Fourth Estate's Dave Beegle
August 31, 1997
By Linda Stonehocker
Photographs by Shari Lloyd
He played so well, the clouds parted and, for one brief moment, the sun broke through the dreary late summer afternoon. The natural spotlight shone on the tight interplay of three remarkably skilled musicians easily bringing to bear their hard-earned skills to produce passage after passage of genius rock'n'roll.
A guitarist's guitarist, Dave Beegle soared through material from three CD's, winning over another audience to his technique-laden expressions. He plays a Stratocastor so old the paint is worn off. He's also mastered a prototype self-tuning guitar so new that no one's heard of the concept. For some numbers, he plays them both. For others, he lays them aside and plays flamenco on nylon strings. Despite his flowing hair and shirt, Beegle is no 80's dinosaur. He's harnessed his technique to transcend showmanship, using his chosen emotional palette to glorify God. Commercial success remains elusive, but national distribution of Fourth Estate's second project, See What I See, introduced the Christian music market to these intricate tunes produced without synthesizers or keyboards.
A resident of Fort Collins, Colorado, Beegle has spoken at length to the local press and in Guitar World about the mechanics of his prototype Transperformance guitar. Those articles are posted to his website (click here). In The Phantom Tollbooth's interview, the conversation with this wordless performer went deeper.
Beegle - I told you if we played long enough, we'd blow the clouds away. I thought it was pretty good when the gal introduced us, "And please welcome, what was your name again?" (laughs) I think it's funny, and it doesn't offend me in the least.
Tollbooth - Are you supporting yourself through your music at this point?
Beegle - Oh, gosh, yes. I work day and night lately being a producer, guitar teacher, gigging in four different bands. I find myself very blessed to be busy. It's a real gift to be able to support yourself doing music because a lot of people can't.
Tollbooth - Of the four bands you're playing in, what's your favorite?
Dave - Well, they're all different. Playing with Fourth Estate, which is infrequent, that's probably where most of my heart and songwriting comes out. I'll do a date like this where I drive for thirty hours, sleep in the van, not shower, and maybe make fifty bucks; and then I'll go do a wedding where I'll bring an acoustic guitar and a little amplifier, sit down and practice for an hour, and make two hundred and fifty bucks. So it all evens out. The more work you put into it, the less money you usually make.
I play in a cover band called the Jurassicastors with Keith Rosenhagen, whose solo album I just produced. We do classic rock like Stevie Ray Vaughn, Hendrix, and Dire Straits. I have a band with Mike Olson, our bass player and a gal named Beth Quist. She studies a lot of Middle Eastern singing. I guess you would call it world music-type stuff. Then I do a duo with Keith called the Guitar Rangers, and we also do the Keith Rosenhagen Band from time to time where we just feature his music. Guess that's quite a bit, but it keeps me busy.
Tollbooth - And you're teaching?
Beegle - Teaching two days a week. I'm also producing. By the time this year is done, I think I'll have done eight albums. I've only just started producing.
Tollbooth - You said before that you really enjoy that.
Beegle - Right! I've spent so much time pursuing guitar, and I certainly haven't arrived at any destination of accomplishing anything I want to. But doing the producing thing has opened up a whole new set of mysteries that I don't know about. It's been fun to sit down and learn about why records sound the way they do, how to bring emotions and the right feeling into a song.
Tollbooth - Have you been a believer as long as you've been a musician?
Beegle - No. I became a Christian right after high school, but I started playing piano when I was five. I never chose to be a musician. I just was one. I just started playing piano, then I started playing guitar, and there was never a point where I said, "Hmmm. I think I'm going to be a musician." I just played music.
Tollbooth - What is it about the guitar that appeals to you?
Beegle - Piano is great, but guitar is just such an emotional instrument. When you play the note "C" on the piano, you press a key down and you hear that "C." You can do a little bit to impart your own soul into it, but not like on the guitar. The realms of expression you can get in guitar are unlimited. It's just a living, breathing thing. It has a life of its own that you've got to tame. Plus, guitar is a lot louder. (laughs)
Tollbooth - At this point, how much of your technique have you learned from other people, and how much have you developed on your own?
