Some days being a writer covering the music world is humbling and you get those ‘What?’ or ‘Whoa!’ moments; when you get to talk with someone you personally remember making the music that affected your life, your own playing, and that you consider to be a giant, a legend. This is one of those all wrapped up into one.
Billy Sheehan, legendary bassist and ‘that guy who plays the bass like it’s a lead guitar’; yeah, that guy who was in Mr. Big and was larger than life with David Lee Roth after he left Van Halen. With all of the bass players that I have spoken with, every single one of them mentions Billy Sheehan among their list of favorites and influences, even the guys that came before him and that says something.
I spoke with him about his new band with two other very accomplished musicians; drummer Mike Portnoy and guitarist Ritchie Kotzen. The three make up the new group The Winery Dogs and while no one has said super group, this one certainly could be although I hate that term.
“Vocalist and guitarist Richie Kotzen made his mark with Poison and Mr. Big, bassist Billy Sheehan has been rocking for decades with Steve Vai, David Lee Roth, Mr. Big and others, and drummer Mike Portnoy was the co-founder of progressive metal superstars Dream Theater.” – Press Release
These guys, all well-known to each other in life and in music, came together the way it started in the beginning for any musician; in the garage with nothing more than stripped away gear, no frills. The results are an entire album that rocks you, moves you, and makes you want to hear the next song. The music that makes you stop and search for who it is on the radio or anywhere you may hear it. Every song truly could be a single and not only is that rare, it’s almost unheard of. So, go check out The Winery Dogs immediately and catch them on tour now! They will be in and around us here in Syracuse so make that drive. In the meantime, take in what a legend has to say about the band, the music, musicians, and life; the man makes a lot of sense.
The Winery Dogs are:
- MIKE PORTNOY - Drums/Vocals
- RICHIE KOTZEN - Guitar/Vocals
- BILLY SHEEHAN - Bass/Vocals
Tour Dates (NY dates highlighted)
- Oct 23 Eddie Trunk's 30th Anniversary Party - Hard Rock Café NYC
- Oct 25 Upstate Concert Hall Clifton Park, NY
- Oct 26 Hard Rock Niagara Falls, NY
- Oct 27 Maingate Nightclub Allentown, PA
- Oct 29 Starland Ballroom Sayreville, NJ
- Oct 30 The Emporium Patchogue, NY
- Oct 31 The Met Pawtucket, RI
- Nov 02 Agora Ballroom Cleveland, OH
- Nov 03 Alrosa Villa Columbus, OH
- Nov 05 Mad Frog Cincinnati, OH
- Nov 06 Pierre's Niteclub Fort Wayne, IN
- Mar 29 Monsters Of Rock Cruise Miami, FL
Interview with Billy Sheehan
The man, the myth, the legendary Billy Sheehan; thanks so much for doing this today.
I have got to touch on the past just a bit, I mean your contributions to Mr. Big and David Lee Roth alone altered the way a generation of bassists played, can you talk about those experiences?
I’ve had a good run and played with a lot of great people. I’ve been through just about every aspect of the music business that you could imagine from the highest highs to the lowest lows; and all that experience adds up to a lifetime of playing and ability that I’m working on quite a bit, I practice more now than I think I ever have. It’s all good, it’s been an incredible adventure and it’s only getting better.
I have spoken to so many bassists and you are mentioned literally every single time when I ask about influences and who they enjoy seeing perform; so, your turn, who are yours and who do you like to watch?
Mine are mostly when I started out, old school; Paul Samwell-Smith from The Yardbirds, McCartney of course, Jack Bruce, Entwhistle, Chris Squire. Just about everybody and everything but not just the bass, I’m a big drum aficionado as well as it helps with the bass because they are the two most connected instruments on stage. Also pianists, violin, classical music, almost every type of music and instrument!
Let’s get to the new stuff; The Winery Dogs simply blew me away in the first 30-seconds of Elevate. I was actually sitting at a TGIFridays in Shoppingtown Mall, DeWitt N.Y. that had karaoke coming on and the DJ had a screen with music videos playing; I heard that and called him over and was like “Who is that?”. Can you talk about the bands formation and how this all came together?
Oh no kidding? Cool. Mike and I had worked together for years and Ritchie and I have known each other for a long time even before Mr. Big. So we all knew each other pretty well. Mike came to me and wanted to start a band and look for a guitar player, it was actually Eddie Trunk from That Metal Show that said I should call Ritchie, and I kicked myself thinking why didn’t I think of that? He’s my buddy and he lives right down the street but he just didn’t come to mind. So I called him and we got together in a room and started to play. We didn’t plan out what our vision was or anything we just started to play and that is what the album is; the three of us at this point in our lives together in a room playing and writing. That reflects on the record and the response the record has had so far I believe therefore that it’s a good formula, get in a room and play. Don’t plan and plot it out and scheme your way to anything just do the thing that you love to do and it always works out best anyway.
