Shred Lords: Brock Betz
Written by Brett Kihlmire
Photo by Steve Porter
Alongside Bill House of Conniption, Brock Betz is one of the most recognizable and respected guitarists in southeast Wisconsin. He’s the leader of the Brock Betz Band and one hell of a shredder, but how did it all begin?
“Guitar was actually a discovery that happened by finding a Gibson SG Junior, vintage 1965, in my Dad’s closet when I was in seventh grade. I was about 14 years old,” Brock recalls. “There it was, I pulled it out, I thought it was the coolest thing I’ve ever seen. I just started plinking around using coins as picks.”
Quickly taking a liking the instrument, Brock wanted to hear what an electric guitar could really do. However, without an amp at first he had to tap his inner McGyver and put together a makeshift amplifier using a pair of walkie-talkies fixed to the instrument.
Though most guitarists take lessons at first Brock took the hard route by teaching himself. Of course, he does credit his uncle for showing him a few advanced tricks here and there.
“I’m self-taught. One of the biggest influences on how to practice, how to play well came from my uncle, Eric Pries,” says Brock. “He was always into that ‘80’s hair metal. That’s actually where I got influence to go into soloing and styles like that. He showed me legato and picking techniques.”
Growing up with the music of Tom Petty and Rush, Brock had a love of rock’n’roll early on, but as time went on and his skills grew sharper he found the need to challenge himself with fresh approaches.
“As I started playing I just kind of gravitated toward stuff that was heavier. It’s more fun to play fast,” Brock says. ”In my early days it was always about how fast I could play.”
By high school, Brock was playing guitar in band. His first major bands were Local Disturbance and Three Car Collision, the latter of which featured his current drummer, Max Geliche, on bass and occasional guest guitarist, Kolin McCormick. Though the band has long been disbanded, Brock says there’s been talk of possibly reviving the band to re-record their old material.
Though he was known for speedy playing early on, working long hours as an electrician kept Brock from practicing as much as he liked to keep his fingers quick enough to keep his favored pace. As a result he started getting into a slower, more blues-inspired style, which he ultimately combined with his original speed style for the variable sound he has today.
“Playing a gazillion notes is necessary if you want to be a shred lord, but you have to have the technique,” Brock says regarding his decision to broaden his style into a more technical approach.
A natural musician, Brock always has a new song in his head. When he comes together with his bandmates, Jeremy Welch and Max Geliche, he likes to rock out his latest riffs and licks and see what they think.
“Nothing ever stays the same. Everything grows with us,” Brock says of the progressive nature of the band and the difference fans will hear in their upcoming album “The band is a lot more dynamic, especially after adding Max into the band.”
As of this writing the Brock Betz Band has their second album finished and undergoing mixing. For the time being they’re playing a steady stream of shows around the Midwest. And with each show the band hypes up the crowd with a mix of new and old that not only gets the fans hyped for the new material, but gives a real taste of the Brock Betz Band experience.
“Live is where we really start shining. We do improv on the spot. If we do something we go for it. That’s something that makes us different,” Brock says about his live shows, which is something all rock and metal fans should experience firsthand thanks to Brock’s unique and unpredictable play style.
“I’ve always been considered a linear guitar player, meaning that instead of playing more positionally, I’ll play linear. I’ll play one string all the way up,” Brock explains. “That’s a really dangerous way to play, but it’s different.”
A player always seeking a challenge and a unique way to make his guitar sing, Brock uses a variety of play style such as the “claw grip” notably used by Slash, though his main style is what he refers to as “slur legato,” which is “a bunch of sliding legato.”
“I used to do a lot of speed picking, but I’ve gotten away from that. I’m trying to train myself to use my thumb and my wrist more,” says Brock about his ever evolving approach.
To learn more and hone his craft, Brock spends more time jamming with other guitarists than focusing on honing his technique. He often jams and shares ideas with his fellow Wisconsin shred lords, Bill House (Conniption) and Steven Lesko (Assets), but is also an avid listener of guitar legends such as Joe Satriani, John Petrucci, Steve Vai and Michael Schenker.
Though the Brock Betz Band is his main focus, there have been talks about Lesko, House and Brock getting together for a jam band project.
“The people in the area want to see that. There’s an outcry for it!” Brock says with excitement, but if that will ever come to be is not yet known, so he’s staying focused on the Brock Betz Band.
“The future is really bright. We’ve got a lot of a shows book. Lot’s a pokers in the fire so to speak. I’ve got a lot of time on my hands all of a sudden. If we really want we could have a third album done by the end of the year,” Brock says, illustrating the dedication he and his bandmates have for the band and their craft.
And though Brock is considered one of the best in his region, he doesn’t let the popularity go to his head. He’s a humble guy and always happy to meet fans and chat with fellow guitarists, no matter their skill level. So a bit of advice on learning and mastering the guitar from Brock himself:
“Sit down, learn your favorite bands. Try and play a couple of their songs, but overall start writing your own music. Record it and jam. Worry about technique and theory, but start jammin’.”