Brett Kihlmire

The Rise of Guitarist Brock Betz

The Racine guitar wizard is winning acclaim from heavy metal fans and performers.

By - Feb 27th, 2015 02:49 pm
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[L] Brock Betz.

[L] Brock Betz.

Racine-based guitar prodigy, Brock Betz of the Brock Betz band, is quickly winning attention on Milwaukee’s metal scene. Known for his speed, technical chops and stage presence, Brock has caught the eye of fans and promoters alike.

First picking up the guitar at the tender age of 5, Brock slowly learned his trademark instrument watching his uncle play. With no formal lessons, Brock taught himself to play by mimicking his uncle and playing the guitar by himself.

“It’s been real hard fought, a lot of trial and error. I’m always watching others trying to learn. It’s not about whose better, it’s about who speaks to you the most,” says Betz, before citing guitar legends Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, and John Petrucci as his biggest inspirations, aside from his uncle, of course.

Betz vividly remembers the day, at age 14, when he discovered his father’s vintage 1964 Gibson SG Junior in the closet. Before then, a guitar was just a guitar, but with this one, upon strumming a few chords, there was a “funky 50’s bebop vibe” coming from the guitar, as he recalls.

“I thought, wow, this would be cool to amplify.” So young Brock, having no amplifier, rigged a pair of walkie-talkies to his guitar to create a custom distorted, amplified sound. “I cranked the volume and hit some chords and all of a sudden I realized I made my own amp. And the louder you turned the volume up, the most distortion it had, and that was cool. I showed my dad and the next thing I know, he took me down to get a new amp.”

Fast forward twelve years and Brock is no longer fooling around with his father’s vintage guitar and jury-rigging custom amps. Instead, he’s rocking an Ibanez  JS1200, leading the instrumental rock’n’roll trio, Brock Betz Band, and playing shows across southeast Wisconsin. Perhaps his favorite show was at Summerfest 2014’s Rebel Rock stage.

“So many people were stopping to watch what I was doing. People were blocking the path on the lake walk. For me, it was the coolest show I’ve done yet.”

Betz says that improvisation is the lifeblood of a great show. “I try to be as over the top as possible during a performance.” Employing numerous techniques, including sweeps, legato, whammy dives, and speed picking, Betz can speed pick at 212 beats per minute and strum whole notes at 240 BPM, impressive for any guitarist. But it can be tricky: playing that fast can cause screw-ups that could throw off the entire song.

Brock Betz playing with his teeth.

Brock Betz playing with his teeth.

“You can lose your ass real, real fast on stage if you make a mistake, especially with instrumental band music. There’s no, oh crap, I messed up and the singer kicks in and everyone forgets.” If it’s an instrumental number, he notes, “I gotta get back in the game and keep going. If you’re totally lost you can jump into a whammy dive or improvise on the spot.”

Some of his songs are specifically written to include improvisation.  “I always thought it was cool to improvise. You never know what’s going to happen. There’s all sorts of English you can do on a fretboard.”

The Brock Betz Band has been playing less than a year, yet Betz’s work is winning praise from the rock and metal community, such as the equally revered local shredder, Bill House of the band Conniption. “The guy blows me away at every turn. He’s on the level of Dimebag in my opinion,” said House in a Facebook conversation following a Brock Betz Band performance at the Brat Stop in Kenosha.

“It’s inspiring having people talk about me in this fashion,” Betz says. “I don’t view myself like that. I just play my music.”

Betz always has something positive to say about his fellow musicians, many of whom’s he has shared the stage with. Some of his favorites include Elysium, Superbob, Sun Pilots, Dory Drive, Sleep Signals, and Milwaukee favorites, Conniption and Slowburn.

“If it could play my dream show, it would be me opening, because I want to watch and drink, with Wicked Realm, Hallowell, and Conniption. That would be awesome.”

Betz’s band has played in metro Milwaukee at Shank Hall, the Myanmar Theater and the Metal Grill and many other venues in southeastern Wisconsin. Betz feels the band has a long way to go in building its name. “It’s still a relatively small following. I’m growing thanks to guys like Bill House, Steve Porter, and just general word of mouth. The more people say you gotta see this guy, the more it grows.”

The band has been invited to play a few shows in southern states, and has recently broken into the Northern Illinois scene.

To capitalize on their growing fan base, the band is preparing to record their next, yet-to-be-titled, album. In the meantime, the Brock Betz Band has produced “Unchained,” a collection of eight tracks that make up part of the band’s live set, and also has an upcoming, yet-to-be-titled, five-song acoustic EP that will be released soon.

Brock Betz Gallery


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