Photo Courtesy of Loud & Proud Records!
Editor’s Note: It was an absolute privilege sitting down and talking with Billy Sheehan. He is a man that wears several hats in the music industry, including being known as the legendary bassist for Mr. Big, The chart-topping The Winery Dogs, and he has also taken on a couple of projects with The Fell and Sons Of Apollo. He attributes humility and an undying work ethic to his craft, which I feel can teach a lot of musicians. Go pick up a copy of “Defying Gravity” by Mr. Big today! “Dog Years: Live In Santiago And Beyond” is out now via Loud & Proud Records, and expect new music from The Fell and Sons Of Apollo in the future. Without further delay, here is my conversation with the legendary bassist Billy Sheehan.
M.T.C.: You have taken on several bands, is it wearing different hats so to speak with each band or how do you approach it?
Billy: Every musician is different, and the way that you play with a different musician varies from person to person. I sit down with the drummer, particularly that is the guy that I watch the most, and he’s the guy I have to work with, and weave what I’m playing into what he is playing. Every drummer’s personality is different, their approach is different, their finesse is different, the nuances of their playing are different, so I have to adapt to those, digest from those, and weave in and out of those. Then, there’s other musicians up on stage that I have to deal with, the guitarists, maybe keyboards, vocalists, whatever else. Each time, you have to reevaluate it on a case to case basis, and adjust accordingly. I really hope to do that as a musician a lot because the more people that you can adjust to, adapt to, and mold your playing to, makes you a more well-rounded player and gives you a greater vocabulary to do things on your own as well. It gives you a special kind of skill that you can’t get any other way other than by sitting down with other players and discovering what it is about them that you need to know in order to fit with them. It’s always a learning, growing, and evolving process.
M.T.C.: Is that the advice that you give them to that musician that is just starting out?
Billy: I urge them right away to get up on that stage. As soon as you can play enough rudimentary chords or bass notes to get through a couple of songs, get up there on stage and start playing. Don’t worry about your expertise or your musical ability, that will come. But being on stage in front of people and performing for them really is the job. It’s not necessarily to play the instrument. The instrument is a means to getting to the job. It’s one of the steps that you take when you do learn how to play the chords. What will you do with them? Playing the chords alone in a room isn’t going to do anything, you got to be up on stage and in front of people and to do those things to reach and communicate with people, and enlighten them, take them on an adventure, expand their mind if you will. That’s the real job, it’s not just to play. Let’s get them the job, let’s get them to do the thing. Everybody knows you in a smaller place. When I first began, I didn’t know too much, I wasn’t really no expert player by any means, but there I was up on stage playing cover tunes. From there, everything evolved, everything that I do on bass came from that initially. It came from being in a club, playing a song, and a bass solo in the middle of it. We like to go a little bit longer so the guitar player can go to the bar to go get a beer, so I had to extend it out a little bit, so we created this Frankenstein monster. *laughs* Being on stage really is the key, and I’m lucky to be with bands that is their thing, whether its Mr. Big, The Winery Dogs, everything that we do for real in the studio we do for real on stage, with The Fell it’s very similar too, it’s a new band, it hasn’t been all worked out yet, it’ll be interesting to see the process all over again.
M.T.C.: Speaking of The Fell, how did that project come about, and you all have released a single called “Footprints” off of that? We’re kind of going to be talking about Mr. Big, The Winery Dogs, and The Fell today.
Billy: I was just sitting around at home minding my own business, and I got an email from Mike Krompass from Smash Mouth and I have never met him before, and he said, “I’m tracking some songs in my studio at home, why don’t you come over and track some bass”, and I asked where is it and he said, “It’s not too far from my house”, and he sent me the directions, and I went there and I said, “hello, how are you doing, nice to meet you”, the drummer I knew, it’s Randy Cooke, he’s a great, great drummer, he’s excellent. So we went and we tracked some stuff, and it was really cool, and I remember when I first brought it home, I played it to my wife, and she’s a fan of mostly pop music, she likes what I do too, she loves The Winery Dogs and Mr. Big, but she mostly listens to pop music radio, so I played her some of the stuff and she went crazy, and she said that, “this is exactly the kind of stuff that I listen to”, its rock it has an edge, but it’s definitely up to date and it’s radio friendly.
I enjoy playing music that a lot of people like. I’ve always loved popular music, I enjoy hits, I love “To Be With You”, but I also like heavy stuff that is complicated, and it’s a niche market, and very few people get it. I like all kinds of stuff, so when I have any opportunity to be in a band that’s got this pop sensibility to it, but it’s still rock and its still edgy, so after we finished up about ten songs, Mike Krompass said to me, “we could probably put this out”, and I said, “sure why not, maybe we can do some shows that would be even better”. Here we are about a year later, and that stuff is happening.
