Billy Sheehan

From Academic Kids

Billy Sheehan (born March 19, 1953) is a Rock and fusion bass player in the Geddy Lee mold. Billy has recorded with David Lee Roth, Steve Vai, Terry Bozzio and Dennis Chambers as well as being the co-founder of the rock group Mr. Big featuring Paul Gilbert.

Following article originally written for www.musicianforums.com

Billy was born on March 19th 1953, in Buffalo NY. Living with a single mother, two sisters and a brother was not the easiest of chilhoods, but he still managed to get a Fender Telecaster guitar, Hagstrom bass, a Gretsch bass amp and a Fender Deluxe reverb as some of his starting kit. Dedicating hours of his time to music lead him to join an 11-piece horn band called Opus One. Later came Opus Two, a smaller jazz band.

After selecting a Fender P-bass (more on this later), Billy formed the three-piece bar band Talas. Splitting the vocals between himself, Paul Varga (drums), and Dave Constantino (Guitar) saved them money - if they took $100 home, they got $33 and change, but with a vocalist they'd only get $25 each that night. Talas played a mixture of hard rock and metal, with devastating solos from all three instruments, as well as trade off battles between Billy and Dave. It was during this time that Billy wrote some of his most famous songs, namely 'Shy Boy' (later recorded with DLR) and 'Addicted to that Rush' (later recorded with Mr. Big, which feature complex and fast paced parts for all three instruments. With their high-energy performances Talas quickly reached "cult status" within Buffalo, and when it came time for a reunion concert in 1997, the Mayor himself declared it 'Talas Reunion Day'.

With Talas dying down, Billy went to Poland in 1983 with the band UFO - Phil Mogg, Neil Carter, and Paul Chapman. Apparently this tour was not one of the best, as Poland was under martial law, and soldiers surrounded the crowd, and the band was put under a lot of pressure not to let things get out of control.

After UFO, Billy moved on to team up with former Van Halen singer to form the band David Lee Roth. With Greg Bissonette set for drummer, Billy picked Steve Vai to play guitar for the band. Vai, previously unknown to the public (despite having his first big break playing with Frank Zappa and later Alcatrazz), also came from Buffalo, and DLR was his jump to stardom. The 1986 release of 'Eat em and Smile' was hugely successful, and DLR got to travel on a huge tour because of it. Billy was also there to record 1988's 'Skyscraper', but much to the dissapointment was unable to tour with the band.

After leaving DLR, Billy started work on a project called 'Mr. Big'. With Paul Gilbert on guitar, Pat Torpey on drums, and Eric Martin handling the vocal frequencies, the band became an instant display of talent. The opening track of their debut self-titled album, 'Addicted to that Rush', features screaming lyrics, guitar and bass trade-offs, multiple amazing solos, and one of the coolest introduction passages ever written. Other tracks on this release include the rock ballad 'Had Enough' (which even includes a solo bass introduction), as well as hard rock songs such as 'Blame it on my Youth'.

It wasn't until their third release, 'Lean Into It' (1991), that Mr. Big truly went big. Big was indeed the word to describe it, as this album sold over 5 million copies, and featured the hit ballad 'To Be With You', which came 1st on the charts in multiple countries. Although Mr. Big never hit it so large again, that didn't stop them from releasing a further 4 albums, after switching Paul Gilbert (who rejoined the speed band Racer-X) for Richie Kotzen. The newer albums took the direction of their hit single, with a more pop/soul sound, blending bluesy guitar parts with ballad-like vocals.

Billy didn't just stop there though. Heading back to his roots, he formed a three piece band called Niacin. With the amazing Dennis Chambers on drums, and Tom Novello on the B3 Organ, Billy created an improvisation-oriented fusion band, with the aim being to feature the B3 Organ. It is also no coincidence that the band's name, Niacin, is the word used for vitamin B3.

Aside from touring the world with Mr. Big and DLR, making fusion with Niacin, and rocking out in Buffalo, Billy has been able to add numerous side-projects and smaller roles to his career. Currently, he is recording a new album with Steve Vai, as their friendship has lasted since the DLR days. Billy also backs Steve's band in numerous concerts, and was playing with him in the 2004 G3 tour of Europe this summer. Billy has also recorded one solo CD (and is rumoured to be making another), entitled 'Compression', for which he played 6 and 12-string baritone guitar (Billy is an amazing guitarist as well), as well as bass, vocals, and drum programming. Terry Bozzio joined Billy and recorded the drums for 2 tracks, and Steve Vai recorded a solo for the track Chameleon. All the recording for Billy's solo CD was done at his home studio, and the CD was released under Steve Vai's Favored Nations label.

In 2002 Billy landed a role playing bass for a Japanese band he knew called The B'z, and performed in a huge tour of Japan. The B'z were already a multi-platinum band from Japan sales alone, and with Billy thrown in, they managed to sell out a concert at Osaka Dome, with about 750,000 tickets snatched up for one night.

In short, Billy has been involved with several huge bands, as well as numerous side projects, and has performed over 4,000 gigs in his 38 years of bass playing. This tremendous amount of experience is not only reflected in his playing, but also by the devotion of his fans. He has won the Best Bassist poll in Japan's 'Player Magazine' 3 times in a row, and 'Burrn!' magazine's poll 5 times. He has also been placed into 'Guitar Magazines' Gallery of Greats, and his handprints can be found on the Hollywood Rockwall.

Not only has Billy sold out enormous numbers of gigs (including Budokan Arena, 3 nights in a row, with Mr. Big), but he also travels around the world performing instructional bass clinics. These clinics are sponsored by Yamaha, as they are seen as a good means for promoting their instruments. The clinics are largely Q&A, as Billy wants the audience to learn what they want to know, and Billy also plays any requests, as well as demonstrate his amazing speed with several short 'solos'.

You might be wondering what equipment Billy uses, so I'll get to my favorite part, the equipment list.

Billy's first professional bass was a Fender P-bass, which he heavily modified (mostly in his living room). Modifications include the installation of a new neck pickup, changes in preamps, a new neck, fret scalloping, numerous input jack fixes, new bridge, HipShot D-Tuner, and of course, some new strings. Because of all the time Billy has spent with this bass, he now refers to it as 'The Wife'.

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