Bruce Reed: Driven by a Dream
By Ed Arguellas
Santa Paula News
Published: October 04, 2013
This is the second in a series of articles featuring stories of random Santa Paula musicians to be showcased in a California Oil Museum exhibit opening in April 2014. “Melody Hall: A Tribute to the Musicians of Santa Paula” is dedicated to the scores of talented artists who were raised or currently reside in the Santa Paula community.
By Ed Arguelles
Many who attended Jim Salzer’s 1966 summer concert series at the Earl Warren Showgrounds in Santa Barbara have similar memories, but for 16-year-old Bruce Reed of Santa Paula, the experience of watching British hard rock band, The Yardbirds, changed his life. “I sat directly in front of lead guitarist and soon-to-be rock legend Jimmy Page, transfixed by his artistry, and knew in my heart that playing lead guitar in a rock band was something I wanted to learn to do,” Reed said. “After two days of constant, relentless begging, my grandma could see that I was never going to stop, so she drove me to Henson’s Music Store in Oxnard and purchased an Epiphone Guitar with a Fender Band Master Amplifier for $300. I didn’t know how to play a lick, but I was persistent, so I turned my attention to my best friend for free lessons.”
With instruction provided by Keith Michl, leader of a popular local band, “Tweed Ring,” Reed learned chord structure familiar with American and British rock so quickly that within a couple months he was invited to join the group as its rhythm guitarist. “Keith had one of the finest import record collections in town and we shared a kindred spirit and mutual admiration for gifted British musicians, particularly lead guitarist coming from across the pond,” Reed said. “In those days, we were listening to then-unknowns Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton, who were performing a style of guitar playing that nobody had ever heard. The technically precise structure, note selection and beautiful phrasing of their guitar solos were mesmerizing to me and pushed me to develop my own creative style.”
For teenager Bruce Reed, it was the beginning of a journey that took him from being average to exceptional. “I wore my record albums out, day after day, night after night, in my bedroom with the door closed, in an attempt to replicate and “flat pick” the sequence of notes from the guitar virtuosos that I so admired,” Reed said. It was through this discipline that Reed was able to establish himself within Ventura County music circles, but he had yet to find his soul.
Completing his art degree from Hayward University in 1972, Reed relocated with wife Melody to North Hollywood where he spent a year playing gigs with bass guitarist brother Rick. “Los Angeles was the rock and roll center of the universe and playing gigs with my brother, who was destined to become a renowned stage and recording musician, accelerated my tutelage and understanding of guitar playing,” he said. “LA’s competitive environment, particularly the recording industry, has a way of weeding out want-to-be musicians who imitate rather than innovate.”
It was in this atmosphere that Reed began to realize he was never going to get anywhere sounding like other people. “I never aspired to be a rock star, but I was driven by the desire to be respected and appreciated for my performance, so I consciously decided it was time to stop duplicating guitar play and focus on developing my own sound,” he said.
Opportunity came in 1973 when the prospect for regular daytime employment provided Reed and his growing family a chance to return to Ventura County, bringing him into close proximity with talented musicians he had grown up with in Santa Paula. Within a year of his arrival, Reed would hook up with bass guitarist Kirk Maxson, keyboard and vocalist Robert Guizar, drummer Roy Bustillos, and harmonica extraordinaire Alex Gutierrez to form one of the hottest Rhythm and Blues bands in Ventura County of the 1970s -- “Deuce.” “Our chemistry was perfect for the era. The Allman Brothers, Zeppelin, Steve Miller, Wishbone Ash, music that we call ‘Classic Rock’ today, was blasting on FM radio, and because that style fit our personality so well, we quickly rose in demand.” Capturing the first-place trophy at the annual “Battle of the Bands” competition at the Ventura County Fairgrounds in the fall of 1975 was the highlight of Deuce’s tenure, made possible by the thunderous, appreciative and sustained applause of the thousands of local fans who witnessed their performance that evening. As hard rock continued to evolve in the late 1970s, so, too, did Deuce’s band members and sound, until Reed discovered a calling that changed the direction of his career. “By the early 80’s I was burned out playing cover songs, tired of playing too many notes, still searching for my sound, my soul; I knew something was dreadfully missing.”
By 1981, the burden that accompanies a musician’s life had taken its toll on Reed. “I became a Christian and decided to dedicate my talents to my savior,” he said. “I had made the decision to quit music, but with encouragement from Gospel Rock keyboardist Gary Sula-Goff and my wife, I decided to give it another try. It was a very good decision.” Throughout the 1980s, Reed found solace and challenge in Christian Gospel, and with this new musical and fast-growing genre, Reed not only discovered a new set of talented musicians and spiritual purpose that kept his family together, he also found his soul and his sound. “When the popular demand for Christian Gospel exploded in the early ‘80 s, the record industry reacted accordingly, and it happened that I was in the right place at the right time!”
A two-hour phone call from pioneer Gospel Rock artist Dave Edwards, who had moved to Ojai, led to a three-year nationwide tour. This, in turn, led to the opportunity to play lead guitar in coast-to-coast venues for Gospel legend Randy Stonehill. By 1985, the years of national touring and scheduling had again taken its toll on Bruce and his family so he decided to quit the Stonehill band. Shortly thereafter, the opportunity to record and perform with hometown band New London presented itself to Bruce, but once again, the music industry’s ugly business side exposed the economic reality that personal sacrifice would never lead to enough money to support his family. “It was a vision that I wasn’t willing to sacrifice, so I turned my back and decided to quit music, with the exception of playing in church,” he said.
Like long winter hibernation, Reed’s drive went dormant through the 1990s and early 2000s.
Reed’s resurrection came in 2006 when he auditioned and was quickly chosen to play lead guitar in the local five-piece rock band, “Men on the Moon.” A newfound joy of returning to those beautiful guitar melodies and solos of the ‘60s and ‘70s brought him a renewed purpose and challenge. Regular invitations to guest-appear at Santa Paula “Cruise Nights” and Santa Paula High School reunions help draw hundreds of attendees familiar with his amazing guitar talents and friendly nature. “Growing up and learning to play music in Santa Paula taught me the importance of friendship in playing music,” he said.
In 2012, Reed rejoined friends Gary Sula-Goff and Mike Niski and others in his newest band, The Delphinos, and can be seen and heard in popular venues throughout Ventura County. “Music is very possessive; it won’t let you go,” Reed said. “It has been the source of my challenge and the source of my victory. And if you do it just for the love of it, you will never be dissatisfied.”