Beegle - I more or less consider myself self-taught. When I first started, I took lessons for six to eight months. I learned some theory, some scales, and then took a few lessons from a few other people here and there. Mostly, I started just picking stuff off of records. I had a real good ear; I was doing that on piano before I ever picked up a guitar. I'd also watch a guitar player, watch what his fingers were doing, and go home and figure it out. And I've also learned a lot from guitarists without ever sitting down and having them teach me things, but just by listening to them.
Tollbooth - How long have you studied classical Spanish guitar?
Beegle - Probably eleven or twelve years, off and on. I haven't had any time to actually take lessons for the last four or five years. Most of my musical growth now comes from finding more of my own voice and expression through some of those forms, as opposed to a classical pursuit of the masters.
Tollbooth - What would you say about the current state of guitarmanship in popular music?
Beegle - When the first alternative thing came out, there was a lot about it I really liked. I liked Nirvana, and I still do. A lot of the music in the eighties had gotten to the point where there was technique but absolutely no artistic validity. There was no uniqueness, there was no emotion, it was just guys practicing. Since I practice a lot, when I hear music I don't want to hear a guy practicing; I want to hear music. I want to be moved, I want creativity, I want something different than what I've done to develop technique. It was like somebody learning a bunch of big words and then stringing them together, without really saying anything other than the fact that they've read the dictionary a bunch.
But when the whole alternative thing came around, it was like those guys said, "This is all horrible. We want to separate ourselves from that and just express emotion." You don't necessarily need any technique to express emotion. Kurt Cobain wrote some great songs, and it was really refreshing. But then everybody started copying that style. Some of the guys with long, poofy hair that had practiced really hard threw all their technique away and made really bad Nirvana songs instead of bad Van Halen songs. That's kind of gone its course, and now we're in the state where metal was in the late eighties. So the question is, what's next? (laughs) I think that's the question everybody's asking, too.
Tollbooth - What is your answer?
Beegle - I don't know! The whole raw emotion thing is great, and the situation compares to fifties music where it was Buddy Holly from a garage in Texas being very simple and raw. Then things evolved into sixties music, and some of those musicians got better on their instruments, like the Beatles or The Who, who started out very simple but then grew as artists and musicians. The Who went from two-and-a-half minute pop songs to ten minute epic things that were just magnificent in scope. I'd like to see some of that happen. It doesn't necessarily have to do with technique so much as just moving forward as an artist, trying not to repeat yourself all the time.
I think that the world music thing is going to tie in more, just because of the shrinking world. For me, that's where I gain a lot of inspiration, listening to music from other cultures, especially stuff that has some history and isn't tainted with the whole commercial American culture product of music. Everything in America is based on sell, and there's so little purity of music. You listen to Bulgarian music that's been around for hundreds of years. Those people didn't write songs to try to sell records, they wrote songs just as an expression of the human soul, or the spiritual soul, or whatever. It's nice to listen to that and hear that spirit of music as opposed to people trying to write songs that are going to get played on the radio so they can sell records.
Tollbooth - Is that the "worldfolk" you mentioned onstage?
Beegle - Yeah. My favorite style is Bulgarian. I like a lot of middle eastern type music. I've got some stuff from Iran, Iraq. Flamenco has a lot of that type of element tonally as well.
Tollbooth - Where do you want to go with all of this? Are you happy with where you are? Everyone wants more money, of course, but are you heading in the right direction?
Beegle - That's a good question. I'm 35, and when you're young in your teens and early twenties, you have this goal of national success and touring the world and all that type of stuff. I've had limited success, but not anything of what I was hoping to achieve. But I'm going through a transition now of maybe not being as interested in that, and instead just being happy to do what I do. I see a lot of people who have that success, and I wouldn't trade my life for any of that. I've read things about bands that were real popular in the eighties--they were the top of the heap, and you read a where-are-they-now thing. One guy started throwing papers after the band broke up, another band got cheated by their management. I would like to have been where they were at that time, but I sure like being where I'm at now. I'm growing as an artist, I'm working more than I can keep up with, I live in a great state, I go fishing when I want to, I have a wonderful group of friends, and I get to be home and garden and watch my pears ripen.
