Interviewed by Brian Rademacher
Date: February 17th, 2006
Hi Billy and welcome to Rockeyez. Was bass the first instrument you ever played?
An acoustic guitar – a “regent” I think (off brand). Then with the bass, my first was a Hagstrom, then my P-Bass.
Did you take lessons and if so at what age?
No, but I’m still learning!
What music did you listen to growing up?
I was lucky to be exposed to EVERYTHING! I listened to & liked all kinds from Classical, to Punk.
What kind of kid were you in high school?
Shy & introverted, a loner of sorts.
Did you play any sports in school?
What was the first concert you ever attended and did it have any impact on the music you play today?
Yes - Jimi Hendrix with the original “Experience” band. It changed everything for me.
What was the first record you ever bought?
“Eight Miles High” by the Byrds (the single) and the first album I bought was The Blues Magoos' “Psychedelic Lollipop”
Was Talas the first band that you recorded material with?
Yes. In 1979 I think.
What was the very first garage band you were in?
I was in grammar school—we had no name. Later I played with a blind B-3 player & his brother. No name either!
Talas were signed to Gold Mountain Records. How did the band go about getting signed?
We played in LA at the Country Club 5 months earlier. They contacted us & offered a deal. It was Danny Goldberg—who later became Nirvana’s manager.
Are there still Talas songs that you have hidden away that might be released one day?
Yes! I’ve been archiving them recently. We did a whole album that got shelved as well.
You co-headlined a tour with Yngwie Malmsteen when touring with Talas. What was your impression of Yngwie at the time?
Yngwie was the KING! He kicked everybody’s ass. Most every guitar player went into a panic & started saying “I’ve never heard of him”! It was hilarious. Yngwie & I are still good friends.
Talas were on the fast track at the time and David Lee Roth asked you to join his solo project. What kind of decision did you have to go through by either staying with the band you formed (Talas) that was doing great or moving onto DLR?
It wasn’t that tough—Talas was a lot of hard labor & emotional catastrophe’s. The band had just changed members too, so it wasn’t the original line-up. It was a drag, but I had to go.
That decision must have been hard going with David Lee Roth because you would never know if he would go back with Van Halen. Was that ever in the back of your mind?
Not at all, though I hated to see VH split up—I was a huge fan.
Tell us the scene backstage after a show with David Lee Roth?
It was an absolute BLAST! Though, in fact, nobody was ever treated disrespectfully. No drugs either (I haven’t had even an aspirin since 1971!) A little red vino though! It was one of the greatest things in my life.
Was it your decision to leave David Lee Roth after “Eat 'Em & Smile” and “Skyscraper”?
Yes & no. We knew we were going in 2 different directions.
In 1989 you formed Mr. Big which was an immediate impact with a Billboard No. 1 single with “To Be with You”. How did you go about picking the musicians that you wanted use for the project? Like Paul Gilbert and Eric Martin?
Mike Varney found Eric for me; I knew Paul. He used to come see Talas in Pittsburgh! The drummer Pat was a friend of mine. I put it together rather quickly. They were & are, all supremely talented.
What is the mood of Billy Sheehan in the recording studio?
Either way up or WAY down! It’s a rollercoaster ride - especially when dealing with emotional things within the band. I tried to stay on top of these kinds of things, but I crumbled often under severe criticism, humiliation & mockery. I think those negative qualities should not be around when you’re trying to create or and be pro-active. Even so, we still manage to make good records.
I can’t imagine the feeling playing in front of 40,000 fans with Mr. Big at the Osaka Dome in Japan. Tell us what that was like?
We played in front of 100,000 in Brazil and two 45,000 nights with Rush. We had a blast. The band was really together live. The Japan shows were always incredible, but people easily forget that we did well everywhere. I guess the “Big in Japan—so we can therefore dismiss you” cliché was pushed on us constantly! Ha! Let ‘em.
Moving on to the next project, of which there are so many. Niacin is an instrumental band that is phenomenal but gets no promotion (which is a quote from Prog Archives). The 2005 release “Organik” was a masterpiece and received great reviews but is Niacin a band of passion after being in so many metal bands going from rock to instrumental?
Niacin is pretty heavy! When we play live, it’s a sweat-fest! It’s not that big of a change for me---just different players. I’ve been through every kind of “scene” at one time (in my many years) or another. I was into Rock, Pop, Power Pop, Glam, Prog, Fusion, Metal, & just about everything else in some band or another. I hope we can perform more in Niacin in the future. I absolutely love playing with Dennis Chambers---he changed my life!
You have worked with some of the best in the business such as Tony McAlpine, Greg Howe, Glenn Hughes and many more. Who have you not worked with that you would like to?
Paco De Lucia. I’ve been very lucky & I’m thankful to have known and played with so many wonderful, talented people. They have all inspired me in one way or another.
I guess you have always kept in contact with Steve Vai through the years being part of DLR because you’re on tour with Steve. Tell us what is like playing with Steve?
Steve is one of my favorite people on Earth or elsewhere! It’s a real challenge playing with him. We have an absolutely incredible time together on tour.
Your latest solo release “Cosmic Troubadour” has been getting a huge response. Tell us the preparation in doing a solo CD?
I write a LOT! I wrote over 60 things for CT. No old “reject stuff” in there either! Ray Luzier did a spectacular job on drums. I’m very happy with the record. I get tons of email about it every day.
Is there anything in the music world that you would still like to achieve?
I want to be a better player. By that, I don’t mean “faster” or “more technical”—in fact, I really mean the opposite. I want to reach people. As a fan, I’ve been moved to tears by an incredible performance. I want to have an impact like that on people. I want to deliver the same impact to people that music has had on me.
With all you do how do you have time for family?
No! I have a hard time keeping my cat cared for when I travel. She’s the BEST CAT EVER & her name is Spooky.
When getting a new bass, what qualities do you look for?
Other than a big fat neck & a good feel up against me when it sits in my lap, nothing in particular; I’m a creature of habit, so I’ll probably play pretty much the same configuration on bass as I always have.
What would you recommend to a young person breaking into the music business?
Get in a BAND & PLAY LIVE! That’s where all the priorities fall into line. Get out there & PERFORM for PEOPLE. Do something that moves them. That’s what it’s all about.
What has been the biggest impact on you so far in your music career?
That’s hard to say. I guess that the fact that I absolutely love what I do is quite a blessing and has kept me excited & enthused about playing for many decades. Seeing the Beatles on TV, then Hendrix live sure helped too!
If there was a chance of a reunion show in any of the past bands you were in which band would that likely be?
Not sure. I’ve done a few Talas reunions. We totally sold out a 3000+ hall in Buffalo (Kleinhan’s Music Hall). They were scalping tickets for 300 bucks! There wasn’t a dry eye in the house when we hit the stage and one of the greatest moments in my life.
Have you heard any new bass players that you would describe as killer?
Hard to say—I’ve got to listen more! I know they’re out there. Pardon my ignorance.
Do you have any projects coming up?
Lots! Hopefully I’ll update my darn website soon to announce it all!
Would you like to say anything in conclusion to our readers and your fans?
Yeah---Thanks for everything! I have a good life because lots of people have bought a ticket, CD, T-shirt or something. I’m very thankful to everyone. Any musician friends reading this---I wish you the absolute best with your playing & career!