“Footprints” by The Fell
M.T.C.: You brought up “To Be With You” a little bit ago, what were you doing when that song hit number one and you couldn’t turn on MTV without that video playing?
Billy: I remember it like it was yesterday. I remember when we got into the Top 40, and I thought, “whoa, this is fantastic we have a hit record we hit the Top 40”, then we hit the Top 20 and we thought, “whoa, this is pretty unreal”, and we thought if it hit number one this would be beyond our wildest dreams and we had no idea that this was going to be happening. Then we were waiting from Billboard Magazine to see if it was going to be number one. Ahead of us were Prince and Michael Jackson, so no competition at all. *laughs* Fat chance that we were going to be number one when we were fighting against Prince and Michael Jackson. Sure enough, we got the call that said that Mr. Big has the number one single, and I thought “Holy Cow”, it changes your life forever. It changes everything. I was in the airport the other day and I had my bass on my shoulder with my bag and waiting for my flight, and some guy says, “Hey, are you in a band” and he was waiting in line with me, and I said, “yeah, I’m in a couple of bands but the most popular one I’m in is Mr. Big”, and he said, “Mr. Big, the band that wrote “To Be With You”, and I said, “yeah”, and somebody behind me also said, “Mr. Big, To Be With You”, and right away we had four people having conversation and it was wonderful that they all know the song and that they remembered it.
When we first hit and MTV stated that we had the number one video and single, we get on a plane and the flight attendants would say, “you guys are in a band, what band are you in”, and we would say, “yeah, we’re Mr. Big”, and they would say, “never heard of you guys”, and we would sing the chorus to the song, and they would start shouting, “oh, I know you guys, I love that song” *laughs* The next thing you know they would be bringing us free drinks or moving us up to first class, or whatever else. It changes your life forever. I get emails from Senegal and Ethiopia, from Pakistan, from India, I get more emails from Indonesia than anywhere else in the world, from every point in the world that you can imagine, there’s always somebody out there that likes that song, and write to us. It really is an incredible thing that I’m grateful for.
“To Be With You” Mr. Big
M.T.C.: Did Prince or Michael Jackson react to you guys being number one?
Billy: Not that I know of, but a couple of managers got a couple of heated phonecalls. “What the heck are these jerks doing being number one, it should be me” *laughs* We were thought of it being a fluke, but we were number one for three weeks, so it wasn’t a fluke. It wasn’t just a one week thing, but it was pretty awesome.
M.T.C.: Let’s fast forward to “Defying Gravity”, how has the approach from your number one hit to “Defying Gravity” change? If people haven’t listened to “Defying Gravity”, what can fans expect from the record.
Billy: Well, it’s a pretty positive record for the most part. It’s pretty positive, up tone, and emotionally positive. I like that, I always try to be a positive influence on the world, and my wife is, and for the people around me, and for the people that come to see me play. If we play a dark song, it serves its purpose, this new record is up and alive, and there’s a lot of smiles in the audience when we play the new songs. The approach that we use in the songwriting is pretty much the same, which is no one single way that we do anything. I might have an idea, two guys might have an idea, we might have an idea as a group, or we might not have no ideas at all when we get together and we get together to come up with ideas. The fact that it comes from several different processes as far as songwriting goes means that one of the processes dries up, there’s always another process to go to. When one guy doesn’t have an idea, somebody else will, when we’re not sure on what to do with the chorus here, somebody else will have a suggestion. We worked together very closely on “Defying Gravity”.
We went into the studio with only about two or three songs that were actually complete, and even those we made changes on, and the rest of the pieces and parts, which was kind of cool assembling them together in the studio while you’re playing it is exciting, it’s interesting, we would say, “let’s try this key for the chorus, and bang”, we just get on it. It ramps up the excitement a little bit more, and everybody is co-inspiring everybody else, and it turns into a big bloom of creativity, and we manage to get mostly all of the record done in six days, which is a really fast recording because it was the only time that we would all be in the same city at the same time. That was a good kind of pressure, because it made us get there early and stay late, and hit it hard.
As a result, I believe we got an honest record from a lot of hard work. A lot of sweat went into it. I’m really pleased with how “Defying Gravity” came out.
“Defying Gravity” by Mr. Big
M.T.C.: A question I was wondering is that Matt Starr has been taking over the drumming for Pat Torpey for Mr. Big because of Pat’s Parkinson’s Disease, has that been an adjustment at all for the Mr. Big camp?
