If you were fortunate enough to attend one of David Lee Roth’s concerts 35 summers ago, you’ll likely remember the epic onstage bass/guitar duel between bassist Billy Sheehan and guitarist Steve Vai. Then again, if you were at one of the first few shows, odds are you didn’t see it at all and Sheehan can explain why.
During a recent appearance on the podcast Breaking Absolutes with Peter Orullian, Sheehan talked about his experience working with Roth on the band’s Eat ‘Em and Smile tour, which began on this month in 1986.
“Dave was very, very smart and I love him dearly,” said Sheehan. “It was his bat and ball, it was his game, it was his thing. He did it right, he treated us very well, and we had a great time on that tour. And mostly ideas of anything that you see that is cool or clever or interesting, were Dave’s ideas. That’s just the way he is, quite a talent in many respects.
“We did it with a tongue-in-cheek comedy too,” Sheehan continued. “We didn’t want to just go: ‘Hey, watch this stuff.’ As a matter of fact, the solos we did in the show, the first couple shows I’d go out and do my bass solo, Steve would do his solo later in the set, and we’d end the show. About two or three shows in, Dave called me and Steve and he goes, ‘You know, the solo thing, it’s not working for me.’ ‘Oh, what does that mean? ‘ He goes, ‘It should be like a giant tractor pull, like, you guys battle it out! So, Steve, you go start, Bill, you run up behind him, grab his guitar and mute it, push him aside, and you play, and Steve, you push…’ And he orchestrated the whole battle thing, it was Dave’s idea completely. We did it and people went crazy!”
Watch “Yankee Rose” / Billy Sheehan & Steve Vai Solo / “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love / “Goin’ Crazy!” (Detroit 1986)
Sheehan added, “[When it comes to] a bass solo, you want it to be musical but also in a live show, you want some entertainment. You’re there not see somebody staring at his shoes, playing his amazing augmented diminished cemented chords, and everything. So when we did that, it was supremely entertaining and funny and fun. And Steve and I had a blast doing it. And it worked, so thanks to Dave, he created quite an entity with that.”
Watch Billy Sheehan, Steve Vai & David Lee Roth MTV Interview From 1986