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Billy Sheehan

Interview by Sean Mitchell // March 02 2009
Billy Sheehan

What makes a good snowflake? What makes a good painting? Almost impossible to answer. If the connection and intuition are there, most everything else falls in place.

There comes a time in every drummers’ life that the endless hours of basement practice end and the marriage of one’s very first rhythm section begins. If you are lucky, that union will be with someone like Billy Sheehan. Billy is one of those players you just can’t help but want to toss up there on a pedestal and worship. After all, he has played with the likes of music’s biggest names: Roth, Vai, Chambers-- not to mention his role in one of rock’s biggest acts to come out of the 90’s a la Mr. Big. But when you have a quick chat with Billy you soon realize he is not the hallowed music god you’ve created in you head. No, sir, Billy is as humble and straight laced as they come. Just a guy who plays the bass and loves music. But it’s his dedication to his craft that makes his persona larger than life. After years of playing, touring, recording, and many a stadium stage, it is in fact Billy who will tell you that he is the last one to say that he has it all aced.

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Billy, tell me about the BX3 tour—three legendary bassists, one extraordinary night. What is it and how did it come about?

Stu (Hamm) had the idea. He called Jeff Berlin and myself. We got together and started a tour—almost no rehearsal! It was a blast.

Any chance there will be a second goround for the BX3, and what could we look forward to?

Not sure. I hope so! I’d do it again anytime.

Can you tell me your best road story?

I type with two fingers, so it would take hours. Sorry! Buy me a beer and I’ll lay one on you-- but only if you promise not to tell.

What made you decide to become a bass player?

I just thought the low tones were cool, and the coolest people I knew were bass players.

I have asked this question of many a drummer in our feature articles: in your opinion, what makes a really good drummer?

It’s a long list—many, many things. What makes a good snowflake? What makes a good painting? Almost impossible to answer. If the connection and intuition are there, most everything else falls in place.

Do you remember the point—or were you even aware—that you had become a world class player? What did that feel like?

It hasn’t happened yet. I’ll let you know!

What do you think a musician’s instrument of choice says about their personality?

Not a thing, really. There are so many variables.

Bozzio, Chambers, Vai, Pastorius, Sheehan: How does one get to that level? What did the practice days look like when you were an undiscovered talent?

I just played. All the time, live! Playing live taught me most everything. I’m very unschooled. You’ve got to want it bad. Want what? Great music coming off your fingers. Fame, cash and success are not the goals; music is.

As an artist who has utilized programmed tracks in the studio, how does a bass player come up with drum parts? Do you have some skills behind the kit as well, Billy?

I’m a drum groupie from the very beginning. I love drums and drumming. I urge all bass players (and everyone else) to learn as much about drums as possible.

When you are putting a solo effort together what do you look for in the players you bring into the studio?

Good friends who were awesome, players that I love. Special undefined qualities.

Who have been your favorite drummers to listen to?

Billy Cobham, Dennis Chambers, Lenny White, Ian Paice, Mitch Mitchell, Woody Woodmansy—many, many more.

Niacin seems an eclectic assortment of players. How did you guys get together?

I found the B3 player and asked him who his favorite drummer was. His answer was the same as mine: Dennis Chambers.

Give me a few words on some of your band mates, past and present:

Dennis Chambers

The best musician I know—on any instrument.

Terry Bozzio

Spectacularly unique player.

Virgil Donati

A phenomenon of nature.

Gregg Bissonette

One of the finest human beings I know, and one of the most supremely capable players on Earth.

Pat Torpey

Awesome rock-solid player and dear friend. One of the best.

Mike Portnoy

Incredible ability to take anything to a higher level. Fantastic player and wonderful person.

Ray Luzier

Ray kicks ass completely. An overwhelming passion for excellence. I utterly love playing with him.

David Lee Roth

Dave is my hero. I love his voice. The most imitated (but never duplicated) personality in rock. It was life-changing to work with him.

Steve Vai

One of my favorite people on the planet. A twisted version of reality that cannot be imitated, a genius player and a kind, generous soul.

What does the music industry hold for you in the near future?

This is a great time for music, musicians, and playing. I’m going to play, write, sing, record, tour, and enjoy it all as much as possible. My new CD Holy Cow is coming soon! In my honest opinion, my best yet. Thank you!

 

Visit Billy online: http://www.billysheehan.com/




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About the Author
Sean Mitchell

Sean Mitchell has been an active participant in the drumming industry for over 20 years. He has studied under Crash Test Dummies drummer Mitch Dorge and Drumming's Global Ambassador Dom Famularo. Sean is also a songwriter and regularly performs with his wife (and singer) Jill Mitchell. Sean proudly endorses Aquarian Drumheads.



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