Even if big success came, I don't know if I'd want to sleep in the back of a van, and drive around the country for eight months. When you're twenty-two, that stuff's a lot of fun. When you're older, there's other things in life besides just doing your art.
Tollbooth-What else are you trying to balance?
Beegle--Music's still important, but other things are more important in life-inner peace, a relationship with Christ, all your friends, fellowship, and church. I've found a lot of peace, contentment, and appreciation, as well as the fact that I do make money and make my house payment as a musician. I don't know where I want to go with it. I just want to try to grow as an artist, grow as a believer, grow as a human being, and if that leads to the place where great things happen, I'd still like to tour the world.
Tollbooth-What is the current status of the band? We haven't heard much since last summer.
Beegle--We haven't played in eight months with Fourth Estate. Man, I wish we could do more shows. Most of that's financial. We can't really afford to not make money. I'm not really at the point where I want to starve for my art when I have so many other things I can do just as well. But I'd sure be happy if there could be more success so I could move my art forward with out as many financial restrictions.
Tollbooth-Are you planing to record again?
Beegle--I'm doing an acoustic record this winter, and I'm not sure what direction that's going to go. It'll be quite a bit different than Fourth Estate. I have a vague, blurry vision and desire where I'd like some things to go, kind of in a praise and worship type of sense. There are a few people like Phil Keaggy and other instrumental artists who have made a very sincere, direct form of praise through music. Then there's a lot of praise and worship music which doesn't really inspire that for me. I think it's great that people can praise God through anything from country to rap but, for me, there's a lot of little agendas or elements about it, or even poor art, poor lyrics, or chord progressions that have no art in them at all. I know there's more than that. I know God's creation as earth and nature and everything is just so huge, and I know that what I see of that creation in music often times is so limited. God is way, way, way bigger than that. There are a few windows I've seen. Keaggy is probably the best example when, live, he just kind of enters into a direct link of praise and worship and inspiration from God. Often times, there are no words. It's the spirit. There doesn't need to be words anyway because the Holy Spirit doesn't need words to communicate.
I want to try to go there more. I have no idea what musical form or expression that may take.
Tollbooth - Are you going to get away from the electronic sound?
Beegle - Probably. I want the record to not just be guitar either, because I get bored listening to just classical guitar on a record. There'll be some pieces that'll be just guitar, and some pieces that are more orchestrated as well. I have to take some time and dive into where I want it to go, to figure out what I want it to be.
Tollbooth - Have you pretty much given up on lyrics and words in your artistic expressions?
Beegle - For me, yeah. I'm not a word guy at all. I tried to write lyrics once, and that was enough. On the other hand, I really like working producing things that are lyrical. I've produced a little bit of instrumental stuff, but I prefer doing lyrical stuff. I really like the way the human voice expresses emotion, if it's done well. When I produce, I always make sure I have a lyric sheet detailing the expression of the words and the dynamics of the voice. I like that a lot, but I don't express myself that way.
Tollbooth - And how does God intersect with all of this?
Beegle - The more I'm growing as a person,as a believer, and as a musician, I really want to try to just have that all come together as one complete package of everything, as opposed to having certain elements of them separated. I want it to be sincere and true.
I'm sure we've all met Christians who come up and just say a bunch of stuff. I find it offensive when people trivialize Christ in music, just throwing in the word Jesus. My concept of Christ is a lot more holy than that. I have too much respect for the true holiness and magnitude of Christ. You just don't take those things lightly. If you're married, you don't take your wife lightly and throw her crumbs; you take that relationship very seriously. I'm trying to make my music a natural extension of my personality, my relationship with people, my relationship with non-believers and believers. And music and how that all ties together is what I am and how I communicate.