THE PERPETUAL CLIMB TO THE TOP:
An Interview with
BILLY SHEEHAN

Interview by Ray Van Horn, Jr. - February 2005


Spend some time with the illustrious but down-to-earth Billy Sheehan and you'll forget he's amongst the finest class of bass players modern rock has ever seen. Easily mentionable in the same breath as Rush's Geddy Lee, Sly and the Family Stone's Larry Graham, Iron Maiden's Steve Harris or Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Billy Sheehan is a world-class finger-frolicker. With stints in Talas, David Lee Roth, Mr. Big and Niacin representing only a portion of his resume, Sheehan demonstrates his craft to his fullest extent on his sophomore solo album Cosmic Troubadour. The refreshing element about Billy is the humility he displays, not only as an artist, but as a human being. What follows is a memorable roundtable talk full of whimsical memories, craftsmanship anecdotes and bits of musical zen from one of the instrument's recognized masters.


RoughEdge.com: How are you, brother?

Billy Sheehan: I'm okay.

RoughEdge.com: Compliments to you on the new album, man. 

Billy Sheehan: Thank you very much!

RoughEdge.com: I've played it quite often.

Billy Sheehan: Oh, right on! That's good to hear!

RoughEdge.com: No doubt. Now the album's called "Cosmic Troubadour" and it might be said the title is very fitting as far as describing you.

Billy Sheehan: A little bit! (laughs) 

RoughEdge.com: (laughs) I mean, given your travels with David Lee Roth, Mr. Big, Steve Vai, Talas, Niacin and your side ventures, you really are a bit of a troubadour, aren't you?

Billy Sheehan: I guess so! My passport's about an inch-and-a-half thick with extra pages! (laughs)

RoughEdge.com: (laughs) 

Billy Sheehan: I guess therein lies the cosmos.

RoughEdge.com: You're probably right, no doubt. Now Talas is one of those cult bands that unless you're really, really into hard and heavy music and the history of it, or you're at least over the age of 30 you wouldn't remember them, but there's still a bit of a legacy to this band, you know? One could describe Talas as a bar band with one hell of a bassist!

Billy Sheehan: That's funny! We were proud to be a bar band in a lot of ways. As I look back, some of the most important stuff I ever learned in music as a player or even as someone in the music business was from playing in bars, you know?

RoughEdge.com: Yeah. How would you apply those theories to say, playing in an arena?

Billy Sheehan: Well, I really learned to deal with people in the audience in a bar because they're accessible to you. They're within arms' reach, they're closer.

RoughEdge.com: Right.

Billy Sheehan: You really know whether or not you've reached them or whether you've lost them, and so doing that for a couple of decades, you just get a really good sense about an audience and you know what to do or what not to do and how approach any kind of an audience because some audiences are going to sit on their hands, they don't care. Some audiences are going to be right in your face from the get-go, so you don't want to wear them out, you know? (laughs)

RoughEdge.com: Exactly.

Billy Sheehan: There's all kinds of ways of dealing with different audiences, and playing in bars all over the country like that in the early days was my training in the trenches. 

RoughEdge.com: Right, I was going to say it had to have been training ground.

Billy Sheehan: It certainly was. And then anything else as far as a player goes, when gear or something breaks down, I see guys that came up and they didn't learn their stuff in bars and something goes wrong onstage … without fifteen crew guys they're lost! They don't know what to do! It's kind of funny.

RoughEdge.com: (laughs) Absolutely! So then do you feel there's a legacy to Talas? All of us from the old school would think so, but in trying to educate the younger fans it's like, 'Hey, this band did exist, you know?' So do you feel that band deserves its legacy in the history of hard music?

Billy Sheehan: Well, that's in the ears of the beholder. 

RoughEdge.com: Right.

Billy Sheehan: I believe so. Of course, I'm biased because I was part of it!

RoughEdge.com: (laughs)

Billy Sheehan: I think that whole era was the launch of a whole movement in music and a lot of bands came from that scene. A lot of bands came from that type of thing, so for a player or a listener now to go back and listen to that, it's kind of the foundation of what came afterwards, as the things before Talas were foundations for us, and on and on and on through time. 

RoughEdge.com: Yeah.

