Steampunk Willie

Thom Beebe: Guitar (acoustic), Guitar (electric) | PK Beebe: Vocals

Genre: Blues & Soul, Metal | Hardcore, Rock

RIYL: Assassin, Copperhead, Gunmetal Blues

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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 playing with local almost-famous heavy metallers Assassin. It seemed at the time that 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.

Assassin was formed in the summer of 1983 by Beebe with guitarist Vinnie Cavarra, while the duo worked together at Guitar Trader. “We were talking to [KGB DJ] Jim McInnes about forming a band,” remembers Beebe. “We were going to do a spoof on [1980s-era club bands] Blitz Brothers and Bratz. He suggested we call ourselves the Brat Brothers. That idea,” he remembers, “lasted about a week.”

But Beebe, already a veteran of 1970s rock outfits Circus and Child, felt there was potential in the Brat Brothers lineup, originally with he and Cavarra on guitars, Leroy Vega on drums, bassist Neil Foote, and Pete Papps handling vocals. After a brief stint with Neil Foote, the band settled into its classic early lineup with the addition of Chicago native John Osmon on bass.

During the mid-eighties, Assassin opened for headliners like Poison, Alcatrazz, Grim Reaper, Precious Metal, and local metalheads Riot. But then Assassin dismantled.

“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.”

He would try to reclaim lost ground with Copperhead and Gunmetal Blues, but tastes changed, and 1990s pop audiences drifted away from hard rock. As of 2011, 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 since 2008 (formerly located in the old Blue Meanie building in El Cajon at 1164 N. Second Street).

Nowadays, Beebe describes his playing as “Hard rock/heavy blues now. When I was younger, I’d have to say I was more of a metal the late 1960s, 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.”

As for his current gear, “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.”

Beebe’s newest band Steampunk Willie is inspired by the growing steampunk art and music movement. “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 first talkie cartoon] 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.”

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