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Billy Sheehan Biography

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Billy Sheehan (born March 19, 1953 in Buffalo, New York,) is a U.S. bass guitarist known for his work with Talas, Steve Vai, David Lee Roth, Mr. Big, and Niacin.

Sheehan has won Guitar Player magazine's "Best Rock Bass Player" readers' poll five times for his "lead bass" playing style. Guitar Player has likened his soloing on the four-string instrument to Eddie Van Halen's on the six-string guitar. Sheehan's repertoire includes the use of chording, two-handed tapping and controlled feedback. However, Sheehan is also noted as a steady "true" bassist, fulfilling the traditional supportive role of the electric bass guitar in the rock idiom.

Reportedly, Billy Sheehan has taken part in over six thousand live shows.

Billy Sheehan's first instrument was an acoustic guitar that he borrowed incessantly from his sister. Legend has it that Sheehan wanted an electric guitar, but his grandmother said: "Over my dead body!" She died soon after, and some of the life insurance money was used to buy him an electric guitar.

However, Sheehan says that when he saw Tim Bogert of the band Vanilla Fudge using a Fender Precision bass with a maple fingerboard, Sheehan switched to the bass guitar.

Billy Sheehan's first electric bass was a Hagstrom FB bass, which was soon sistered by a Precision bass similar to Tim Bogert's. After acquiring the Precision bass, he removed the frets from the Hagstrom. Over the years, he heavily modified the Precision bass as well, adding a neck pickup and additional support for the bolt-on neck, which Sheehan considers its greatest weakness. The neck pickup was added for what Sheehan referred to as "super deep low end" modelled after Paul Samwell-Smith of the Yardbirds. The EB-O type pickup in the neck and the original split Precision bass pickup each have their own separate output jacks on the bass itself, allowing for control of the tone via the bass. Sheehan also uses two amps to achieve his signature tone (as do Chris Squire of Yes and Doug/Dug Pinnick of King's X), one with full distortion and notch filtering to sound more guitar-like for solos, and one super clean for the low end of the neck pickup. This bass has been retired, but he affectionately refers to it as "The Wife." [1]

Sheehan played it regularly up until the late 1980's, when he began using self-designed Yamaha Attitude basses. These instruments are modeled on his Precision, but feature, in Sheehan's estimation, a number of improvements, including multi bolt-on neck construction style and an aftermarket device called the Hipshot D-tuner on the E-string, which allows him to quickly drop the pitch of the string to D and raise it again.

Sheehan cites a variety of influences, from Bogert to Johann Sebastian Bach, but he cites Jimi Hendrix as his primary influence, possibly because his first show was a Hendrix concert. (He also claims to have gotten the idea for two-handed tapping from Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, who used his right hand index finger to tap a note on the fretboard of his guitar at a concert Billy attended.)

Sheehan’s first full-time band was Talas, a three-piece power trio with Dave Constantino on guitar and Paul Varga on drums. Talas, with all three instrumentalists alternating on lead vocals a'la The Beatles, played a mixture of cover songs and original material.

Talas was one of Buffalo's most popular local bands for over a decade, arguably attaining cult status which spread into the northeast and into Canada. In 1978, Talas released their eponymous debut album, which generated the regional hit single, "See Saw". It was during this time that Sheehan wrote some of his most famous songs, namely "Shy Boy" (later re-recorded with David Lee Roth,) and the complex and frenetic "Addicted to that Rush" (later re-recorded with Mr. Big.)

Talas' first national exposure happened in 1980, when they opened thirty shows for Van Halen. However, success was elusive, and even as their brand of what came to be known as "hair metal" gained popularity over the next few years, Talas remained an unsigned act, due largely to poor management. They independently released their debut eponymous "Talas" LP on Evenfall Records (reissued by Metal Blade) and then "Sink Your Teeth Into That" on Relativity Records.