Billy Sheehan: So yeah, I think that it's important. I think the band was important. We were really successful in a lot of ways. First of all, we really had no record deal for the most part. When we did get signed, it was an indie deal; we didn't get any money from the label at all. All they did was press the records and get them in stores. We did everything else pretty much ourselves, and that's a good lesson to learn now for bands, thinking they're going to go get signed, get a million dollars, take a vacation, take the time to write their third record then go out and make money off that. It doesn't happen like that anymore, you know?

RoughEdge.com: You're right.

Billy Sheehan: You've got to get out, you've got to play, you've got to do it. You've got to prove yourself every night in front of a new crowd and that's what we had to do back then, so I think younger bands, younger players, younger listeners listening to bands like Talas will understand where we're coming from a little bit.

RoughEdge.com: Yeah, it's interesting since the whole thing has come full-circle, you know what I mean?

Billy Sheehan: It certainly has. I kind of like it because in a way, now the music business, as I'm sure you've seen, has shaken out to the degree where some people who were really into music aren't into it anymore.

RoughEdge.com: Right.

Billy Sheehan: The only people into it are people who are so into music it'll drive anyone around them nuts, you know? (laughs)

RoughEdge.com: Absolutely, like my wife! (laughs) I have over 1800 CDs! I'm surprised she hasn't divorced me yet!

Billy Sheehan: Right, exactly! So everybody I know that's on a label—like the Metal Blade guys are friends of mine—they're all complete music heads! They're totally into bands and music and they're nonstop, that's all they do, it's all they think about, you know? I'm glad! They're not accountants, they're not bean-counters, they're not suits!

RoughEdge.com: (laughs) 

Billy Sheehan: Which we were invaded by once people thought they could make a buck off it. Now that the profit has dropped out of it—not completely gone out of it—but dropped severely, in a way it's good even as I don't make the same money I once made anymore. I don't really need to; I'm doing fine, you know? I'm lucky and happy to say, but it's removed from it all, the element of those people that were in it just to make a buck. I love that!

RoughEdge.com: Yeah, right on, man. So David Lee Roth is going to be a paramedic, of all things!

Billy Sheehan: Yeah, I just talked with some people who know him. He's already delivered a baby and he donates his pay to charity and it's a pretty cool adventure. As much I know Dave, I know he's doing it just for the adventure. He doesn't need the money. Here's a guy who's had quadruple, quintuple platinum records and he's set for life, so why not go out and look at it from that point-of-view? Actually, my hat's really off to him for doing that.

RoughEdge.com: Same here. 

Billy Sheehan: Pretty cool.

RoughEdge.com: I agree. Did you have any indication when you played with him that he would one day make such a drastic career move?

Billy Sheehan: I know we used to tell a lot of stories down in the basement where we were rehearsing and it was an amazing time, you know, some of the rock stories we heard. Dave, some were related to him, Steve from his Zappa days, me from my Talas days and all that stuff. Dave, at one time, did work in an emergency room.

RoughEdge.com: Really? 

Billy Sheehan: And his family has a medical background, so he had kind of been up against that a little bit already. So I think that gave a hint to it early on. 

RoughEdge.com: How about that? That's pretty cool. 

Billy Sheehan: Yeah.

RoughEdge.com: Now what I hear people talk about most regarding yourself is your time with David Lee Roth and Mr. Big of course, and they always wonder what happened to Billy Sheehan! (laughs)

Billy Sheehan: (laughs)

RoughEdge.com: I tell them to do the homework, you're out there, you know?

Billy Sheehan: Right.

RoughEdge.com: But obviously you and Steve (Vai) were the perfect duo for Roth and you guys played with such fierce determination as if to stake your claim at that period of time, like when "Eat 'em and Smile" came out. So how intense was it living up to such a measure for you guys?

Billy Sheehan: Well, at the time we didn't think of it like that. It was sheer exuberance. We were so happy to be there and we were having such a blast and just blowing off every night, you know? We didn't have that kind of pressure; it really was a fun time. The "Eat 'em and Smile" tour was a riot! We had certain things we had to do in order to make the show work, certain things like that, the requirements we had as players, to be on time and all that stuff. We were never completely irresponsible people ever in our lives, you know? Steve and I are both non-druggers and we're dedicated to our craft. So for us it was normal, but for us it was like somebody opened the door and allowed us not only to be dedicated, but to pay us for it and allow us to play in front of fifteen to twenty thousand people a night. So we were exuberant, we were just so pleased to be doing it, and we were laughing our asses off and having a riot and it was great. 

RoughEdge.com: Right on.

