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Billy Sheehan rose to cult hero status in the ’80s with his Buffalo-based band Talas, and he was recruited by David Lee Roth to record two platinum-selling albums, Eat ‘Em & Smile and Skyscraper. Forming the band Mr. Big in 1989 with guitar hero Paul Gilbert and singer Eric Martin, Billy and his new band scored a Billboard No. 1 single with To Be With You from the album Lean Into It. Sheehan has been voted Best Rock Bass Player five times in Guitar Player Magazine’s Readers Poll, an honor that placed him in its Gallery of Greats (alongside Jimi Hendrix, Paul McCartney and Eddie Van Halen). Talk to Billy Sheehan about his new album, Compression (out today); and his best music stories.
Mesa, AZ: Billy, do you think the styles of rock music from the 80’s will make a comeback in this deacde?
No. Not as we knew them. But there will be many elements from every preceding previous decade finding their way into all forms of modern music.
philadelphia, pa: Overall, did you enjoy working with David Lee Roth?
Overall, yes. The good far outweighed the bad.
Daytona Beach, FL: You play a lot of rock, do you ever delve into reggae or jazz at all?
With Niacin, we get a little jazzy sometimes. The drummer is Dennis Chambers, who’s one of the baddest funkified jazz masters of the world. I love a lot of reggae, but I’ve never had the opportunity to play with any reggae guys.
Chicago, IL: Will the original Talas album (containing “See-Saw”)ever get into CD?
It is on CD through Metal Blade records.
Phoenix, AZ: Congratulations on all of your newly released albums- may you have success with them all. My question is, which CD’s are currenlty in high rotation in your player? Take Care, Stacie
Steve Vai “Alive in an Ultra World”, the Nuggets Two box set, and I can’t think of anything else.
Newark, New Jersey: To what do you attribute your success in breaking into and then setting the bar on professional bass playing?
Thank you. I didn’t follow the standard rules of bass playing, and many musicians on many different instruments who became noteworthy for their unique or particular style did a very similar thing. I listened to many different types of instruments and music, and have always tried to look at the bass as an instrument as opposed to only a bass. It was also important for me to have a burning desire to achieve something worthwhile on that instrument, and I devoted many many many hours with little or no compensation to perfecting whatever I could, because I loved it so much.
Stockholm – Sweden: Hi Billy You are to me one of the best bass players around. Ive followed and listen to everything from youre work with David Lee Roth to Glenn Tiptons soloalbum. If you could choose what song represents youre playing the most and which musicians do you look for for inspiration and wich musicians would you want to work with? Yngve Stromberg
On an old Talas record called “Sink Your Teeth Into That”, I did a bass solo entitled “NV43345 (which is my name upside down)”. I was very happy with how it represented what I did.
As far as current inspiration, I’m listenting to a lot of flamenco, because the techniques used for flamenco can be adapted to playing bass. Paco DeLucia is probably one of the greatest living masters of the genre, and I look to him often for inspiration.
Phoenix, AZ: Congrats to you on another successful album (Actual Size), and the release of yet another (Compression). My question is likely a dup of many others but I have to ask, what is your current status w/in Mr. Big? There is not one single, cohesive story surrounding the situation. Could you shine some light on it? Best Wishes Always… Stacie
I will tell the exact and absolute truth regarding the situation. I received a phone call from the band basically firing me from the band. Prior to the phone call there had been a lot of tension and upset over several issues. I will post the details on my Web site in the upcoming weeks once I’ve discussed how much we want to reveal with the other members of Mr. Big. In the meantime, I’m no longer in the band. The band is in flight to Japan right now to do promotion on the newest record, “Actual Size”. I don’t know what their plans are as far as continuing or not without me. I expect to hear from them very soon regarding that issue.Comment from Billy Sheehan: I hold absolutely no animosity to the members of Mr. Big, who’ve been my friends for the last 12 years.
Auckland, New Zealand: If a symphony orchestra asked you to play “premier compostion for orchestra and bass” with them, would you do it?
I’d love to. I’m a fan of a lot of classical music. As a matter of fact, friends of mine and I often test people who say they’re fans but use the title as status, and the test is: Can you name 30 classical composers? I can easily. I’m a fan of many different styles of classical and symphonic music.
Houston, TX : I have heard clips of “Bleed Along the Way” and “Perfect Groove”. They sound great. I was wondering what gear you used for the guitar tracks on the songs. Best Regards, Gregory PS. Thanks for hanging out and talking to everyone after the G3 shows in Houston and NYC.
