By Noah Hubbell
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By Dave Herrerra
By Josiah M. Hesse
Dave Beegle is a guitar virtuoso by all accounts but his own. Although widely regarded as one of the best players by some of the best, Beegle humbly deflects such praise, saying he often views his skill with the guitar as sleight of hand — so to speak.
"Because I've taught so much, I have a pretty good understanding of things intellectually," he declares. "But I don't really think about that when I'm playing. I guess a lot of people would consider me fairly technically proficient. But I'm just fully aware of all of my weaknesses. I think I'm okay technically, but sometimes I think I'm just kind of a hack who fools people pretty good."
Right. And plenty of folks still believe in the Easter Bunny.
Truth is, the soft-spoken, unassuming, 45-year-old Loveland-bred guitarist is a guitar god among guitar gods. Vaunted six-stringer Phil Keaggy once proclaimed Beegle "one of the most creative and accomplished guitarists I've met" — and then went on to list him as one of his favorite players. That's like hearing Tiger Woods marvel at another golfer's swing.
In the mid-'90s, a writer with Guitarmagazine referred to Beegle as a one-man guitar army in the same league as Jimmy Page and Brian May. And that was back when he was still devoting most of his time to Fourth Estate, his northern Colorado-based instrumental prog-rock trio. Although that band still performs from time to time in various configurations, Beegle has shifted his focus toward his equally expressive and compelling acoustic-based endeavors in recent years.
"Just as an artist," he explains, "it was a lot easier to get out and do a wider variety of different types of performance situations and sell CDs than if you're a three-piece, loud, instrumental, progressive hard-rock band. There's not a huge market — at least in America — to sustain doing much playing and whatnot. So the acoustic thing has kind of taken off and become, sort of artistically, my main expression."
Fortunately, Beegle has another ardent champion: his brother Morris, who founded Hapi Skratch Records specifically to give the elder Beegle a vehicle to deliver his music. And over the years, Dave Beegle has augmented his Fourth Estate catalogue with three exceptional solo releases: 2000's A Year Closer, 2003's Beyond the Desert and last year's fantastic live DVD, Acoustic Mayhem. "As a musician, I think my art form is to incorporate a little more of the progressive-rock element into the acoustic realm," Beegle says. "With the live acoustic band, having three percussionists and three guitarists, I'm just kind of bringing more of a progressive-rock energy to it, making it as loud as I can on an acoustic guitar."
The most shining example of this can be heard on the Mayhem DVD, recorded live at Loveland's Rialto Theater. The overall performance is top-notch, but true to form, Beegle prefers that folks give an ear to what he's playing rather than how well he's playing it.
"Really, what I kind of shoot for is emotion, expression and sound," he explains. "I remember one specific time when somebody came up after a Fourth Estate gig, and they were very complimentary. They were like, 'You guys are a great technical band.' I'm like, 'What do you mean by that?' 'Oh, you're just so technically great.' I'm just like, 'And that's it?' That's not saying much. They were complimenting us, but to me, it was like, 'Hmm...that's not what I want to be known as.' I know a lot of people who are technically good or intellectual, but their music doesn't move me at all. For stuff I like, I'd rather listen to Neil Young thrash about than a lot of really technical people. I really have an appreciation for all kinds of artists who have something to say."
People like Kurt Cobain, for instance.
"During the whole '80s shred-guitar thing — I think Van Halen kind of opened the doors for that, and I was a huge Van Halen fan — I got really tired of that stuff," Beegle recalls. "I had some friends and people that I was gigging around with, and they would just rip on Nirvana when they came out. I was like, 'Nirvana's the best band I've heard in years.'
"When they came out, I was like, 'Oh, my God, this is so much better than all the crap that was coming out.' Even though there were some really good players, I got really tired of it. I didn't want to stop trying to pursue excellence on my instrument. But at the same time, I was like, 'These guys are great, but they're not saying anything. These guys don't know how to play their instruments that well, and they're saying a lot.' If I was going to err on either side, I'd rather be a guy who's more of a hack who's saying something."
Considering that Beegle's foundation was poured on the music of Black Sabbath, it's not such a stretch for him to prefer Nirvana's simplistic approach to that of many of the Revlon ambassadors who preceded the act. Beegle began playing piano at the age of five, then took up guitar after he heard Birmingham's notorious bad boys.
"I've always been a music person," Beegle notes. "It wasn't even like I decided one day, 'Hey, I think I want to play music.' I mean, I've just kind of...I've always done it. So I think of it more like music chose me; I didn't decide to just do music one day. I wasn't interested in 'Hey, I want to be a star. I want to make a lot of money. I want to get the girls,' whatever. I mean, that's not even an issue when you're six, seven, eight years old. You just like music. Then, when I was in fifth grade, I heard Black Sabbath, and I'm like, 'Man, piano's cool, but it doesn't sound like Black Sabbath.'"
From there, Beegle moved on to the guitar-driven classic rock of Deep Purple, UFO (particularly Michael Schenker), Rush and Van Halen before developing an appreciation for axmen like Allan Holdsworth and Phil Keaggy. But as much as he gleaned from listening to those guitarists, the work of Carlos Montoya had an even more profound impact. By then, his playing was good enough for Beegle to be granted an audition with Kiss — and flown to New York on the band's dime, no less — but his interest in flamenco soon edged out rock, so much so that Beegle began studying in earnest with noted flamenco maestro René Heredia. "A lot of my goal," he declares, "is to continually grow and move forward as an artist and constantly challenge myself."
But neither is he content to just focus on himself. When he's not working on his own music, he's happily mentoring younger musicians through private instruction (past students include Love.45's Paul Trinidad and the Railbenders' Jim Dalton), or he's in the studio producing records for other folks and guesting on their sessions. "I've been a guitar teacher for, you know, 25 years or whatever," Beegle points out. "I'm comfortable working with people who have raw talent, who haven't refined it so much yet. So sometimes, whether it's a guitar student who's gifted or a young songwriter who's gifted, I'm really good at bringing that out and making them feel comfortable with their limitations, yet bringing their strengths out without making them feel intimidated."
As for his own music, Beegle says he's completely satisfied with where he is right now: living in a small town, making the exact music that he wants to make — even if it garners more acclaim than record sales.
"All the music I grew up listening to, like Led Zeppelin and on and on, they did what they wanted," Beegle concludes. "They didn't care about the radio. They didn't care about the marketing demographics. They just loved music and did what they thought was quality, and everybody else just happened to like it."