Billy Sheehan: So no, we didn't feel any pressure so much, but yeah, it's funny now that MTV and the radio are basically closed off to, I'd say 90% of all players other than the 10% that look like they do and play the pop slop that they do. 

RoughEdge.com: (laughs)

Billy Sheehan: You know, a lot of people wonder where everybody went, but the live music scene and musicians and players, from my point-of-view, is kind of making a comeback. I think the pendulum is actually swinging.

RoughEdge.com: It might be the best it's been in quite a long time.

Billy Sheehan: I think so. You have some great players, some great bands, everybody's out there working, and like I said before, people that were into it for the money … get into the aluminum siding business or something!

RoughEdge.com: (laughs)

Billy Sheehan: It ain't here. This is for only people who love it.

RoughEdge.com: Yeah, no doubt. Now, without incriminating anyone, give me an example of what was so fun about being in David Lee Roth's band.

Billy Sheehan: If we had the security barrier between the stage and the audience, from our point-of-view you could see there were numbers on it, you know 1 -10.

RoughEdge.com: Right.

Billy Sheehan: So if you saw a young lady that was particularly attractive, you'd think that maybe after the show you could have a cup of coffee … wink, wink …

RoughEdge.com: (laughs)

Billy Sheehan: We could run over to the side of the stage to one of the security guys and say 'Section 8, Row 3, blue top, blonde hair!' (laughs)

RoughEdge.com: (laughs)

Billy Sheehan: The guy would go out to Section 8 with an after-show pass, find the girl, put it on her, and then she would join the party afterwards. But having said that, it's also true that … and I'm not saying this to cover my ass because it actually was true … we were always respectful to our lady friends and to the women on tour. It was important to us, you know? I made a lot of friends that I still have to this day from that tour. We had a riot but we didn't  … it kind of irks me sometimes to hear that people are abusive and shitty to people and who are users. We weren't like that. I was proud and honored to have any woman hang out with me anytime! (laughs)

RoughEdge.com: (laughs) Cool.

Billy Sheehan: So we treated them thusly.

RoughEdge.com: Very cool, man.

Billy Sheehan: (laughs)

RoughEdge.com: Now, one of my personal notables of your career, and I'm not alone in this, is your blistering intro to Mr. Big's "Addicted to that Rush." I distinctly remember picking that tape up in Colorado on vacation, so a lot of good memories are tagged to that song and it's always stayed fresh in my mind, even at age 34. I guess since the David Lee Roth experience really wasn't intense after all, Mr. Big seemed, to us fans anyway, really relaxed in comparison. Was it that way for you despite the ugly way the band ended with you?

Billy Sheehan: No, we started off … we launched pretty good, but like any relationship there's a honeymoon period and it was good up front, and then as things started to settle in, various personalities weren't fitting with other ones. But generally it was a pretty good time and we were fortunate right away to have some good management and get some great tours, you know, Rush, Scorpions, Bryan Adams. We scored heavily overseas right away in Europe and in Japan, so as the American market went soft, we were still making a great income and playing all the time. So generally, looking back, it's just like you look back on a relationship; you kind of forget all the bad parts and you remember the good stuff. I kind of do that with Mr. Big. In all, even though the band kind of ended on a bad note, I still have a lot of respect for those guys. I do really think they are good people. It's just that some personalities didn't fit together. 

RoughEdge.com: Right.

Billy Sheehan: But we did honestly have a great time. 

RoughEdge.com: That's cool, and you get to move on and like, for instance, you did some licks for Glenn Hughes on his album "Songs in the Key of Rock," which is another album I really dig.

Billy Sheehan: That was cool. I'm a huge fan. That record was pretty cool.

RoughEdge.com: In fact, I hear a little bit of Hughes influence to "Toss it on the Flame" off of "Cosmic Troubadour."

Billy Sheehan: Oh, I'll take that as one of my greatest compliments ever, thanks! If I could sing like Glenn Hughes, man, I'd have it made!

RoughEdge.com: (laughs)

Billy Sheehan: What a voice! He sang a track on a Niacin album, an album called "Deep," a song called "Things Ain't Like They Used to Be" and he slayed on that! He came in, never heard the song. Forty-five minutes and we were done, you know? He was just kick … ass. 

RoughEdge.com: Wow, right on. 

Billy Sheehan: Yeah, he's great. So I try to emulate as best I can with my limited vocal capacity!

