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Billy Sheehan: All About The Bass

Issue #61

All of this leads to Billy’s most recent endeavour, Sons Of Apollo. Billy told us the story of how the band came together, and the complex web of connections that brought them all together.
Nick Jennison

Billy Sheehan: All About The Bass

Already a household name for his noted bass guitar work with rock giants Mr Big and the original lineup of the David Lee Roth band—Billy Sheehan is back at it again with progressive metal supergroup Sons of Apollo featuring drummer Mike Portnoy, keyboardist Derek Sherinian, vocalist Jeff Scott Soto, and guitarist Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal. Nick Jennison caught up with Billy during the band's London stop on their recent UK tour.

To say Billy Sheehan likes to stay busy is something of an understatement. With a Winery Dogs tour looming on the horizon for 2019 (and the potential of a farewell tour with Mr Big too!), we caught up will Billy at the tail end of the European leg of his tour with Sons Of Apollo. These final shows mark the end of two years of solid touring for Billy that saw him circumnavigate the globe twice over! This kind of punishing schedule would be too much for many mere mortals to cope with, but even at 65 years old Sheehan is full of energy.

Sons Of Apollo are the very definition of a “supergroup". Made up of prog heavyweights Mike Portnoy and Derek Sherinian (both Dream Theater alumni), former Guns ’N’ Roses guitarist Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal and singer Jeff Scott Soto (whose resume includes Yngwie Malmsteen and Journey). It’s hardly unusual to see Sheehan in a supergroup though. Already a highly respected touring bassist with cult favourites Talas, Sheehan was recruited into David Lee Roth’s “super-band” alongside Steve Vai (fresh from Frank Zappa’s band and a stint with Alcatraz) and Greg Bissonette. The band’s 1986 debut album “Eat ‘Em and Smile” was a phenomenal commercial and critical success, and put Sheehan’s ferocious shred bass style firmly in the public eye. Tracks like “Shy Boy” showcase the kind of blazing guitar and bass unisons that would characterise many of Billy’s future projects. Somewhat serendipitously, “Shy Boy” was originally written by Sheehan while playing in Talas, and was inspired by watching Dave Lee Roth perform!

 

In 1988, Sheehan left the DLR band to form Mr Big; to date, his most successful musical endeavour. Like the DLR band and Talas before, Mr Big is a power trio featuring Paul Gilbert (and later Richie Kotzen) on guitar. Their 1992 single “To Be With You” charted at #1 in 15 countries, and enjoyed over a decade of continued success until internal tensions brought the band to a halt in 2002. Mr Big would eventually reform in 2009, and next year will mark not only the ten year anniversary of the band’s reunion but also the 30th anniversary of the release of their eponymous debut album. Tragically, drummer Pat Torpey passed away earlier this year. Billy revealed to us that there is a possibility of a final tour in 2019 to honour Pat’s memory.

In the interim period between Mr Big’s breakup and eventual reunion, Sheehan toured with DLR bandmate Steve Vai, as part of a large ensemble that represented a significant departure from the power trios that Billy is best known for. Yamaha produced a double-neck version of Sheehan’s signature Attitude bass for his work with this band, which he makes extensive use of in Sons Of Apollo. The necks are tuned EADG and BEAD respectively, covering the range of a 5-string while still affording Billy the picking and fretting hand comfort and familiarity that’s essential to his outrageous playing style. He was kind enough to let me play this bass before our interview, and it’s very heavy, very resonant and surprisingly comfortable.

In 2012, Sheehan formed The Winery Dogs with eventual Sons Of Apollo bandmate Mike Portnoy. Initially, former Thin Lizzy/Whitesnake guitarist Jon Sykes was pencilled in for the role of frontman but would be replaced by former Mr Big guitarist Richie Kotzen. At the time of writing, The Winery Dogs have just teased a 2019 tour. Perhaps we’ll see a third full-length album too? Either way, Billy’s enthusiasm for the band is clearly as strong as ever, letting us know that The Winery Dogs is his favourite out of all his current projects.

All of this leads to Billy’s most recent endeavour, Sons Of Apollo. Billy told us the story of how the band came together, and the complex web of connections that brought them all together. Talas supported Jeff Scott Soto (singing for Yngwie Malmsteen at the time). A fellow New York native, a young Bumblefoot was a Talas fan. And of course, Billy’s Winery Dogs bandmate Mike Portnoy played with keyboardist Derek Sherinian (who also played in Malmsteen’s band!) in Dream Theatre!

With a career spanning over 40 years, Billy Sheehan shows no signs of slowing down. We’re looking forward to seeing what he gets up to in 2019.

 

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