Most of the guitar tracks are done on Line 6 Pod. I’m really amazed at how realistic the amp modeling is with the Line 6 products.
Buffalo, NY: Congratulations on releasing Compression. What took so long for you to do a solo album? We have been waiting a long time for it. You make us in Buffalo proud!
Thank you Buffalo! I love my friends back in my hometown — some of the greatest people in the world.
Every time I had a chance to do a solo record, I opted to start a band. When I left David Lee Roth, I started Mr. Big. When Mr. Big took a break, I started Niacin. After assembling a home studio that’s as good as most commercial recording studios, I decided that doing a record on my own would be an amazing challenge and adventure, which it was. I plan on doing a lot more work on my own, and discovering and doing more.
Middletown, NJ: Who’s the best guitar player you’ve worked with?
Difficult to say, since I’ve worked with incredible players. Right now, I’ve really enjoyed playing with Steve Vai, and will be doing a headline tour in Europe this fall. The dates are on www.vai.com, and will be on billysheehan.com soon.
Milwaukee,WI: When listening to music do you listen as a fan or as a musician? I find since I’ve learned guitar I notice a lot more stuff I never noticed before and sometimes it’s hard to listen without a “musician’s” ear. Just wondering if the same thing sometimes happens to you.
Good question. I really do try to listen as both. Just as when you’re watching a scienc fiction movie and know monsters aren’t devouring Tokyo, you have to suspend your disbelief. Very often I suspend my musical sensibilities to enjoy music as a fan. I think I’m lucky in that I find it relatively easy to switch between the two.
West Seneca, New York: Do you remember the Barrelhead. My ears are still ringing.
Hahahaha! I just did an autograph session in a music store directly across the street from the building that used to house the Barrelhead. In the club, we were famous for “Talas Tuesdays”. Some amazing memories and great times were had by all, and some of the most important lessons I learned as a musician, songwriter, person were learned either in the Barrelhead or the parking lot.
hattiesburg, ms: Billy, you have been such an influence on me. I discovered you about 15 yrs ago. I never new what could be done on a bass until I heard you. What do you think about the current music scene? I know its not like the 80’s, it seems like players don’t try as hard to be their best anymore.
We are watching an evolution of players that began to play a few years ago and are now coming into their own. We’ll see some simplistic players for a while, who’ll then get into more complicated things and evolve with their instruments. This is a cycle that happens over and over again in music. I’ve seen it happen when the first rock bands played in the 60s, and they played simple music, and got more complicated and complex as they moved on. This will happen again with the music we hear now. It’s a pendulum that swings both ways. History has repeated itself many times througout the ages. I think the future looks great for music, musicians, bass players, and all we love about music.
Illesheim, Germany: Billy, what would you do with your life if you would lose a few fingers?
I’d try to open up a bikini shop on Venice Beach, or become a drummer. Or both.
San Francisco, CA: You’ve had an incredible history of playing with the world’s greatest rock guitarists including Steve Vai, Paul Gilbert, Richie Kotzen, Tony McAlpine, Greg Howe, etc. Anyone that you haven’t played with that you’d like to?
Again, I’ll mention Paco DeLucia. Unfortunately, we lost Hendrix who was one of my biggest heroes. I would have loved to have played with him.
Lake Zurich, IL: Hi Billy, How did you develop your stage persona? I have your Bass Day video as well as your Bass instruction videos and you seem pretty mild mannered and laid back. I watched the Mr. Big Live video last night and you are a completely different person on stage. I recently got back in to playing in a band after a 21 year lay off. I’d like to do more than just stand there but I’m not sure how to get in touch with that inner madman. Any suggestions? Keep up the great work! Bill Bartunek
The inner madman — I know him well. I never really tried to design a way to be on stage. I never thought about choreography or jumping maniacally. But I do know that music has that effect on me personally, so when I fly around on stage it’s not contrived or designed. It’s my personal reaction to music, as it has been since I was very young. It’s important for people to feel free on stage and not worry about what’s thought of them. I believe the best persona to be onstage is the one that comes naturally. I’m generally pretty mild-mannered, but if you put the right song in the jukebox, all that will change very quickly. Allow the music to effect you and let nature take its course. Be honest with yourself and the way you act when you hear music. That way, when people watch, they’ll see something from your heart and soul, and as a result will communicate your feeling and thought much better. And you’ll feel better too.
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