RoughEdge.com: (laughs)

Billy Sheehan: A lot of different people, Lou Reed, Bowie and Glenn Hughes of course. I remember him from Trapeze, Medusa, you know, way, way early on. 

RoughEdge.com: Yeah. Came out the year I was born. (laughs)

Billy Sheehan: And I loved him in Deep Purple too, so guys like that … Paul Rogers I listen to a lot. Doug Pennick is one of my favorite singers as well.

RoughEdge.com: Right on!

Billy Sheehan: Super great.

RoughEdge.com: Without a doubt. So tell me what it's like for you doing your two solo albums. Since you play baritone 6 and 12-string guitars in addition to your bass, how much, if at all, do they throw you off when you're playing? I mean, you've always made the bass sing like a guitar, like the scale-spelunking on "From the Backseat," for example.

Billy Sheehan: Oh, right on! My guitar playing and bass playing … sadly to me, they really don't interconnect too well because I play the guitar with a pick and I push a completely different way than I play bass, and I wish I could play the way I play bass on guitar. 

RoughEdge.com: Hmm.

Billy Sheehan: If I could, I think I'd be a better guitar player (laughs) because the licks I do as a bass player, they're done just completely different with hands on different strings, you know? I don't use a pick and it's a whole different approach. Sometimes I try to learn some of the things I do on bass on guitar but it just doesn't translate for me, and I'm more of a chordal player, but I can do some riffage on guitar. But on bass I'm more of a linear player playing lines, but I do some chord work on bass too, so as I step back from it, I almost wish that I could play guitar a little more like I play bass, but it just isn't in the cards. That's why I generally play baritone 12-string because it's a chordal instrument, you know, playing chords. It's an amazing whole orchestra, you know? You just hit one little old chord and it sounds like a giant, huge thing so that helps me out there, but I've always played guitar in the background to my bass playing because I've always written on guitar. However, the bass always has been and will be my main instrument. 

RoughEdge.com: Right. Do you take more satisfaction out of writing instrumentals or full-fledged songs? Using the instrumentals "Don't Look Down" or "Taj" or "A Tower in the Sky" as examples, you freestyle with some rock and jazz whereas straight songs like "Something She Said" really rocks out, or "Back in the Day," for that matter. 

Billy Sheehan: Something with lyrics will get more rock from me, where I'm more experimental instrumentally. I don't know if that'll ever change. As a singer I don't think I could sing anything but rock, you know, and I'm glad because I'm not too big of a jazz fan. It's the smallest representation of my record collection, but I do like some of it. I always tend to default towards rock and hard rock and heavy rock. With my voice, I doubt I could sing anything other than that, so when I write a song that I sing I tend to get a little bit more heavy, if you will. 

RoughEdge.com: Right. Do you think the instrumental allows you to tap into your creativity a little bit more?

Billy Sheehan: Probably, because I have just so much more experience as a player just straight out and I remember doing unaccompanied bass solos back in '71 or '72, I mean, way way long time ago, you know, when I first started. So it was part of my repertoire from the beginning, and it makes a lot more sense to me that's there's a little bit more depth and the bag of tricks is bigger when it comes to doing instrumental stuff. I just look at the bass as a musical instrument; I mean, there are times when it needs to function as a bass only, just low frequencies locked-in with the drums, that's it, but other times it's an amazing instrument. The harmonic content is just incredible and it's very broad-ranging. You can do almost anything on it … well, you can do anything your mind can conceive to do on it. 

RoughEdge.com: Right.

Billy Sheehan: So I tend to push my margins quite a bit farther when I'm just playing bass. 

RoughEdge.com: Mmm hmm, and speaking of instrumentals, are there are plans for Niacin in the upcoming future?

Billy Sheehan: We just finished a brand new Niacin record! 

RoughEdge.com: Right on, man!

Billy Sheehan: It's called "Organic." It's just getting finished up now and it'll probably be out very shortly.

RoughEdge.com: Awesome. You know, I totally forgot that you played with UFO once!

Billy Sheehan: (laughs)

RoughEdge.com: That's really sad on my end, and I saw a pretty amusing but sobering picture on your website of a UFO press conference in the early eighties. Where was that, Poland?

Billy Sheehan: Yeah.

RoughEdge.com: Okay. The caption says "Be careful what you say! The secret police followed everywhere, really!" 

Billy Sheehan: They actually did!

