News Column

Preview: Reb Beach bounces between Whitesnake, Winger and his life in Oakmont

July 25, 2013

YellowBrix

July 25--Reb Beach says he lives two separate lives, touring as a rock star with Whitesnake and being a regular Pittsburgh guy with his friends in Oakmont.

But really he has three lives. Because you can't forget Winger.

The Fox Chapel native is the guitarist for both of pop-metal's big "W" bands, starting with one of the most notorious. Mr. Beach took Andy Warhol's cue of getting a job in New York. After graduating from Fox Chapel High School and spending two semesters at Berklee College of Music in Boston, he moved to New York, where he started getting session work.

Eventually, he met Denver native Kip Winger, who was touring with Alice Cooper, and they formed Winger with Rod Morgenstein and Paul Taylor. Coming on the heels of bands like Motley Crue and Poison, Winger debuted in 1988, enjoyed two platinum albums and scored hits, including the rocker "Seventeen" and the airbrushed ballad "Headed for a Heartbreak," before turning into a punchline thanks to a certain MTV cartoon.

When Winger split in 1994, Mr. Beach went on to play with Alice Cooper and Dokken before joining David Coverdale in a re-formed Whitesnake in 2003. Since then, he has recorded two studio albums with Whitesnake, along with a handful of live albums, including the new "Made in Britain -- The World Record."

Since 2001, when Winger first reunited, he has been juggling both bands while also working on solo projects.

This summer, he is in the midst of a four-month world tour with Whitesnake that stops at the Palace Theatre on Monday. The talkative guitarist spoke with us by phone earlier this week.

So, where are you guys?

I'm gonna have to think hard about that. ... Oh, Detroit. But in the boonies. We just got in from an 11-hour bus ride from ... where the hell were we? Wisconsin. We were opening for Motley Crue, those crazy people.

So, you're doing a mix of theaters and opening slots?

It's whatever you can get. There's fairs, small theaters, sometimes it's giant auditoriums. Whitesnake will do these giant festivals in the U.K., and I'll be in probably 40, 50 countries this year. And then David takes a year off every other year to spend time with his family. And that's when I spend a lot of time at home in Oakmont.

My daughter is a bartender at Hoffstot's. So every Wednesday they have a hot roast beef special and I go to hot roast beef Wednesday and there's about 12 guys who go with me. And everybody just knows me. I'm just me, not like a rock star. When I'm home I wear a hat. I look more like a fisherman than a rock star. And it's weird, when you go to Japan, you have fans follow you around, and in the hotel, fans wait in the lobby for autographs. It's kind of like I lead two separate lives.

You're an example of one of those people who did really well by getting out of Pittsburgh early.

I wouldn't have gotten anywhere if I stayed in Pittsburgh. Not to say anything bad about Pittsburgh. I'll never be as famous here as Norm Nardini or The Clarks, but around the world I'm sort of known because of Winger, because we sold 2 million records on our first album, I was on the cover of all the guitar magazines, and all that really helped me to be well-known and get called for these gigs. And I'm an easy guy to work with, I'm really a mellow guy. I play my guitar and do my job. So that's sort of why I stuck around.

What were those early days in New York like?

I got a job in New York City as a singing waiter in the Bowery next to CBGB. There's a lobster restaurant, and I was just a singing waiter there, which is another reason why I have kept my job for so long -- because I can sing. There's not a lot of guitar players who can sing. There's only like two [laughs]. And I hung out at Manny's and all the music stores on 48th Street in New York City. And I got an audition to play with Fiona. Beau Hill was the producer. I got the part out of like 40 different guitar players and then he used me on everything he did after that, and that was like everyone, so whenever Atlantic Records needed a flashy solo they would call me, because I was cheap, and I wasn't in the union and I would do it for like 500 bucks and I was good-looking and I was nice. So they used me on like Chaka Khan, Bee Gees and Howard Jones and Twisted Sister and Roger Daltrey and anything they were doing with Atlantic records, they would say, "Get that young kid for nothing." So I got my foot in the door.

Pittsburgh didn't produce any bands like Winger and Whitesnake.

