Ask ten Rock music fans to name their top five all time favorite bass players, and chances are at least eight will list our participant in this round of 10 Questions with the Musical Mind. Billy Sheehan first gained notoriety in his band Talas. A regional favorite, Talas opened up for Van Halen on their 1980 “Invasion” tour. Upon splitting up with the Van Halen brothers, vocalist David Lee Roth promptly snagged Sheehan for his own band. With Roth, Billy paired up with virtuoso guitarist Steve Vai and drummer Gregg Bissonette.
Next Billy helped form the long running success of Mr. Big. This group of stellar musicians were remarkable as much for their ability to “play for the song” as their unmatched chops. All these years later, Sheehan shows no signs of slowing down. His current all star project has him with luminaries Mike Portnoy, Jeff Scott Soto, Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal, and Derek Sherinian under the moniker “Sons of Apollo”.
In the midst of S.O.A. ‘s highly successful tour, Billy took a few moments to shed some light on things I’ve wondered about. An inside perspective on some of the best musical collaborations in all of rock n roll.
Do you have to adjust your style any when playing with different drummers?
Not really too much. I just watch them very closely. I try to match all the nuances and subtleties of their playing, while locking into the kick drum.
Do you have more “harmonic freedom” when doing projects like Niacin?
It’s a bit more improvisational, but most situations involve improv to some degree.
In the early days of Talas, was your technique fully formed, or did you continue to expand your skills?
I’m still working on it! It never ends. There’s always more to learn, improve upon, fine tune, and certainly to discover. I practice more now than I ever have.
An Eat em and Smile question: When writing songs was Roth involved at all with structure of the songs, like chords, arrangements etc. or was he mainly involved with lyrics and the vocal melody?
Not all, but he made suggestions for most everything. He may not know how to describe something in musical terms ( much like myself) but he has a great instinct as to what makes a song work.
How did that writing process differ with Mr. Big?
We all contribute. And we don’t restrict ourselves to any style or template. If we like it, we do it.
You’ve collaborated with so many musicians, is there someone you’d like to play with that you haven’t yet?
We’ve lost the two I would have loved to—Paco DeLucia and Rory Gallagher
Who is a bass player whose tone you really like?
John Wetton. In King Crimson
Is there ever a sense of being “desensitized “ to virtuosity in a band like Sons of Apollo?
No–we just play. None of us look at it that way.
When you compose a song, are you thinking in terms of bass lines, or do you work out chord changes on guitar or keys?
I think of the song as a whole. An overview. Bass lines are rarely my concern until it’s time to do the bass parts.
What can we look forward to from you in the near future?
More playing, more touring, more of everything! I’m very grateful to have so many wonderful opportunities to play with so many friends and incredible players. All over the world. It’s a beautiful thing.
Many thanks to Billy for taking the time to give us a glimpse into his world!
Check out the latest on Sons of Apollo here:https://www.sonsofapollo.com/
Billy Sheehan’s personal site: http://www.billysheehan.com/