Examiner.com conducted an interview with Billy Sheehan who played bass on David Lee Roth’s first two solo LPs. We’ve listed the Van Halen content below:
Considered by many to be the Eddie Van Halen of bass, Billy Sheehan launched his recording career in the late ’70s with the Buffalo-based rock trio Talas, then joined original Van Halen frontman David Lee Roth’s band in the mid-’80s for two platinum-selling albums. After parting with Diamond Dave, Sheehan formed Mr. Big in 1988. Best known for its hit ballad “To Be with You”—which went to number one in 15 countries including the U.S. in 1992—Mr. Big called it quits a decade later, but in 2009 the original lineup reformed for a massive tour of Asia and Europe.
Earlier this month, the band released What If…, the first album in 15 years from the reunited rockers, which instantly went gold in Japan upon release. I spoke with Billy while he was at the music product industry’s NAMM Show in January about the new album, his long relationship with Japan, and Mr. Big’s future touring plans.
If you had a wish list of groups that you could tour with, who would it be?
Well, we did a lot of touring with Rush in the old days; a tour with Rush would be great, because they are such wonderful people. I didn’t really know them that well before we toured with them, but getting to know the guys from Rush, they are just wonderful, wonderful people. We also toured with Bryan Adams; that was pretty cool, too, because he’s got a zillion hits, and that was a lot of fun, too; a great tour.
You’ve also played with Aerosmith.
We did some shows with them in Europe and they were really successful; nice bunch of guys, too. Yeah, I don’t know—maybe Mr. Big and a couple of other acts; Tesla, maybe, or Cinderella, or guys like that—our generation of bands. In the end, it’s not so much a concern other than the fact that we just want to play.
There’s always Van Halen, right?
[Laughs] That’d be good.
Have you spoken to David Lee Roth since he got back together with Van Halen in 2007?
Not since then; I spoke with him just prior to that. He’s still my hero, you know? I still love Dave, and I still look back at the Eat ’Em and Smile days as one of the greatest things that ever happened to me.
This year also marks the 25th anniversary of Eat ’Em and Smile’s release. Has there ever been any plan to reform that group, with or without Dave?
Not that I know of. Maybe some talk that was generated that I didn’t hear about. There’s been no plans, but it’s something where I keep a candle lit, you know? Even if it was just three or four shows or eight or ten shows, it would just be a riot, because all of us—myself, Steve Vai and Gregg [Bissonette]—we are still very close friends, and the stories we tell from those days are just incredible. And all of us love Dave; he was the man. He was the biggest rock star in the world when we were working with him, and that was just an incredible trip.
What do you think of the chemistry in Van Halen now that Eddie’s son Wolfgang is on bass? Did you see them on tour?
You know, I didn’t go. To me—no offense, I love Ed and Al and Dave—but to see Mike [Anthony] not there kind of threw me a little bit, and I’m sure Wolfie’s a great player, a fine player, and a good kid. But I’m a fan, and I want to see the original lineup, you know? It was sad to see that Michael wasn’t there. I don’t know; I saw some bootleg video footage and bootleg audio, and it sounded pretty good. Eddie was killing, and Dave’s voice was in great shape. Dave’s really killing on the show I heard, and Wolfie plays bass great. But it’s just a fact that I would have really liked to see Michael up there.
I went to their show at Madison Square Garden, but something was missing.
Heartbreaking, heartbreaking. Again, I wish them well and it’s great for Wolfie; he’s Ed’s son, so that’s great. They were looking for somebody else to play bass, and I get the connection. But, you know, Michael’s an awesome player and a great vocalist, and he was the guy, you know? Hopefully, who knows what the future may bring.
What was it like when your band Talas opened for Van Halen on their 1980 tour?
It was like a Ph.D. in show business. I mean, we got to see some stuff that we had no idea, you know, that show business worked that way. And we saw [Van Halen] so consistently awesome, that on their worst night they were merely spectacular, these guys [laughs]—it was like a military operation. They’d get up and hit that stage, and man—that machine would kick in, amazing. From the openings to the banter between songs, Dave’s storytelling and Eddie’s spectacular playing, the whole band, the groove, and oh—it was just amazing. I look back on it as one of the luckiest things that ever happened; we opened for them about 30 or 40 shows in 1980—oh, God, it was amazing. I came off that tour knowing so much more about how it’s supposed to work [laughs] than I ever could have imagined on my own.
How did you get picked to open that tour?
There was a woman named Barbara Skydel with Premiere Talent in New York City, a booking agent, that booked Van Halen, the Who, a lot of the huge acts. We showcased for them in New York City for them to become our agents and to book us. Unknown to us, they sent our demo tape to Van Halen, who wanted kind of an unknown opening act, but somebody who’s not going to, you know, blow it. And they said yes—we had no idea that we were even in line for it! So the Talas guitar player [Dave Constantino] pulled up to pick me up for a gig and he had a bottle of champagne with him…he broke the news, we freaked out. When we did the shows they were actually pretty cool with us; they let us do a couple of encores and we did really well in front of the crowd. To this day, I get e-mail from people that saw that show.