Wednesday, June 27, 2012

'GUITAR GODS: Billy Sheehan''

- David "Skinny Devil" McLean
 Originally published at Tinfoil Magazine
Date: Friday, January 09 2004 @ 18:07:43 GMT

               Billy Sheehan is undeniably the most influential rock bass player of the last 25 years and has displayed his amazing chops & musical vision to fans at over 4000 live shows across the entire planet, snatched up nominations (Grammy) and awards (GPM's coveted "Best" & "Gallery of Greats" awards), and played with the industry's most respected musicians.

He began playing bass after hearing Jimi Hendrix and started the New York based band Talas, which became a huge regional act with such barn-burners as "High Speed on Ice", "Shy Boy", and "Sink Your Teeth Into That!". Billy exploded on the international underground rock scene - and was suddenly known by all serious musicians - with the release of their live album (which featured an incredible bass solo with Billy utilizing distortion, feedback, and a wild array of technique).

In 1985, David Lee Roth had a falling out with his band-mates in Van Halen. Roth left Van Halen and put together a band which included Gregg Bissonette (drums), Steve Vai (guitar), and Billy Sheehan (bass). Gregg, Steve, and Billy became instant rock stars when Roth's debut video "Yankee Rose" from the album "Eat 'em and Smile" hit MTV in heavy rotation. The video featured not only Roth's wild stage antics, but Via's opening talking guitar section, Sheehan's incredible groove, and dazzling dual guitar/bass lines played at lightning speeds.

After 2 albums and 2 world tours, Billy jumped ship and hooked up with guitar god Paul Gilbert (Racer-X) to form the band Mr. Big. Mr. Big, of course, had several hits including the 1991 pair "To Be With You" and "Just Take My Heart" (the former going to #1 on the Billboard charts and grabbing a Grammy nomination for Sheehan & the boys).

Since the mid-90s, Billy has branched out, performing on countless recordings by other brilliant musicians (Ritchie Kotzen, Tony MacAlpine, etc.), forming the radical band NIACIN (with Dennis Cambers and John Novello), touring with Steve Vai, producing a collaborative project with drummer Terry Bozzio ("Nine Short Films"), and releasing his first-ever solo work, "Compression", which features Billy writing all songs and playing not only bass, but guitars & percussion and handling all vocal duties as well.

Along the way, Billy has collected innumerable awards - including the coveted "Best Bassist" reader's poll award from Guitar Player Magazine (and was inducted into that magazine's "Gallery of Greats" - alongside Jimi Hendrix, Eddie Van Halen, Paco de Lucia, and others - after being awarded the best bassist award 5 years in a row!) - and in 1999 his hand-prints & signature were included on the Hollywood Rockwalk at Guitar Center.

Billy has just returned from the G3 tour playing bass with Steve Vai's band (with his buddy Tony MacAlpine on keys & guitar) and is hard at work on the next NIACIN project. You can keep up with the lastest developments in Billy's world - plus check out audio clips, order merchandise, gather additional info, and the like - at Billy's web-site

I got to speak to Billy days before he hit the road with G3 - check it out!

1) What are your current projects?

A new Solo CD (my 2nd), a new Niacin CD, new Steve Vai, and new instructional videos.

2) How does this (do these) differ from your past work?

Every day's a new day! I'm still learning and trying to grow as a player, so everything is new at each approach. I used to concentrate on one band, but now I play in a lot of different situations.

3) Do you have one project that you are most proud of as a bassist?

Mr. Big was actually pretty awesome overall. I'm very proud of all of that. The new Niacin stuff is quite a challenge. Playing with Dennis has helped me as a player SO MUCH! I'm proud of all our Niacin CD's & shows.

4) Can you give our readers a run-down of your basic gear (live and/or studio)?

Ampeg SVT 4 Pro's running 2 Ampeg 8X10's. Extra outboard compression & various pre-amps. Rotosound strings. (editor's note: a complete list of Billy's gear is available at his web-site)

5) Who would you cite as early influences, and who are you favorite new players?

There are too many to list! Too busy to listen right now. I'll get to it.

6) Can you give a few tips to aspiring players?

Play live! Start! Don't wait till you're "good enough" to start performing--go!! Now!! Start playing! C'mon---I mean it! Get to it!

7) What are your future plans?

Play everywhere I can for as long as I can. Learn more on bass. Learn more about life. Answer more email (hahaha!!!).

8) Thanx for talking to us, Billy!

My pleasure, David!! Thank YOU!


  1. Billy was my first bass hero when I started playing. I still worship the man and his unbelievable chops. Thanks for posting...

    Brian Powers

    1. Rockin"! Glad you enjoyed it...and I hope, once we've up-loaded all the old interviews, to get a NEW interview with Billy and several other GG alumni!