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Guitar Gods: Interview With Billy Sheehan
Rock's Most Influential Rock Bass Player
By David M. McLean, Skinny Devil Music Lab
(more articles from this author)
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Artist: Billy Sheehan
Title: Cosmic Troubadour
Genre: Rock
Format: CD
Label: Favored Nations Entertainment

Editor’s Note: Since the following interview, Billy Sheehan has been quite busy, with tours with Steve Vai, a new album release, the new G3 DVD, and more. Be sure to visit Billy Sheehan’s site for more details.

Billy Sheehan is undeniably the most influential rock bass player of the last 25 years and has displayed his amazing chops and 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 two albums and two 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 and 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 five years in a row!) - and in 1999 his hand-prints and 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 latest 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!

[Skinny Devil] What are your current projects?

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

[Skinny Devil] How do these differ from your past work?

Billy Sheehan 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.

[Skinny Devil] Do you have one project that you are most proud of as a bassist?

Billy Sheehan 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 CDs and shows.

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

Billy Sheehan 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)

Billy Sheehan & Steve Vai On Tour

[Skinny Devil] Who would you cite as early influences, and who are you favorite new players?

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

[Skinny Devil] Can you give a few tips to aspiring players?

Billy Sheehan 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!

[Skinny Devil] What are your future plans?

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

[Skinny Devil] Thanx for talking to us, Billy!

Billy Sheehan My pleasure, David!! Thank YOU!

Bills Sheehan’s instructional books and DVDs may be purchased via his website.

For more information and to contact the author, click on the author’s name at the top of the page.

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