Interview with Reb Beach of Whitesnake: The Musical Director

Best known as a member of Winger, Reb Beach has been a celebrated guitar hero since the eighties. Although he has also toured and recorded with Dokken, Night Ranger, and Alice Cooper, his focus since 2002 has been Whitesnake. The band’s “Music Director,” Beach remains essential to band’s continued success, regularly collaborating with frontman David Coverdale. The guitarist co-wrote five songs for the band’s great Flesh & Blood, which arrives on May 1 [Frontiers Music SRL], and includes the hit “Shut Up & Kiss Me.” Joining Beach and Coverdale in Whitesnake’s current incarnation are guitarist Joel Hoekstra, bassist Michael Devin, drummer Tommy Aldridge, and keyboardist Michele Luppi. Modest, engaging, and humorous, Beach recently took time out from the band’s exhaustive world tour to speak with AQ.

Flesh & Blood is being well-received. As advertised, the album is “all killer, no filler.”

I’m pleasantly shocked how well people are responding to the music video for [new single] “Shut Up & Kiss Me.” I wrote the music, though I think it’s a silly title. I thought David had just come up with a working title for the song, but it stuck. It’s catchy and the video is fun. It’s already received over a million views on YouTube.

No offense, but Whitesnake is known for silly song titles.

[Laughs] And David would agree. He’d say [the title “Shut Up & Kiss Me”] is “totally Whitesnake, Darling.”

The disc’s closing track “Sands of Time” is an ambitious epic.

That is my big song on the record. It took a long time to write. I composed four different versions before David would accept it. When I first brought it to him, he thought it sounded too much like [Led Zeppelin’s] “Kashmir,” so he sent me back to the drawing board. When I came back with my fourth version, David came up with a melody and a verse that was awesome and made the song work. I am so glad it got on the record. [Former guitarist] Doug [Aldrich] wrote the title track for Forevermore (2011), which is just a beautiful song and a perfect album closer. But I love “Sands of Time” and—I don’t often say this—I really like my solo on it.

You and Joel Hoekstra were instrumental in creating Flesh & Blood, pun intended. How difficult is it sharing solos with another guitar virtuoso?

It’s two egos, but Joel and I work great together. I have been in the band for so long that I have become the “Music Director.” Joel respects me and throws his ideas out there and I tell him if I like them.

The designation “Music Director” sounds as if you’re producing a Broadway show.

I don’t get paid extra to do it [laughs], but when it comes to decisions, first it is David and then it is me. Ideas from other members get funneled through me to David.

How do you and Joel determine which guitarist is going to play which solos?

It was my job to delegate who plays each solo on the new album, so I just picked the ones I wanted [laughs]. Joel can play over anything. I cannot. I have to be inspired. [For me,] some music just sucks to solo over, but Joel can play over anything and make it sound awesome. He is a machine and a musical genius. His solos were recorded in one take and then he double tracked them.

Having followed your career since the early eighties, I’m surprised by how self-deprecating you are?

I quit Berklee College of Music after [the instructors] told me how I should hold a guitar pick. I am self-taught. I was born with a great ear [for music]; that is my talent. Yes, I can make stuff up, but I need to be inspired. If there is nothing [in a song] to build off of, I can’t do it.

What does collaborating with David and Joel entail?

For the most part, Joel and I worked separately with David. There were just a few times when the three of us worked together. I lived with David for over a year. Joel always seems to be on the road. When you write with David, you only get 10 or 15 minutes at a time. It goes fast. He’ll hum something and tell me to play it. He has a billion ideas. We created Flesh & Blood because he has so much stuff. “Gonna Be Alright,” for instance, was an idea he had for [what was to be the] second Coverdale/Page record. When working with David, the best thing to do is pick up an acoustic guitar and play your ideas for him. If you come in with a highly produced tape, he will not be inspired. You need to come up with three-chord ideas and if he likes it, he’ll sing over it. But you must do it fast, ‘cause after a few minutes, he’s gone. Then it’s up to either me or Joel to [musically] “dot the i’s and cross the t’s.”

You have a knack for working with strong personalities like Coverdale, Don Dokken, and Alice Cooper.

I’m an easy-going guy and I am easy to work with. I have stayed in this business for this long because I don’t make waves. I hate confrontation. Give me a Coors Light and I will tell you whether or not I like an idea.

Flesh & Blood will be released on May 1. Do you still get butterflies when anticipating the release of a new album?

No. I am not going to be driving in my car and hear this album being played on the radio like I did with [Winger’s] “Seventeen” or “Madalaine.” That was exciting.

You don’ think “Shut Up & Kiss Me” will be played on classic rock radio?

No. I didn’t hear any songs from [Whitesnake’s previous studio albums] Good to Be Bad or Forevermore on the radio and I don’ think that will change. It would be great, but it hasn’t recently happened with any band [who were popular during the eighties] including Heart, Journey, and Def Leppard. Have you heard the new Def Leppard single on the radio? No. And no one will buy it, they will just download it [for free]. It is all so depressing. That is why we’re on such a huge tour.

The Body

When taking on classic Whitesnake songs for live performances, do you add anything?

Yes. I add breakdowns and endings. [For instance,] we’ve added a new solo section to “Slide It In.” David loves to make changes to the songs.

David is not a traditionalist who wants to perform the songs exactly as they were recorded?

During rehearsals, he’s always throwing new ideas out there. As soon as he suggests something, I will hit my recorder and then play it a couple of times to get it in my head. It certainly makes rehearsals more interesting than just playing the same songs over and over. David wants to give fans a different show every year. He is a very musical guy. Like all great songwriters, shit just pops into his head and he knows his way around a guitar. He gives his ideas to the band members who hone it into complete songs.

When joining a band like Whitesnake, have you ever been concerned about stepping into another guitar hero’s shoes?

It might cross my mind for two seconds. I don’t sound anything like [Deep Purple’s] Ritchie Blackmore and I don’t sound anything like [Dokken’s] George Lynch. I never will. I was more nervous stepping into Dokken than with anything else, ‘cause it was right after Lynch left. During our first live show together, this guy took off his sneaker and whipped it at me, striking me right in the head.

What was his purpose for doing that?

He came to the show expecting to see George Lynch and not me. There were a few people not happy to see me. By the end of the show, however, they were happy.

How about when reinterpreting David Coverdale-era Deep Purple songs for 2015’s The Purple Album?

I don’t sound anything like Ritchie Blackmore. It is apple and oranges. It’s the same thing with me and Joel. I just sound like me. I don’t sound like anyone else. So it is hard to compare me to anyone else.

John Sykes, Adrian Vandenberg, Doug Aldrich, and Steve Vai: just a few of the amazing guitarists who have been a part of Whitesnake.

Steve Vai is eight billion times better than I am. I watched him perform a few years ago and it was a mind-blowing experience. I didn’t realize just how good he is. He knows every musical scale. I only know two [laughs].

Catch Whitesnake at The Starland Ballroom on May 7 and The Paramount on May 8