That’s the old school way of doing it and it shows in the music!
Ritchie said that “none of you lost your identity’ and I can hear that, what surprised me in a way was that when I first heard him singing I swore it was Chris Cornel!
(Laughs) Yeah we get that a lot and Paul Rogers as well and a bunch of different guys. Ritchie has his own unique aspect to his voice that separates him but he does sound like some contemporaries as well, only because I think they are all excellent singers so I’m glad he sounds like them! (Laughs)
With three extremely gifted musicians like yourselves, can you talk about the writing process and how these songs come to life?
Just getting in a room and playing, one very important element that we didn’t realize was; we got in a very small room with a very small drum kit, there was only one floor tom not even a rack tom, kick drum, snare drum, a couple cymbals. Myself with a little bass amp and Ritchie with just a little guitar amp so we didn’t have any technology to get in the way it was just us and our hearts, minds, and hands writing. It became a pretty honest way of doing it and a pretty accurate way of representing where we’re all at.
I think any musician; we all look back as just sitting in the garage days with a little amp just starting off as good days.
Yes! It’s a great thing. I think a lot of people get wrapped up in the technology and you have to have this and that but you don’t really need anything, you need your hands, you need to be there and that’s all there is to it.
Strip the fluff away and play damn it! (I laugh)
Right on! (Laughs)
You are just a master at some wild fills in songs throughout your entire career, where do they come from? Are they planned out or spontaneous? One good example is your riff at the beginning of ‘Not Hopeless’.
It’s mostly all spontaneous, I’m not really good at planning things out. I know a lot of musicians that do and that’s admirable but I mostly fly by the seat of my pants. I’m mostly improvisational. If I do a lick I’ll probably do the same lick next time but it’s going to be different. That’s why one of the more difficult things as we were setting up the tour was I had to go back and learn some of those licks (laughs). I had no idea how I was doing them! I sat down; I have a slow down program, and said what in the world was going on? I got a lot of them down but never really got a complete handle on what I did.
George Lynch told me the same thing once.
Exactly! I just want to fly you know? For me, if you’re thinking you’re stinking! If you’re a musician and you’re thinking you aren’t really playing. When you speak, you don’t think, you speak from the heart. You see people who do think what they are going to say and all the pausing and um, ah, and they don’t speak smoothly and don’t really reach you. Like someone speaking off a teleprompter, it’s just not the same. But when someone actually sits down and speaks to you and responds to you that is real communication, music is no different. So whether you’re communicating with someone directly in the audience or doing it through recording for them to hear later, it’s still kind of the same thing, just be yourself, do your thing, and let it happen.
Looking at your tour one cool thing I see is Eddie Trunk’s 30th Anniversary Party. Very cool looking show.
We are trying to get someone to live stream it on the internet but so far we haven’t found a way to do it yet but we are working on it.
That show and the ones in Poughkeepsie, NY (Since played), Clifton Park, Niagara Falls, and Allentown, PA kind of circle around Syracuse which is a bummer but all are drivable anyway; Will the tour be expanding from what is currently listed?
No, because we have a cut off time of the first week of November until spring. So we may still end up in Syracuse but it’s out of our hands you know, we don’t choose where we play, we play where they book us. Give me a stage and I’m ready to go!
You also will be on the ‘Monsters Of Rock’ cruise; that is on my ‘must do’ list. Have you done these before?
Not one of these no, but I’ve been on a cruise ship before, not my favorite way to spend a vacation but this one may be cool because it will be all rock people and not a bunch of old ladies with screaming babies, you know? (We laugh)
Can you hook a brother up for it? (We laugh some more)
Seriously though, this album rocks from the first track ‘Elevate’ right through to track 13 ‘Regret’, you take the listener on quite a diverse journey of sound and emotion, ‘The Dying’ is just an amazing song; what are some of your favorite tracks on it or do you not like to point any one out?
It changes from day to day, we play the entire album live which I really love. The audience seems to enjoy that as well. “I’m No Angel” is a great song in my humble opinion, we end the show with “Regret” and the place just roars, it’s really something. We start the show with “Elevate” and people go nuts; we played in Brazil and the album had been out one day, and the YouTube videos of the show the audience sings louder than the entire band. It’s hilarious! You can’t even hear us playing, it’s pretty amazing!
That is amazing! Again thanks for doing this today, I really appreciate it.
It’s absolutely my pleasure! I hope you get to come out and see us!
Lastly is there anything you want to say to the readers and fans out there?
Just how overwhelmingly surprised we were by all the peoples reactions to this record and extremely pleased. I know a lot of people say ‘Oh I’m not here to please anyone but myself’ and all that but I’m not like that, I enjoy pleasing people and I’m really thankful that it has brought a lot of joy and a lot of great responses to people. I offer my humble thanks to everyone who has bought or listened to the album and hopefully people can come see us live, sing along, and have a blast!