Billy Sheehan is one of the most highly rated rock bass players of all time, with a CV that includes Dave Lee Roth, Mr Big and Steve Vai. He has also released solo albums, most recently Cosmic Troubadour (2005), and six albums with Niacin, a jazz/rock fusion trio with Hammond organ player John Novello and Dennis Chambers on drums.
Born William Sheehan on March 19th, 1953 in Buffalo, New York, Billy’s first love was guitar, but he switched to bass after seeing Tim Bogert with Vanilla Fudge. Bass-wise, he swapped his Hagstrom FB for a Fender Precision, aka ‘The Wife’, which he used until the late ’80s when Yamaha offered him the chance to produce a signature model, The Attitude.
His first break came with the power trio Talas. While supporting Van Halen in 1980 Sheehan’s fiery playing caught the attention of singer Dave Lee Roth, who chose him to play with Steve Vai and drummer Greg Bissonette on Eat ‘Em And Smile (1986) and Skyscraper (1988) albums. Next he formed Mr Big with Paul Gilbert and released 1989’s Mr Big and Lean Into It (1991), and a number one US single with To Be With You. Mr Big folded in 2002 and since then Sheehan has focused on diverse projects including touring and recording with Steve Vai for the first time since their Roth days.
A noted innovator, Sheehan helped define the two-handed tapping technique. He claims to have been inspired by Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, but he’s taken it way further. He’s a superb ‘pure’ bass player, delivering what’s needed for the song, whether machinegun grooves, flat-out fills or simple, solid support.