Pennsylvania had some guitar players, for sure. I would say Pittsburgh, there weren't bands that I can really think of that came out of Pittsburgh, although I can't say enough about Pittsburgh, what a great town it is. That's why I still live there ... because of the people. If you pull over on the side of the road, someone will stop and help you. I love the whole yinzer thing. I start getting a Pittsburgh accent after I'm living there a couple months. It's the greatest place. I hate L.A., and New York is a great place if you're trying to get started in the business, but I don't think anything beats Pittsburgh. Maybe Chicago is the closest thing.

Why do you not like L.A.?

You have to drive 45 minutes in traffic to get anywhere that you want to go. The club scene [is terrible]. You don't get paid anything. It's all, "What kind of car you drive? What are you wearing?" It's the opposite of Pittsburgh. In Pittsburgh, no one cares. You can wear your jeans and look like a fisherman. In L.A., you have to dress up real cool in the newest styles and all that crap. I'm just not about that.

How would you compare playing in Winger and Whitesnake?

Well, there's a huge difference. In Whitesnake, we stay at the Ritz Carlton. In Winger, we're at the Motel 6. In Winger, we drive with a trailer behind the van. In Whitesnake, we fly in a Lear jet. There's that difference. Winger doesn't play to 60,000 people. Just rarely, once in a blue moon. But Winger is actually making a comeback. Kip's been touring for all these years, believe it or not. It's been 25 years since Winger put out their album. And we're doing this huge project for the 25th anniversary DVD, and we're filming it on my birthday, Aug. 31, in New Mexico. We're going to play the entire first record front to back plus some of the newer stuff.

We've been making records in recent years, and no one's lost a beat. Rod Morgenstein has been teaching at Berklee all these years, and he's a master of the drums. Everyone knows that Winger are really good musicians, like the highest quality musicians, much like Whitesnake. Winger is more to my heart because I wrote all the songs.

We've got a new album that I worked on all summer with Kip, and it's just brilliant and it's going to turn a lot of heads. So we're doing a real big push for Winger next year. So Winger is very exciting for me right now. You know, we're all best friends. There's no drama, there's no arguing, everyone loves everyone in the band. It's a great thrill.

Do you think Winger got an unfair rap from critics and the media?

More so than any band I can think of, with the exception of Milli Vanilli. I would say Winger is next. [MTV's] "Beavis and Butt-Head," they had a character dedicated to us and we went from selling a million records to 50,000. I sold my house in Florida on the lake that I had just bought. I was only there for six months, and I moved back to Pittsburgh with my wife's parents. And it was horrible. We lost everything. I sold my guitars. It was rough on all the bands. For Winger, it was worse because of "Beavis and Butt-Head" with the dedicated character who wore our T-shirt [Stewart]. He was a nerd. He was hung by his underwear on a train, and Metallica in their biggest video, "Nothing Else Matters," they threw darts at a poster of Kip Winger. Yeah, you know, I get it, we came out in '89 [the year the debut album peaked on the charts]. We were an '80s band that came out in '89 that professed to be really good musicians and we were wearing all the spandex and all the stuff, and right when we came out, like a year later, it just died. And all of a sudden, it was death music and sadness and let's everyone be bummed out. It's over. So I'd be a billionaire if I came out in '86. But it's cool because Winger has really persevered. It really has and I have great hopes for the band next year.

So, you hung onto the core fans from back then, or did people come back around?

No, Kip's has been touring for all these years, just going around. This guy is a genius. He plays acoustic and sings his ass off. He sings better than he did in 1989, and he goes around and shows people that Winger is not this '80s schmaltzy stupid song band. Try and learn "Seventeen" on guitar. Just try it. You'll mess it up. You won't be able to play it. No one has done it correctly on YouTube, ever.

Winger stuff is really complicated because Kip is an arranger. He went to Juilliard. He's been arranging orchestras. He does movie soundtracks, and we just did a gig with me and him in the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, and he arranged this whole thing for the 76-piece orchestra. Wrote it all out by hand. If you listen to any Winger song it's arranged perfectly. And the cool thing with Winger is they're all licks. It's not just a G chord and A chord and strumming chords on acoustic. Every song has a really cool riff. And there's always a different riff for the guitar solo, and there's always a relief section. Every song is really thought out.

And Winger never throws together an album like many of the bands in our genre do now. Kip Winger is a really serious guy and a great composer. It's all great rock music, really. This new album is a lot like Yes. We are just going for it and saying, "You know what? Here you go, top this!"

Scott Mervis: smervis@post-gazette.com; 412-263-2576.

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