An Interview with
Bassist, Billy Sheehan
then formerly of Mr. Big.
Interviewed By Dave Attrill in 2003.
Dave: Firstly Billy, how's things
with you at the mo?
Billy: Great! On tour in the USA w/ Steve Vai
Dave:What was your first instrument?
Billy: Regent acoustic guitar or a Hagstrom Bass---not sure
Dave: If not bass, how did you move on to trying your hand at one?
Billy: My friend Joe had one--he let me play it
Dave: Still play any other instruments, professionally or otherwise?
Billy: Of course! Mostly 12 string guitar, baritone guitar (6 and 12 str.),
Harmonica, some droums & keys. Even a trumpet!
Dave:Your first band? (this includes any school/college cover bands)
Billy: Opus One. 11 members (horn section)
Dave: Before Mr Big, you worked with Dave Lee Roth. What was it like to play
alongside a legend like him?
Billy: Great! We had a blast. I learned a ,lot from Dave---he's still my hero.
Dave: You were also in Talas, which was fronted by one of Hard Rock's most
underrated vocalists, Phil Naro (later of Naro/24K). Tell us how things
went with that?
Billy: Phil came in at the very end of Talas. We were together many years before
that. Phil is a great singer/songwriter, and you are right---one of
the most underrated vocalists around! Great guy too.
Dave: And were there any other groups/projects prior to Mr Big, to note?
Billy: Not really--I did a couple of records here & there.
Dave:So how did you, Eric, Paul and Pat end up getting together?
Billy: I made the calls & put the band together. Contrary to recent attempts
at rewriting history, I founded the band. No one "co" founded
Dave: In 1989 your debut album was released. What sort of time (good/bad)
did you have getting it done and put out?
Billy: Good & bad. Everything has its ups & downs. I really liked the
Dave: What was the main reaction to that album when it came out?
Billy: A million bands were relesing records, so we got somewhat lost in the
crowd, but things started to look up & we made a bit of a splash.
Dave: Two years later, your second and probably best remembered album 'Lean
On It 'was on the shelves. What sort of enjoyment did you get out of
the making of this one?
Billy: Again, good & bad. There are labor pains at birth! We were more
experienced from touring, but baggage was accumulating. The final result
was wonderful though---in retrospect, that was a great record in my
Dave: Did you have any expectations
at all that 'To Be With You' would become a top 10 hit here in the UK?
Billy: Yes! Amazing! We were very happy. I still love that song.
Dave: How many different countries
did it receive airplay in and in which country outside the USA did it
receive the highest chart position?
Billy: We were #1 in 14 countries. We went platinum and/or gold in about 16
countries. Japan, Germany, Brazil, Canada, Spain, Italy---they were
all in there. We even had a hit with it in Senegal!
Dave: What other songs from 'L.I.I.' are your faves?
Billy: Just about everything except "Never Say Never". WAY corporate
& formula song. I've heard worse though!
Dave: Inside the band's album sleeves there's usually a little bit printed
about how each song came to being. Which Mr Big song/s had the best
tale behind them for you?
Billy: Maybe "A Little Too Loose"---the guitar player was a notoriously
lightweight drinker, and a few drinks into a night in OK. City, all
"moral values" went south! Hilarious.
Dave: Had your influences changed at all when 'Bump Ahead' was written?
Billy: Just the normal evolution of life & living after mauch touring &
some degree of accomplishment. We really didn't feel a whole lot of
pressure to repeat, but we were hoping to have another good record.
Dave: How Mr Big's material still being received in 1993, in the midst of
the Grunge explosion?
Billy: It was pushed to the wayside in America to some degree, but we still
had lots of people into it. Overseas, it didsn't change at all. At Pearl
Jams peak, we still outsold them 40 to 1 in Japan.
Dave: Your style moved even further on with 'Hey Man?' was this to do with
what was 'in' by now?
Billy: Not really. We knew we couldn't pander to the current style. It would
have been too obvious, and would have been based on commerce, not art.
We experimented with some different approaches but Mr. Big was still
mostly just a good 'ol rock band, designed for live performance. I don't
think things made much of a stylistic change on "Hey Man".
Dave: Your fifth and final album saw Paul gone and Ex Poison man Ritchie Kotzen
in his place. What happened with Paul and how did Ritchie get the gig?
Billy: I never looked at Richie as "Ex-Poison". I knew him well before
he was involved in that band. I think it is a mistake to look at him
& judge his work with Poison in the equation. No offense to Poison.
