch them into a grass hut or a mountain wall. You could chose to be a good God, where the people worship you and bring you gifts, but where is the fun in that?

I would never get any work done at all if I followed the kid in my head

A huge thank you to Reb for answering so many questions and answering them so well! Also, thanks to the guys on the messageboard for submitting such great questions.