Billy: Actually it’s been quite smooth. Matt, to his credit, has come in, and it’s a tough job to another drummer’s drumming while Pat is there. Matt is a wonderful person and just a really great human being, he has really made himself selfless, in terms of channeling Pat Torpey’s drumming. While we were making “Defying Gravity”, between every take Pat would go out in the drum room and ask Matt, “what’s going on with the high hat, the snare, the tuning, this fill or that fill, treat it this way, or this part has to swing more over here”. He really took direction from Pat really well. Pat is a grandmaster, getting direction from Pat isn’t a bad thing, he knows how to make things work and he also knows how to do it diplomatically. Matt did an incredible job of doing what Pat wanted. Matt does an expert job of playing the drums on this record, but under the direction of Pat Torpey completely. It was incredible, it was the talents of two drummers rolled into one. Both of them are quite awesome. In a live setting, Pat can still play a song or two and the audience goes crazy. That’s our motto that we borrowed from the Navy Seals, “no man left behind”, we will continue with Pat, myself, Paul, and Eric, thankfully Matt is still there on the drums.
M.T.C.: On August 4th, The Winery Dogs will be releasing “Dog Years: Live From Santiago And Beyond 2013-2016”, I was reading the press release on it, is the live production just from Santiago? I’m a little bit confused by it.
Billy: We were on tour at that point and Santiago happen to have a big venue, a recording crew, videographer, and good sidelines to fit into a video, previously in Buenos Aires, Sao Paulo, it just happened to be that Santiago, Chile was the right place at the right time for all things considered, when you do a full production like that. Of course, the crowd did not let us down like they rarely do in South America. It really made for an incredible night. Sometimes when you do a live video, you could have a bum night, or an okay night, but it all came together, the stars aligned in front of a great crowd and a wonderful city.
“Elevate” The Winery Dogs(Live In Santiago)
M.T.C.: How is it different playing in front of an audience in South America as opposed to an audience in the United States?
Billy: Well, U.S.A. is a little bit easier because you have tour busing and you can rest, and when you get there whereas in South America, you’re flying into every city, and you can’t necessarily have a day off. When you have a day off, all of your expenses are the same. So, everyday you’re paying for all of those expenses, you have a crew, you have meals, you have flights, you have transportation. It’s really tough on the crew, we get done with a show and it’ll be two in the morning, we have to be at the airport at 4, so you get back to the hotel, there’s enough time to shower and to pack your bags and head to the lobby, and to get to the flight for the next gig. It really pushes you, so the good thing about it is that the audiences are so into it. You could go on as early as possible and they will drag the best performance out of you. They sing the guitar solos and they sing every lyric. We have great audiences everywhere, Japan has a beautiful audience. In South America, the audience response is really spectacular.
M.T.C.: Let’s talk about the EP that goes with the “Dog Treats” package. I love the song “Criminal” on there and what is really cool about the EP is that its three brilliant musicians coming together just to jam. Tell me about the bass tone in “Criminal”, and as a side compliment, what I love about your playing is that you serve the song, yet people know it’s you playing the songs because it’s so distinct.
Billy: I appreciate that and you’re too kind! *laughs* Well I feel that one of the foundations of a bass player’s job is creating that rhythm, so I lock in on a rhythm, and the drumbeat I had to keep. It was A Minor and B Minor, basically its the two elements, the rhythm and the pitch. We nail that down to Richie’s playing. Richie is a superstar. One of my main goals in The Winery Dogs is to have the world find out about Richie Kotzen, there’s not enough people that know about him, and I’m glad to have served that purpose. He’s a supreme talent.
“Criminal” The Winery Dogs
M.T.C.: What can fans expect from the EP?
Billy: Well there are a couple of cover songs on the EP. We were just talking about songs and bands and the industry, and we thought, “we should record a couple, what the heck, we’re here, the drums and the mics are already set up”. One of them is “Moonage Daydream” by David Bowie. He was still alive when we did and sadly when we lost him, and Richie went into the studio and attributed the vocals to him. We performed it live in London when we were there, it was just a dream come true because David meant so much to us, so that’s our little tribute to a fallen hero, and a couple of other things that we had on there we just had around and we thought people might find them interesting, and there’s a whole package of things on there, and we thought we would get a little bit more in-depth with the fans than they might have seen it before, we’re pleased with all of it.
“Moonage Daydream” The Winery Dogs
M.T.C.: I’m going to give you the floor to talk about the exclusive package and where people can find The Winery Dogs.