Seeking to take Talas further than just regional success, Billy reformed Talas with another drummer (Mark Miller), guitarist (Mitch Perry, also later of Heaven) and a dedicated vocalist, Phil Naro (whom Billy had previously worked with in his side project, the Billy Sheehan Band in the late '70's). Talas would release only one more album, Live Speed on Ice. After Mitch Perry left Talas (reportedly due to alcohol problems), he was replaced by Johnny Angel, who played guitar with the band for their '85/'86 US tour opening for Yngwie Malmsteen's Rising Force. There was a fourth Talas record, tentatively titled "Lights, Camera, Action" to be issued on Gold Mountain/A&M, but it never got past the demo stage due to Sheehan leaving to join David Lee Roth's solo band. Talas did briefly continue on under Phil Naro sans Sheehan, enlisting Jimmy Degrasso on drums, Al Pitrelli on guitar and Bruno Ravel on bass, but by this time Talas was dead.

Billy has recently reunited the original Talas trio for a few shows here and there as well as a live CD, "If We Only Knew Then," issued on Metal Blade. ("Sink Your Teeth Into That" and "Live Speed On Ice" were combined and re-released as "Billy Sheehan: The Talas Years" on Relativity Records.)

David Lee Roth tapped Sheehan, guitarist Steve Vai, and drummer Gregg Bissonette to be his band for the Eat 'Em and Smile album, Roth's second after leaving Van Halen. The recording yielded the hard rock classic "Yankee Rose" and showcased Sheehan's rhythmic sensibilities. After Roth's Skyscraper album was issued, Sheehan left the band to pursue other opportunities. Steve Vai followed shortly thereafter.

In 1988, Billy Sheehan, along with singer Eric Martin, guitarist Paul Gilbert, and drummer Pat Torpey formed Mr. Big. Mr. Big had huge American hits with "Addicted to That Rush" from their eponymous first album and the ballad, "To Be With You" (from their second album, Lean Into It,) but were unable to duplicate it with later releases. However, the band had a huge following in Japan. Internal tensions led to Gilbert quitting the band in 1997. Richie Kotzen replaced him, and was with Mr. Big until the group's breakup in 2002.

Billy Sheehan has toured Poland with UFO, and joined Steve Vai on the well-regarded G3 tour. He is a regular member of Vai's touring band and also has performed on many of his solo albums. In 1999, he helped to record the widely acclaimed album "Brotherhood", with the multi-platinum Japanese band, B'z, and subsequently played with the band live for their 2002 "Green" Tour.

In 2001, Billy Sheehan released a long-awaited solo album, Compression, and in 2005, he recorded his second solo effort, Cosmic Troubadour. Both feature Sheehan singing and playing guitar.

In 2002, Sheehan guested on metal fusion band Planet X's MoonBabies, which led to his involvement on Planet X keyboardist Derek Sherinian's solo album Black Utopia 2003.

Another of Sheehan's projects is the three-piece jazz-rock-fusion band, Niacin, which also features drummer Dennis Chambers and Hammond B3 player John Novello.

Sheehan is also the author of a popular series of instructional books and videos, and, even though he has little formal training on the electric bass guitar, gives bass clinics and has hosted seminars at the famous Berklee College of Music.

Sheehan along with Mike Portnoy, Gary Cherone, and Paul Gilbert performed three concerts in the end of May 2006 as Amazing Journey: A Tribute to The Who.

Billy's main bass is a Yamaha Billy Sheehan Attitude 4 string bass with aftermarket blue LEDs and laser pointer, by Sims UK. He is a long time user of the Hipshot Bass D-tuner which allows him to drop the low E to a lower D on his bass' 4th string, all of his signature Yamaha basses have them factory installed. Billy is a long time Ampeg user, he has used Ampeg SVT-4Pro amplifiers for several years. Ampeg also makes his signature SVP-BSP pre-amps. A few more of his main rack units are: a no longer produced Pearce solid state dual channel pre-amp, he uses it to get distorted tones, as well as an Ashley dual channel compressor. He runs it all through to Ampeg bass cabinets equipped with speakers from 10" up to 18" in diameter.
 
 
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