Paul quit & refused to play with Mr. Big anymore. We had 2 choices--break
up, or find another guitarist. I didn't want Paul to quit---as a fan,
I HATE when bands change members-- but we had no choice. We knew Richie
well & knew he could sing and play his ass off, so we went with
it. Richie did an amazing job. A supreme talent & wonderful person.
Dave: And how did the new line-up go down with your fans, as well as that
Billy: It was ok. But, as I said, I hate band member changes. In fact, Richie
probably "fit' the band better. He was a soulful, bluesy player
who sang as good as anybody. But Paul added a quirkiness that was unique
and gave Mr. Big a different flavor. It was tough. Most fans were alright
with it---some liked it better, some didn't.
Dave: Now the one I don't like. What caused the band to finally part ways
Billy: There was a basic problem within the band, personally from the very
start. It was apparent at the very start. I kept going & hoped for
it to right itself, but it only got worse. I feel bad about it. I shouldn't
have allowed the band to be put together with a built in time bomb.
The personality clash was severe & damaging. I've never been in
a worse state of mind personally than I was under the pressure of that
situation. It was damaging to me personally, but as it sits now, I hold
no grudges & blame no one, really. I'll never allow it to happen
to me again though.
Dave: And have you worked with
any of the guys since?
Billy: Yes. Pat & Richie a bunch, and I've jammed with Paul a few times.
Paul & I can get onstage & do probably 40 songs with no rehearsals!
We were into a lot of the same bands. He's done a bunch of solo records
& seems very happy. I'm glad for him, and wish him only the best.
I may do some recording with Pat & Richie sometime if schedules
Dave: Do you still see them about?
Billy: Yes, in LA.
Dave: And what are you doing currently - musically speaking, that is?
Billy: New solo CD "Cosmisc Troubadour" out just now---doing very
well. I'm on the new Steve Vai CD, & on tour with him in the USA
as I write this. New Niacin done & out soon. 2 new instructional
DVD's just came out. No rest for the wicked!
Dave: Any chance of a Mr Big reunion on the horizon, and if so would you still
want to be involved?
Dave:Which act (including other
than MR Big) was the best one to play live in/with?
Billy: Talas in the old days was a blast. Mr. Big was one of the best live
bands around, in my humble opinion. The "Eat 'Em & Smile"
Roth tour was very cool. Hard to say.
Dave: Which tour (w/ this band or any) brought back the happiest memories?
Billy: Steve Vai & myself playing together again brings back a lot of the
Roth tour memories---that tour was legendary! Every show I do, afterwards,
someone brings it up. Amazing times.
Dave: Got any funny stories from on the road?
Billy: Tons! An encyclopedia's worth! I've been urged several times to write
a book. I actually started a book regarding the Mr. Big adventure, but
abandoned it for now. I'll get to work on all that!
One of the countries who warmed to Mr Big the most was Japan.
Dave: Were you
playing in large venues over there, right from the beginning?
Billy: The first place we played, I had actually done a bass clinic there a
year earlier & sold it out! (NHK Hall). It was a 3000+ seater. Mr.
Big grew into Budokan & larger eventually.
Dave: In the bands twilight days, did such countries still receive the band
as widely as they had at the beginning?
Billy: Everywhere in SE Asia & Japan. Unfortunately we had a management
situation that crippled the bands touring capabilities and we missed
out on TONS of opportunities. The band just stopped touring due to mis-management
Dave: What do you like mostly about being in the music biz, - both in recording
Billy: Music! I'm a music lover & fan from the beginning. I still look
at it like a fan in many ways, but as a player, I just love to play.
I play all the time---recording or not, writing or not, just for the
sheer enjoyement of it. It's carried me through the roughest times and
inspired me to and brought about the best of times. Music is the greatest
art form. To perform it live is like nothing else. To record it and
have it available to hear again is a miracle. To be paid for all this?
I'm the luckiest person on Earth. And the most thankful.
Dave: And finally, your message to those who are still big on the Big?
Billy: Mr. Big was an amazing band. I'm proud to have been associated with
it. In spite of any hard times, it was worth it. It was worth it to
have touched in a positive way, so many wonderful people all over the
world, and then get to share so much with them. We had 12 great years
of music. I wish everyone associated with the band the absolute best,
and I thank, from the bottom of my heart, everyone who ever heard a
song on the radio & liked it, everyone who came to our shows or
who shelled out their hard earned cash on a ticket, CD, or T-shirt.
I hope we brough some enjoyment to you all. You brought so much more
to me. Thanks.
Dave: Billy. Thanks for your time. Take care.
Billy: My pleasure! Thanks a lot!