By Brian M. Howle
Revolutionary bass player Billy Sheehan is releasing his second solo album, Cosmic Troubadour, through Favored Nations in February and will be holding down the groove for his longtime band-mate and now label President Steve Vai on March 18, 2005 in N. Myrtle Beach, SC at House of Blues. Joining Sheehan and Vai onstage will be guitar/keyboard virtuoso Tony MacAlpine, fellow Favored Nations artist David Weiner, and drummer Jeremy Colson. Eric Sardinas will open the show, showcasing his signature dobro/slide/blues/rock/fusion style that will simply blow you away.
Produced by Pat Regan, Cosmic Troubadour again sees Sheehan handling multi-instrumental duties and writing all of the material, as he did on his 2001 debut Compression (Favored Nations). The tracks cross a multitude of genres while still remaining true to his hard rock roots. Beginning with the prog-rock syncopation of “Toss It To The Flame,” to the pulsating bass line of the instrumental “The Suspense Is Killing Me” to the closing King Crimsonesque polyrhythm of “A Million Tears Ago,” Sheehan is able to juxtapose elements of funk and blues with a foundation in metal.
Sheehan was voted the “Best Rock Bass Player” 5 times in Guitar Player magazine’s Readers Poll, and has also had his rock n roll legacy cemented, literally, on the Hollywood Rockwalk at Guitar Center in 1999.
I had the good fortune to speak with Billy Sheehan about his career and the upcoming HOB show last weekend via telephone, as he granted Alternatives an interview to promote the show.
Howle: So, how’s the current tour going for you guys?
Sheehan: Well, it’s going great, actually. We’re having a really good time, and the shows have been just been fantastic so far.
Howle:: OK, go back to the beginning for me. What was the catalyst for your involvement in music, and who influenced you at the start?
Sheehan: Oh, man, that’s easy … I saw the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show, and I saw all those girls just going absolutely insane over the lads, you know (laughs) … and I was shy around girls, and I knew I loved music, so it all just made perfect sense to me!
Howle: Hey, seeing and hearing those boys on the Sullivan show is what got me into bands, too!
Sheehan: Hey, they seemed to have that kind of impact on guys at the time (laughs).
Howle:: What’s your writing style? Do you write from a lead line or a bass line perspective?
Sheehan: Well, both, actually … but it starts from a main line of melody, and then works from there. There are some songs, of course, that evolve from bass riffs that you play around with. Those might be bass-lined, but most of it is from normal writing, and then a bass line works itself into the song.
Howle: What do you feel has been the greatest innovation in music since you began – say, your favorite gear, or toy, that you use in recording and playing?
Sheehan: Well, kids now have the ability to record at home unlike anything we ever dreamed about. I mean, what would cost literally hundreds of thousands of dollars just a few years back – multi-track recorders, special audio effects and the like – you can now have all that on a home computer. It’s really leveled the playing field, and I think that’s a great thing; it’s really been a revolution. I don’t think we’ve seen a lot of results from it yet, but I think that’s coming.
Howle: Hey, I’ve always maintained that if I could have had this technology back when I was a kid, I’d rule the world now! To be constrained only by the limits of one’s imagination? My head would have exploded!
Sheehan: Oh, it’s the perfect thing for musicans who know what they’re doing, but even for those who are just starting out; having a studio in a box for what was the equivalent of several million dollars just twenty years ago. I think we’re in a great time for music’s evolution and change. I think the pendulum’s swung back the other way now, and it’s a very positive time for music.
Howle: Any new artists of interest that you’ve encountered or heard lately? Anyone out there catch your ear?
Sheehan: Well, with our touring schedule, it’s sometimes hard to catch a lot of new stuff. But I do have time to catch something on the radio or download some I-tunes now and then. Some of the bands I enjoy are, let’s see – As I Lay Dying, My Chemical Romance – they have some interesting stuff. As far as my own library, I’ve been attempting to get everything on CD. My collection is an eclectic mix of stuff, but it’s all the great music that had an affect on me throughout the course of my life. I thought it would be a hundred CDs or so; right now I’m at about 700 and looking at probably another 500 (both laugh) … but everything in my collection is something that had a personal affect on me.
Howle: So, what’s on the immediate horizon for you? What’s the feedback like for your latest CD, “Cosmic Troubadour?”
Sheehan: It’s been amazing. I’ve gotten some great e-mails from all over the world. It’s been out in Europe, and in Japan a little be longer – but people are diggin’ it, and that’s great to hear, because I worked really hard on this record. I always try to do my best – I always try to push the envelope, and out-do myself. And I never take the path of least resistance (both laugh again) … I always want to do more than what my capabilities are, and people have responded to it in a positive way, and I’m very, very pleased with that. And so far, right out of the gate, the shows on this tour are fantastic, and the crowds have been great. I’m very lucky, very thankful, and very happy about it.
Howle: Well, just so you know, Myrtle Beach has a knowledgable little rock culture that’s looking forward to seeing you guys onstage.
Sheehan: Oh, I have a couple of musician friends in Myrtle Beach, and they’ve told me it’s quite the place for music, so I’m looking forward to coming there and playing for you guys. It will be very, very cool.
There you have it, kids. For an incredible night of guitar (and bass) virtuosos – who will, individually and collectively, simply amaze you – be sure and catch the amazingly talented Steve Vai and his buddies – Sheehan, MacAlpine, Weiner & Colson – at House Of Blues in North Myrtle Beach on March 18, 2005. And make sure to get there early, because the opening act – Eric Sardinas – just may be the best thing you’ve never seen. Believe me, as Billy said – it will be very, very cool.
The previous article appeared in Alternatives NewsMagazine, March 10, 2005.