RoughEdge.com: Wow, so tell me what that was like. For a country like the United States basing its war actions on freedom, it doesn't really know the meaning of the word! Just using Poland as an example back in the day …

Billy Sheehan: Yeah, I came back a super-patriot after that.

RoughEdge.com: (laughs)

Billy Sheehan: You'd have to see what it was like. It's an amazing situation, to see a situation where they don't have the freedoms that we have.

RoughEdge.com: Right.

Billy Sheehan: I've been to Poland recently a few times and they're an awfully nice bunch of people and it is taking them a long time to get over that many years of that much gray, you know? It was rough. It was an amazing political awakening because that was my first real overseas trip and that was in 1983 where I toured all through Europe with them and it was pretty amazing to see, to be out of the country and see the rest of the world in that light. It was a great education. 

RoughEdge.com: I'm sure. Now, forgive me for shifting all over the place on these past few questions, but the last two songs on "Cosmic Troubadour," "Hope" and "A Million Tears Ago," there's somewhat of a sentimental, if not melancholy feeling on those songs. What inspired you to tap into that kind of root for those particular songs? 

Billy Sheehan: Well, "Hope" just came as a … in my life there's a lot of ups and downs and I was in the middle of some things I was up against, not to elaborate any further than that …

RoughEdge.com: No problem.

Billy Sheehan: But this boo piece of music came out of nowhere and it was very uplifting and I just had it as this boo bass riff for a long time. My friend Simone (Sello) orchestrated it and we came up with the piece and it really means a lot to me because it's kind of a musical statement that says there's hope no matter how bad everything gets. No matter what it is and how bad it gets, there's got to be hope somewhere for it, you know, and that was my point-of-view at the time.

RoughEdge.com: Nice.

Billy Sheehan: So it meant a lot to me musically and it was an emotional piece for me. And the next piece, "A Million Tears Ago," that's a much heavier thing. 

RoughEdge.com: Exactly.

Billy Sheehan: You know, a lot of music like that to me … again, it's just an emotional moment, you know? I shift through many points-of-view as we all do every day and that was just a little snapshot of a moment whatever happened there where the UPS guy is at the door and the phone was ringing … (laughs)

RoughEdge.com: (laughs)

Billy Sheehan: All hell's breaking loose, you know?

RoughEdge.com: (laughs)

Billy Sheehan: (laughs)

RoughEdge.com: Thanks for ruining my vibe, man!

Billy Sheehan: (laughs) It's funny sometimes when you find out what the actual thing was going on behind a piece of music. That's why music is so great as an art function. Everyone has their own unique personal stamp. It's like you are adding to the creativity of the piece, because it's your interpretation of what it is! I remember hearing songs that I love and then I find out later … I remember I was hanging out with Isaac Hayes one time …

RoughEdge.com: Oh, wow.

Billy Sheehan: And he was telling me about how one time they were down in the recording studio with Sam and Dave and one of them had to go to the bathroom and while he was coming back to the session, he started yelling, "Hold on, I'm coming!" 

RoughEdge.com: (laughs) I see where you're going.

Billy Sheehan: That's where that song came from! 

RoughEdge.com: (laughs) Oh wow, check that out!

Billy Sheehan: And I said, "Cool! That was great! This guy's got this girl and he's saying 'hold on, I'm coming' but no, no … he's got to go to the bathroom!" (laughs)

RoughEdge.com: (laughs)

Billy Sheehan: So it's funny how you can interpret it in any way that you wish and sometimes you don't even want to know! No, man, don't even tell me!

RoughEdge.com: (laughs)

Billy Sheehan: Or don't burst the bubble. I was standing next to Jimmy Stewart one time a few years ago. He was in a restaurant here in LA and I was standing there and I looked next to me and he was right there, this little old guy and I was going to say something to him but I thought, 'You know what, after watching "It's a Wonderful Life every Christmas", you know what?' I just left him alone.

RoughEdge.com: Yeah.

Billy Sheehan: I don't need to bother him! (laughs)

RoughEdge.com: Right.

Billy Sheehan: He would've turned to me and said 'Hey, young fella, get the hell out of here!' you know? (laughs) 

RoughEdge.com: (laughs)

Billy Sheehan: It would've ruined everything for me, you know?

RoughEdge.com: (laughs) 

Billy Sheehan: (laughs)

RoughEdge.com: Sometimes you almost want to keep them in the picture you always think of them as, you know I mean?