Billy: There’s a couple of configurations that you can buy, you can just get the DVD or you can get the whole package. You can find it on Amazon, I’m sure you can download it on I-Tunes and everywhere else. We try to make things universally available, that’s the job of the record company, and it’s our job to sing and play and to make sure it gets recorded properly. First of all, we’re very grateful that the fans are listening, we appreciate it very much when people get our CD’s, or buy a t-shirt, or buy a ticket to come see us play because everything I have and everything I own comes from a fan buying a ticket, t-shirt, or a CD, or a download if you will. I will never forget that, we really appreciate it when people take care of us in that fashion, and we want to in exchange have the very best for them, and that is to have the best music, the best performances, and the best entertainment that we can possibly deliver. We’re just very pleased with the whole package that came out with the DVD and the EP, and if people get it and enjoy it, that makes us very happy.
M.T.C.: Thank you so much Billy, it’s humbling that you took the time out of your very busy schedule to speak with me, so thank you.
Billy: My pleasure! I know that we will be writing for The Winery Dogs by the end of the year, when it does happen, we’re going to be touring the world with that as well. We’re looking forward to that, and it was a pleasure to speak with you!
M.T.C.: Thank you Billy! Take care!
And there you have it! Special thanks to Amanda for taking time out of her busy schedule to set this up with me and a special thanks to Billy Sheehan for taking the time out of his incredibly busy schedule to speak with me! Go to the following locations to learn about The Winery Dogs:
ICYMI: Check out our review of “Dog Years: Live In Santiago And Beyond 2013-2016” here.
Check out MUEN Magazine’s Review of “Defying Gravity” by Mr. Big here
Mr. Big is also embarking on a world tour. Click here for tickets, VIP, and further information in regards to the tour. Tour dates below:
Thursday, August 17th- Porao de Alemao in Manaus, Brazil
Saturday, August 19th- Tom Brasil in Sao Paulo, Brazil
Sunday, August 20th- Music Hall in Belo Horizonte, Brazil
Tuesday, August 22nd- Opiniao in Porto Alegre, Brazil
Thursday, August 24th- Montevideo Music Box in Montevideo, Uruguay
Saturday, August 26th- La Cupula in Santiago, Chile
Sunday, August 27th- El Teatro in Buenos Aires, Argentina
Tuesday, August 29th- Centro de Convenciones Festiva in Lima, Peru
Thursday, August 31st- Escuela de Musica Fernando in Bogota, Colombia
Saturday, September 2nd- Sala Corona in Cuahtemoc, Mexico
Wednesday, September 20th- Nitrile Cultural Hall in Sapporo, Japan
Friday, September 22nd- Hondanomori Hall in Kanazawa, Japan
Monday, September 25th- Zepp Nagoya in Nagoya, Japan
Tuesday, September 26th- Nippon Budokan in Tokyo, Japan
Friday, September 29th- Sendai Sun Plaza Hall in Miyagino Ward, Japan
Sunday, October 1st- Melparc Hall in Osaka, Japan
Monday, October 2nd- Osaka Festival Hall in Osaka, Japan
Tuesday, October 3rd- Shiman Kaikan in Fukuoka, Japan
Thursday, October 5th- Blue Live Hiroshima in Minami Ward, Japan
Sunday, October 8th- Yes24 Live Hall in Seoul, South Korea
Tuesday, October 10th- ATT Show Box in Taipei, Taiwan
Thursday, October 12th- The Kia Theatre in Manila, Philippines
Saturday, October 14th- Megastar Theater in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Sunday, October 15th- Kallang Theater in Singapore, Singapore
Thursday, October 26th- Markthalle in Hamburg, Germany
Friday, October 27th- De Effenaar in Eindhoven, Netherlands
Sunday, October 29th- Live Music Hall in Cologne, Germany
Tuesday, October 31st- Cirkus in Stockholm, Sweden
Wednesday, November 1st- Tradgar’n in Goteborg, Sweden
Friday, November 3rd- Union Scene in Drammen, Norway
Saturday, November 4th- Kulturvaerflet in Helsingor, Denmark
Monday, November 6th- La Machine du Moulin Rouge in Paris, France
Tuesday, November 7th- Konzerfabrik 27 in Pratteln, Switzerland
Thursday, November 9th- Razzmatazz in Barcelona, Spain
Friday, November 10th- La Rivera in Madrid, Spain
Sunday, November 12th- Live Club in Milan, Italy
Tuesday, November 14th- Backstage in Munich, Germany
Thursday, November 16th- Rock City in Nottingham, United Kingdom
Friday, November 17th- Northumbria Institute in Newcastle, United Kingdom
Sunday, November 19th- O2 Shepherds Bush Empire in London, United Kingdom
Tuesday, November 21st- Manchester Academy in Manchester, United Kingdom
Wednesday, November 22nd- O2 ABC in Glasgow, United Kingdom
Thursday, November 23rd- Wolverhampton Civic Hall in Wolverhampton, United Kingdom