Thom Beebe: Assassin to Steampunk

Thom Beebe, inspired by the 1800s and space-time travel
  • Thom Beebe, inspired by the 1800s and space-time travel

When Thom Beebe landed a part in the television drama Renegade, filmed in San Diego during the 1990s in Mission Beach, he was cast as a drug-dealing thug. It was not typecasting, although the San Diego production team may have seen something other than a rock star in Beebe’s flowing hair and tattoos.

But rock star runs in the East County guitarist’s veins. By the mid 1980s, Beebe was heir apparent to Deep Purple’s Ritchie Blackmore and running full throttle down the same road that would lead other locals such as Jake E. Lee, Warren DeMartini, Craig Goldy, and Robbin Crosby to arena stages. Instead, Beebe’s band Assassin dismantled.

He would try to reclaim lost ground with Copperhead and Gunmetal Blues, but tastes changed, and ’90s pop audiences drifted away from hard rock. These days, a prop sign from Renegade hangs over the office door at Guitar and Bass Land and Skin City Drums on Main Street in downtown El Cajon, a music shop that Beebe has owned for the past three years.

Do you distinguish yourself as a hard rock or a metal guitarist?

“Hard rock/heavy blues now. When I was younger, I’d have to say I was more of a metal guitarist.”

There’s little difference between the two, right?

“That’s an involved question. In the late ’60s, there was pop rock, acid rock, and hard rock from bands such as Iron Butterfly, Hendrix, Blue Cheer, and Cream. Then it exploded with bands such as UFO, Judas Priest, Slayer, Metallica, Iron Maiden, and more. The heavy metal genre has since further multiplied within itself with thrash metal, speed metal, death metal, and many other sub-genres. There is a difference.”

Tell us about your first guitar.

“It was a wicked piece of junk. It didn’t last very long and ended up in pieces. My second guitar was a copy of a Gibson ES-335. It helped me keep inspired and learning.”

Of the bands you’ve been in — Assassin, Circus, Child, Copperhead, and Gunmetal Blues — which pushed you hardest as a guitarist?

“Definitely Assassin.”

I really thought Assassin was groomed for bigger things. What derailed that train?

“We were on our way, no doubt. But there were two main problems. First, our original singer was in it for all the wrong reasons. Being a rock star, partying, and scoring chicks was more important to him than being a true musical artist. So we replaced him. That was a train wreck, because the second guy had an unquenchable coke habit.”

And then?

“Our producer-manager Charlie Bryant, who had set up all of our L.A. connections with the major labels, was accidentally shot and killed in a club parking lot. That day, everything came crashing down.”

A question for the guitarists who may be reading this: what mods do you make to your instruments?

“I use all Strats anymore, with Floyds or stop tails. Besides all the basic setup stuff, I usually swap the pickups out before I even play them. I’m using all DiMarzio pickups, dual humbuckers with a single coil in the middle. I use compound radius Warmoth necks with either ebony or Brazilian rosewood fretboards with stainless steel frets. I modify the circuitry on all my guitars, including comp caps with one volume control.”

Vintage or modern gear?

“My rig is a combination of both.”

Some us us still live for the sound of an electric-guitar solo. Can you break down the fundamentals of what makes that great?

“Besides the obvious basics, such as being in tune and playing in key, there are a lot of things that contribute to a great solo, such as melody, phrasing, transfer of emotion, dynamics, vibrato, articulation, technique, structure, composition. Another important aspect of a great solo is the individual player’s approach to the instrument and the elements he or she uses to derive the tonal quality that is unique to that player. Tone is in the fingers.”

Now, steampunk. What about that grabs your interest?

“It’s the attire and the concept crossover — from the 1800s to space-time travel. It’s unique. That’s what inspired us to pursue the new group Steampunk Willy [Beebe and his wife PK are members], which is a play on [Disney’s] Steamboat Willy. But we’re doing a mix of songs from Child, Assassin, and Copperhead, plus brand new music. It’s a nod to steampunk, but this is not punk-inspired music. It’s still straight-up hard rock.”

Beebe’s Steampunk Willie is in recording through the end of the year.

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Beebe's old band Assassin reunited in 2010 for a show at 4th & B - their story is one of the more intriguing local legends, as one of the most promising "almost famous" rock groups ever to (almost) emerge from San Diego. The Reader's previous reporting on this can be found at http://www.sandiegoreader.com/bands/assassin

Being a "Native" of San Diego and the creator of KGB-FM's "Metalshop" in 83 on the 101, I remember the band Assassin. I left here in 84 to work at the "Rocker" in San Francisco, so I missed "Those" times. I am here today to say this about Thom Beebe... He is one of the most unique guitarist I have had the pleasure to see up close and spend time with. All that "Could have been" or "Should have been" is B.S. Last time I saw him he was still above ground and playing like a "CowboyGypsy" and "AMadScientist". The road he's traveled is the same road that gave him the experience, wear and tear, bumps, bangs and flair that make him even more of a "BadAss" Voodoo making, cowboy hat wearing gunslinger that ever before... he plays with soul and with science. Watch him work those floor petals like a record producer while at the same time giving Keith Richards a run for his money in the "Swagger with credentials" department. His acoustic work would make a nun cry tears of joy. Just because somebody isn't 21 doesn't mean they aren't valid. In closing would you rather have a Dr. with years of experience operate on you or would you rather have one who's been in practice for a few years? Rock and roll was developed around 1951, not five years ago Jr.

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