Billy Sheehan: Exactly, exactly! What I found out through "Yesterday" was really "Scrambled Eggs" by The Beatles; that was the first lyric they had for it, "Scrambled Eggs" instead of "Yesterday."

RoughEdge.com: I didn't know that, wow. That's sweet, though.

Billy Sheehan: Sometimes I almost don't want to know, but I'm glad when people hear my stuff, especially the instrumental things, they take it and run with it, you know? It can mean anything to them. You have an idea if it's a hard and heavy angry piece, you know it's going to elicit those kinds of emotions, but there are a million different versions of those emotions. 

RoughEdge.com: Right.

Billy Sheehan: That's kind of the beauty of it.

RoughEdge.com: Yeah. Now, you're going to be doing some touring with Steve Vai coming up in Europe, right?

Billy Sheehan: Steve and I are in rehearsals right now and we do a US tour in March and April, then we'll go to Japan in May and then I think a month or so after that we start in Europe and the rest of the world. Australia, South America, Europe. The rest is Southeast Asia.

RoughEdge.com: Right on. So I would say that some friendships stand the test of time like you guys, right?

Billy Sheehan: Yeah, it's pretty cool. Steve and I get along pretty well and it's a really good situation we have together, as this gig is very demanding, very tough. It's tough on all of us, but it's a good kind of tough. The stuff is hard to play and it's difficult and it really takes a lot. It's about a two hour show; in some cities we're doing two shows in one day!

RoughEdge.com: You're kidding? 

Billy Sheehan: We're doing like six or seven shows in a row …

RoughEdge.com: Wow, that's grueling.

Billy Sheehan: But I like it. I love it like that. I really love to get into the trenches and start to really work, you know? 

RoughEdge.com: It probably keeps your mind active, just trying to stay at that pace!

Billy Sheehan: Exactly.

RoughEdge.com: Yeah.

Billy Sheehan: It's very cool.

RoughEdge.com: Now, another interesting tidbit that I doubt many people know is that Talas opened for U2 back in what, 1980 was it?

Billy Sheehan: Actually, U2 opened for Talas!

RoughEdge.com: Oh, sorry! Right on! 

Billy Sheehan: There's a sound clip of Bono saying it on my website. People saw it, but then as years went by, nobody believed it! We kept telling everyone, 'We swear to God they were our opening act!' Sure enough, they played Rich Stadium a few years ago in Buffalo, New York, where the Bills play, you know?

RoughEdge.com: Right.

Billy Sheehan: Bono stops in the middle of the show, and I've got it on my website, because they played in Buffalo the night John Lennon died and they remembered it. I remembered it too, I remember the night very specifically and he said he was glad there were people there that night because there were probably people there because they were opening for a band called Talas. 

RoughEdge.com: How about that? No shit.

Billy Sheehan: (laughs)

RoughEdge.com: That's awesome.

Billy Sheehan: So you could hear the collective gasps in the audience! 'Oh my God, they weren't lying!' (laughs) 

RoughEdge.com: (laughs) Vindicated!

Billy Sheehan: Hilarious.

RoughEdge.com: That had to have been an interesting mix because U2 was still a bit of an alt-punk band at that point. 

Billy Sheehan: Yeah, a little bit, but things to me mix together well like that. I'm not one to draw the line so heavily between genres and I liked a lot of what they did right away. I like a lot of bands from back then, you know, The Buzzcocks, MX80 …

RoughEdge.com: Definitely!

Billy Sheehan: You know, The Ramones, of course.

RoughEdge.com: Of course.

Billy Sheehan: I mean, who doesn't? 

RoughEdge.com: Exactly.

Billy Sheehan: Stuff like that. I was into bands like that. I was into Fear, that band Fear, the LA punk band.

RoughEdge.com: Awesome, man! 

Billy Sheehan: They were very cool, so yeah, I tried not to draw the lines too distinctly between genres.

RoughEdge.com: Another band, the UK Subs.

Billy Sheehan: Yeah, there was some cool stuff back then.

RoughEdge.com: Now, at this point you've had so many career highlights and if we were to touch on them all, we might as well hash out your whole bio the rest of the day! (laughs)

Billy Sheehan: (laughs)

RoughEdge.com: But if you could pinpoint a moment thus far in your career that gives you that longing smile on your face today, what would it be?

Billy Sheehan: Sitting in Chair # 1 on The Tonight Show.

RoughEdge.com: Awesome.

