Living on Fascination

Interviews and articles about the fascinating world of film, theatre, music and media…

An Interview With Bass Player Billy Sheehan

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Bass player Billy Sheehan. Photograph (c) by Larry DiMarzio

American bass player Billy Sheehan is one of the most versatile and sought-after musicians in the business. The 68-year-old’s professional career started in the seventies and he has touched and entertained people worldwide with his music and performances in successful bands as Mr. Big, The Winery Dogs, The David Lee Roth Band and Talas. The past year Billy has kept himself busy, despite the lockdowns. Not only by working on music, but also by developing a few other talents…

“I’ve become quite the handyman at home,” the Buffalo-native proudly admits. “I installed carpeting, put all my guitars up on the wall and I’ve created a practice area in the garage complete with amps, a PA system and microphones. I also made a few videos for people who are learning how to play bass guitar, or want to improve their skills. I enjoy helping younger and older bass players with things like that. Because back in the days we had to figure everything out ourselves, as we didn’t have the internet or YouTube channels to get the information from. So I share anything I’ve picked up over the last fifty years that I feel is good advice, in the hope it benefits other musicians. I’m pleased that the videos were very well received and I’m hoping to create more in the near future.”

Living to play live
Artists and fans alike eagerly anticipate the return of live, face-to-face performances. And Billy is no exception. “Although I don’t miss airports and the nightmare that is flying, I certainly miss performing! If I could travel exclusively on a tour bus, without having to fly, that would be fantastic. You get into a routine: you get up, warm up, do the soundcheck, do a show and have a blast, say ‘hi’ to people afterwards, get back on the bus, sleep, repeat. I could go on tour for a whole year this way. However, the past year there was unfortunately hardly any traveling or performing possible… and it has been the longest time I’ve been at home since the seventies. But I must say, I really enjoy spending time with my wife and cat in our lovely home and getting the chance to rehearse and work in my studio. That’s been wonderful. But I live to play live and I play live to live. It’s very important to me. That’s why I can’t wait to be back on stage as soon as possible and see all those beautiful smiling faces in the crowd again!”

Billy Sheehan on stage. Photograph (c) Robert Armstrong

Wild and polite audiences
When Billy is on stage his main focus is on the audience. “I practice as hard as I can, so I don’t have to think all that consciously about what I’m doing during the concert. This enables me to watch and interact with the crowd more,” he explains. “The way people enjoy a show varies a bit. Some go wild and jump around a lot and some are a bit more reserved and polite. In Japan for instance, where I played with Mr. Big over a hundred times, people listen very well and pay close attention to the stage. One time, a female fan felt so free that she lifted her top and flashed us. I was quite amused and looked at Eric, Paul and Pat to see if they saw it too. But nobody in the audience had noticed, because they were so fixated on the band! I must admit the Japanese fans hold a special place in my heart. They were the first to really get on board with Mr. Big and support us from the beginning. But I love my fans, or friends as I prefer to call them, regardless of where they’re from. They have been incredibly kind and generous. Everything I own I’ve been able to afford because people have purchased concert tickets, CD’s and other merchandise. I’m extremely grateful for that.”

Heartfelt messages
“But more importantly, on an emotional level, the messages people send are truly touching,” Billy continues. “Nowadays, in the age of social media, it’s great that I can keep in touch with everyone more easily. I still get such heartfelt letters and e-mails from friends all over the world on a regular basis. People from countries like Indonesia, Afghanistan and Brazil reach out to thank me for a certain song or album, because it means something to them. There were people who considered committing suicide or who were facing the most horrible situations imaginable. They explain how music, or something I did, has helped them cope with what they were going through. How great is that? It shows that music and performances play such an important part in people’s lives. I really value the messages I get and I try to reply to as many as I can.”

Learning on stage
Billy also gets quite a few messages from aspiring bass players, who reach out and ask for advice. “I always encourage young players to get up on stage and start playing. Get out of your practice room, get away from your YouTube channel and perform in front of an audience. In my opinion that’s the only way you’re actually going to become a good performer and an entertainer. You learn so many things on stage,” he emphasizes. “Like how to connect and communicate with your audience. How you deliver a song from the heart and soul, authentically, without forcing it. That’s very important, because music is all about emotions. You touch people’s lives with it. I know I’ve been moved deeply by various musicians and songs in my life. The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix were two of the most influential artists for me personally, and for millions of people really. I mean, everyone my age has seen the ‘Fab Four’ perform on the Ed Sullivan Show back in 1964. We all wanted to become rock & roll musicians after that!”

The importance of hanging out
Although he hasn’t played with the legendary foursome, Billy has collaborated with a lot of other great musicians over the years. He stretches the importance of being able to hang out with colleagues. “In general I only work with people I like and on projects I like. I’ve never been money-motivated when it comes to music. If I can’t put my heart into it, I don’t want to do it. The groups I’ve been in and the ones I’m still a part of, have been put together organically. The musicians are mostly friends, or friends of friends. Because hanging out with them is almost as important as performing together. If you can’t hang out together, you’re in for a rough time on tour since you’re going to be spending a lot of time with them. Not only on stage, but also travelling, hanging out in airports, hotels and dressing rooms. I’ve been in situations where I had the chance to work with certain people, who were fine musicians, but I knew it would become a problem personality-wise. So I declined, because for me an unpleasant working situation is just not worth the money. I’m lucky that in my career I got to work with many wonderful, kind and humble people.”

The Winery Dogs from left to right: Richie Kotzen, Billy Sheehan and Mike Portnoy. Photograph (c) Billy Sheehan

The Winery Dogs
That certainly includes the gentlemen of The Winery Dogs! The band formed in 2012 with front man Richie Kotzen (who was also a part of Mr. Big for a few years) on guitar, Mike Portnoy on drums and Billy on bass. Are there any plans to write new songs? “We’re figuring out when it’s a good time to come back together and work on a new record,” Billy muses. “We’re lucky that both the first and second album of The Winery Dogs did great. But after that we didn’t want to push our luck. We decided to ‘go and live our life’ and do our own things, so that when we get back together a few years later, we’ll have stories to tell and something to sing about. That way, getting back to work with everyone feels brand new again, because we’ve grown both as musicians and as people. So I’m confident that we’re going to do some great stuff on a next album.”

New collaboration project
Fans have even more to look forward to, as there is something coming out of the musical pipeline very soon. Because Billy recently spent some time in a recording studio in Texas with a pretty talented bunch of people. He sheds a little light on his latest musical collaboration: “Singer Brett Hellings wanted to make a record and got together drummer Kenny Aronoff, guitarists Richard Fortus (Guns ’n Roses) and Tommy Henriksen (Alice Cooper), keyboard player Buck Johnson (Aerosmith) and myself. It was a really fun experience. The album will be finished soon and who knows what will happen…”

Stay up-to-date by following Billy Sheehan on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Author: Veronique

My name is Veronique and I’m a journalist/copywriter from the Netherlands with a fascination for movies with a good plot twist, pop music and city trips.

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