Having sat in the front row of a Billy Sheehan concert, I can attest to the infectious energy of his playing, it is a sound that simply cannot be resisted. To borrow a Biblical phrase, he makes a “joyful noise”; and in terms of technique, Billy has it in spades.
Hailing from Buffalo NY, Billy first gained attention after forming with the hard-rock band Talas. Talas built a great reputation in the Buffalo area, ultimately releasing two albums, Talas (1979) independently and Sink Your Teeth Into That (1982) on Relativity Records. Unfortunately, even after opening for Van Halen and UFO, Talas couldn’t break into Top 40 radio; eventually, Sheehan moved on to join David Lee Roth’s band. With Roth, Sheehan finally hit the big time, even contributing “Shy Boy” which would become a signature tune for Roth.
After playing the side-man for Roth, Sheehan tried his hand at forming another band of his own. This time the stars were aligned. Mr. Big finally provided Sheehan with a hit single: “To Be With You” (1991) off their second album Lean Into It. For almost a year, the song was simply inescapable.
Billy Sheehan – Rock, Metal, Jazz?
While continuing to work with Mr. Big up to the present, Sheehan has fearlessly followed his musical muse, from the jazz-fusion trio Niacin to solo albums and rock supergroup The Winery Dogs, with eighties-era shredder Ritchie Kotzen on guitar and Dream Theater’s Mike Portnoy pounding the skins.
When it comes to instruments, Sheehan has been pretty single-minded. He started on a Hagstrom Bass before moving on to a Fender Precision. Sheehan was prone to modifying his instruments, which led to the Yamaha Signature “Attitude” Bass, which is his go-to instrument. Sheehan’s tone resides in the “bottom end” but he uses unique amplifier combinations to create a clear, cutting signal that allows him to use the bass as a lead instrument. Whether as a side-man or band leader, one word sums up Sheehan’s playing: excitement!