Billy Sheehan: That was amazing. Nixon, Clinton and Bush and royalty and every Oscar-winning star you could imagine, astronauts, all sat in that chair. Mr. Big goes on and they ask us to come sit and the couch and they ask who wants to sit in Chair #1 and the whole band pointed to me as some sort of a spokesman, so …

RoughEdge.com: Too cool.

Billy Sheehan: So I sat in Chair # 1 on The Tonight Show. Pretty cool. It's a pretty rare spot for bass players!

RoughEdge.com: (laughs) 

Billy Sheehan: (laughs) Unless you're Sting or Paul McCartney! 

RoughEdge.com: Right, right! (laughs)

Billy Sheehan: (laughs)

RoughEdge.com: Now, my last question for you, buddy, is, as accomplished and proficient as you are, you're still in a constant learning phase, which I think is a really commendable quality …

Billy Sheehan: Cool.

RoughEdge.com: Do you feel there's still a wealth of knowledge that you need to find, kind of like a pure martial artist needs to complete his skills with different forms?

Billy Sheehan: Absolutely. I think if you look at the grand percentage of what there is to know on an instrument, I'm probably at .01 percent. That's my point-of-view.

RoughEdge.com: Wow, that's really humble.

Billy Sheehan: Well, even if I'm wrong, and I don't do it to be humble, I do it only because I see … once you get up to a certain point, you can see farther. It's like climbing up a hill. You see more of the valley, you know, you see what's there. So the more I get, the more I realize God, it goes on forever! I get up a little higher and God, it goes up even further than that, you know? So it's an interesting phenomenon, because the lower you are, the less you see and that's why a lot of people that have pretty strong egos are doing it in place of ability, you know, to make up for the fact that they just don't know. It's a very humbling experience to start to get better at your instrument and then find out that the better you get, the farther away the end can seem.

RoughEdge.com: Right.

Billy Sheehan: It's almost like a backwards process where the more you improve, the more you realize that look, you improve ten percent but you find out there's fifty percent more to learn! You improve fifty percent, you find out there's five hundred percent more to learn, and on and on, mathematically increasing it. Having said that, though, I'm glad I'm at a point in my life and I hope any musician can get there, where I can just sit down and enjoy playing and not worry about how good it is or how bad it is, but it does something to me personally and emotionally and that's my craft I've chosen for my life and I'm very lucky that I chose it, stuck with it, and I'm very happy I did. I'd like to see a lot of other players just feel the joy of what they're doing as players. It's an incredible experience.

RoughEdge.com: Yeah. I kind of think of Chris Caffery. His new album, "Faces," would be in the same spirit as you because he's just throwing anything he wants to do out there, you know?

Billy Sheehan: That's cool. That's the way it should be. If he's an artist then that's how he should do it. You know, you've got a blank canvas, there shouldn't be any formula or restrictions on what you can or can't do, you know? A blank canvas, you can start stapling string to it if you want, you know what I mean? You don't even have to use paint! (laughs)

RoughEdge.com: (laughs)

Billy Sheehan: It really is a wide-open thing for you to express yourself. I'm really lucky that I … it was hard for … there were times in my life when it was tough and hard and I didn't know if I did the right thing, but I'm glad that I stuck with it and stayed with music like I did, because it's an amazing adventure.

RoughEdge.com: Cool. 

Billy Sheehan: I encourage everybody to at least touch on it, even if they don't want to make it their main thing. I do bass clinics and seminars, music seminars sometimes and some guy, you know, he's like 40 or 50 years old who's like, 'Aww, I used to play,' and I'm like 'Hey, go get a guitar! Learn a couple of songs! What are your favorite songs? Have some fun with it!' I'll get an email three months later and now he's in the garage with his buds after the football games on Sunday, you know, they're playing their favorite Grand Funk Railroad songs or something. It's a blast!

RoughEdge.com: That's cool, man. 

Billy Sheehan: It's so much fun. I really dig it. I mean, you don't have to good; you just have to enjoy it.

RoughEdge.com: Exactly. That's what it's all about, just doing it for fun.

Billy Sheehan: I'm hip.

RoughEdge.com: All right, brother, I really appreciate your time.

Billy Sheehan: Great. Well, thanks so much!

RoughEdge.com: No, thank you, man. Appreciate the call.

Billy Sheehan: And I'm glad you like the record.

RoughEdge.com: I do, definitely. 

Billy Sheehan: Okay, man. I'll see you around, okay?

RoughEdge.com: You got it. Take care.


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