Artists | Issues | CD Reviews | Interviews | Concert Reviews | DVD/Video Reviews | Book Reviews | Who We Are | Staff | Home
Progressive Rock Interviews

Billy Sheehan

Interviewed by Gary Hill
Interview With Billy Sheehan From 2000

MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: The Early Years Volume 5 at

You have always been a very innovative bassist. Who were the bass players that you looked up to in the early days?
Paul Samuel Smith and Tim Bogert were probably two of the biggest influences - both of them were. Paul Samuel Smith played with The Yardbirds, and he was kind of an unsung hero. Everybody talks about Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton coming through The Yardbirds, but Paul Samuel-Smith really did a lot if interplay with all the guitarists in the band. He was one of the first guys who had a real trebly tone where you could hear his notes really good, also a super deep bass tone. He had a lot of tone variation. He really worked along with - in conjunction with - the guitarists. He was kind of an inspiration to me early on. Tim Bogert also - he was a real renegade. He would move way, way far away from his standard root, note-wise - really took some chances as a player, which I thought was really cool. When I met him years later and asked him about it, he basically said he was doing a psychedelic version of Jamie Jamerson. So, it all comes around.
MSJ: Why is it you've never done a solo album before?
Well, every time I had a chance to do a solo album I generally ended up doing a band again, rather than going off on my own. Like when I left David Lee Roth, I had an opportunity then to do a solo record. Instead I started Mr. Big. When Mr. Big took a break a few years ago everybody, even the drummer, did solo records, and I started Niacin, because I like working with people. I like bouncing ideas off of other musicians -working on things like that, rather than doing my own thing, but I actually worked quite hard for a while on my own home studio situation --recording techniques. I was inspired by getting a twelve-string baritone guitar, which is more in my vocal register. So, a couple of things all came together at once and inspired me to do my own solo record finally.
MSJ: Is there anything going on with your previous projects?
Niacin has finished new record. It will be out probably the beginning of the year. Mr. Big did a record that's out in Japan, but there's a lot of problems within the band. So, I think ultimately that's going to be the end of the band. We're going to do one last tour in Japan, I think. Talas just basically get together every couple of years or so and do a show or two. There's no real reunion of the band, so to speak. We just as friends get together and do a show every once in a while. We'll probably never record a record again, just the live shows. We'll probably never write any new songs or anything like that again.
MSJ: You've played with all sorts of people. Do you have any favorites?
Playing with Steve (Vai - editor) is always a blast because we both kind of got famous together. We both had done well. In Talas I had done well. He was, of course, with Frank Zappa, but we both really got into the public eye in the David Lee Roth band together. So, we've got a kind of special brotherhood as a result of that. So, playing with Steve is always a blast. I've been lucky to play with some great guys - great drummer and guitar players and what have you. I chalk it all up to a great experience. I've probably learned a little bit from everybody, and they've stolen a few of my licks, too.
MSJ: With you doing pretty much all of the work on your new album is there any interest in getting away from being a bassist and concentrating on singing or playing other instruments?
Yeah, I probably will go out and tour behind my solo record. I'm not sure how I'm going to do it yet. I'll probably switch off between bass and guitar, but bass is always my main instrument - always will be. I've always played guitar, and always written on guitar my whole life, but the bass was always the main instrument for me. Most of the songs I wrote in Mr. Big and Talas I wrote generally on guitar as a writing tool for me. Although, I wrote some things on bass, especially some of the instrumental-type things for Niacin. I wrote a lot of that on bass. I guess I will always be a bass player, but I'd like to go out, sing and play, switch off - do a big long show, or a whole bunch of things - try to rise to that challenge. That's quite a challenge to go out and do that.
MSJ: Are there any musicians with whom you would like to work but have yet to have the chance?
Paco de Lucía is one of my favorite musicians in the world. He's a flamenco guitarist, and I've heard him with a couple of electric bands where he still plays his nylon strings, but he has a band behind him. Not a lot of people know about him, but when they do hear him, they're pretty blown away. That would be pretty amazing. I'd like to do some playing with Ed Van Halen one day. I did a show with him in Chicago. We had a great time, but I've never actually sat down and played with the guy over any period of time. Generally, I've gotten to play with most of the people I've wanted to, which is pretty amazing - a pretty lucky situation for me, actually.
MSJ: What has been your biggest Spinal Tap moment?
UFO tour 1983 - I replaced Pete Way on a European tour with UFO and we played all these kind of tertiary European markets, like Poland and Athens, Greece and a lot of out of the way places. When I came back home, Spinal Tap had just come out, and I went to the movies to see it, and it wasn't funny. I didn't laugh once. I didn't think it was even remotely funny because I had just lived it. I spoke with someone recently, I forgot who, who had had the same experience because they had just been in the middle of all that. Of course, later on it was hilarious, but if you had just got out of a situation where it was like Spinal Tap, it wasn't funny. So, I guess my biggest one was the UFO tour. Great guys, wonderful people, but they were just in a spot in their life where it was a pretty wild time for them.
MSJ: What was the last CD you bought?
The last CD I bought was a Beatles bootleg in Japan. I found a bootleg shop in Japan where you can buy all these amazing bootlegs. They have all these out-takes and live shows, and there was this one Beatles bootleg that looked particularly intriguing. I haven't opened it yet. I got some amazing bootlegs in Japan. I actually got the Jimi Hendrix "Band of Gypsies" rehearsals on CD - the rehearsals for the show. As a fan I must have purchased "Band of Gypsies" four or five times over the years, so I thought it was OK that I bought the bootleg, and it's not like it's a pirated record, but kind of for fans only. As a matter of a fact, when I go in there, they give me all the Mr. Big bootlegs for free, and any Billy Sheehan bootlegs or Talas bootlegs. They give them all to me for free because the feel like they owe it to me anyway.
MSJ: What was the last concert you attended?
I went to see Doug Pinnick at the Roxy here in LA on his solo tour. I'm a big Doug Pinnick fan. I love Kings X. I support anything all of them or any of them do.
More Interviews
Metal/Prog Metal
Progressive Rock

   Creative Commons License
   This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.

    © 2024 Music Street Journal                                                                           Site design and programming by Studio Fyra, Inc./