BILLY SHEEHAN Discusses MR. BIG Reunion

BigMusicGeek.com recently conducted an interview with legendary bassist Billy Sheehan (MR. BIG, DAVID LEE ROTH, TALAS). Several excerpts from the chat follow below.

BigMusicGeek.com: What were the main motivations behind MR. BIG reuniting? I had always assumed, based solely on the rumors and half-truths that circulated in the press, that a full-fledged reunion simply would not be realistic.

Billy: "One of the beginnings of that was when (guitarist) Paul (Gilbert) played on (my solo record) 'Holy Cow' on the song 'Dynamic Exhilarator'. It was the first time we had worked in a studio together since we had been in MR. BIG together. We jammed a zillion times and we hang out together a lot because we're both here in L.A., but we never actually thought about working together. When he came in to do the solo on 'Dynamic Exhilarator', we had a blast. It was awesome. He did a great, great solo. The first one is amazing and the second one somehow tops it (laughs). So after that, we had a little more organized jam here in L.A. when he played with his band. Richie Kotzen was there and Pat Torpey was there and we played a couple of MR. BIG songs. The crowd went out of their minds and we were like, 'The only thing that could top this is if (vocalist) Eric (Martin) was here.' So a couple of e-mails started floating back and forth and the next thing you know, we said, 'Well, let's get together and have dinner just to hang,' and right at that point, we just said, 'Yeah, let's just do it.. The good thing about it is that nobody dangled cash in front of us. It didn't come from outside of us. It wasn't where someone had an idea and said, 'Yeah, let's put your band back together. Let's put you on a bus somewhere for six months before you break up again.' So it actually came from us, from our desire to really want to play together again and how much we loved the band. It was self-generated and organic in that respect, so now it's going to happen again."

BigMusicGeek.com: Once the reunion commenced, how difficult was it to avoid the animosities and difficulties of the past?

Billy: "I didn't notice a thing. We were together in Japan for a whole week in close quarters doing press for the upcoming tour, the upcoming releases and things like that and they had a hard time getting us from one room into the interview room because we were so busy telling stories about adventures we've had since the band and during the band. We had people around us the whole time. I remember asking the translator…I forget what her name was, 'You've been around us the whole time, translating everything. You can tell people this is the real thing, right? And she says 'Tell them? I'm going to write a book about it.' So we actually did have a great time. Most of the animosities of the past, the difficulties are like when you meet an old friend that you grew up with all through your youth, but for some reason, in the fifth grade, you had a fight and never talked to each other again. Well, when you get back together again, it's like it never happened. It was very much like that."

BigMusicGeek.com: Did you feel MR. BIG lost some of its creative momentum once Paul Gilbert left the group? (Ex-POISON axeman) Richie Kotzen was obviously a more-than-capable replacement, but it couldn't have been the same…

Billy: "It never was. I love Richie. We all love Richie and we love what his contribution to the band was. We jammed again the other night. It was myself, Paul Gilbert, Richie, Pat Torpey and a couple of other people at the House Of Blues. We love Richie. He's fantastic, but for me, whenever an original member of the band changes, it's not the same band. I'm a fan. I've got sixty thousand songs on my iTunes and I've got three hundred gigs of tunes on my drive. I'm a big, big fan of a lot of bands and a lot of different music and it's always thrown me for a loop when there's been a personnel change. That's why, for me, being in the band and having Paul quit was tough. Our choices were to either break up or bring in Richie. It just wasn't the same band. Playin' all the old songs was cool, but it's not the same. Richie's a more than competent guitarist. He's a spectacular player with his own unique style, but at the same time, it just wasn't the same. So to have the original lineup with Paul, Eric Martin, myself and Pat Torpey…that's the real band. That's the band that we got our success with. To me, that's the real version of MR. BIG, but we still love Richie. He's wonderful."

BigMusicGeek.com: What ultimately led you to your decision to no longer work with David Lee Roth following the release of (1988's) "Skyscraper"? Was there the proverbial "creative differences," or was it something on a more personal level?

Billy: "Dave took a chance. He decided to try a new direction with the music. In a way, he was right because he wanted to mix dance beats into the music. He was like, 'We need to be more dance-orientated.' And I was like, 'That's great', but it just wasn't me. I just couldn't get up there and do that kind of thing. So I was gone, but in a way he was right because dance music did become the next giant thing and now that's pretty much all there is. I call it karaoke aerobics. It's basically people doing karaoke because they're singers who don't really sing on their records and just get pitch-corrected. And then they get eight to twelve people to do aerobics next to them and that's ninety percent of the music that you see on TV now. So in a way, he was right, but the problem with doin' a switch like that when you're a rocker guy is that the rockers are going to hate you because you've turned on them and the dance guys are going to hate you because you were once a rock guy. So unfortunately, he fell between the cracks, but in a way he was right. He accurately predicted that dance music was going to come in. It did, but at the same time, we had a lot of other great music by a lot of other great bands. I just think he threw the dice and they just didn't come up with the number he needed."

BigMusicGeek.com: Any truth to the rumors that you were approached regarding replacing Michael Anthony in VAN HALEN? In hindsight, it's a seemingly logical move considering your connection to David Lee Roth as a solo artist…

Billy: "Yeah, I was. For a long time, I denied it because (former VAN HALEN bassist) Michael (Anthony) is a dear friend of mine. I love him so much. I was kinda caught in the middle. It's happened several times. Once right after we (TALAS) toured with them in 1980, it happened again in '82 after the 'Diver Down' record, it happened again just before Dave called me…and then, when I was out of MR. BIG before the Gary Cherone thing (i.e. 1998's 'Van Halen III') happened, I spoke with them and then I spoke with them again after that as well. So it's happened a bunch of times. We've always been toying with it (laughs). I went over to Ed's a couple of times and we jammed and talked about stuff. He's such a wonderful guy. I would love to go out with just Ed and a drummer, ya know? As much as I would have liked to be in the band, I didn't want the band to change because I'm a fan of VAN HALEN. If Michael ain't up there, it ain't the same band, even if it's me, ya know? But I'm sure if the opportunity would have gone further, I would have taken it. We talked about it seriously a couple of different times as several different points, but it never actually materialized. When they got back together with Dave and went out without Michael, I was kinda sad about it. So I'm very honored and I love all of those guys. Alex, Eddie, Dave and Michael, I love them all completely and I wish they were all together again. At least Dave and Eddie are back together again. I'm happy about that, ya know? That's how it goes. Who knows what tomorrow will bring. I'm just glad they're back together and hope they're happy. I love VAN HALEN. I love all four of the Van Halens and they've all been a great, great influence on me."

Read the entire interview at BigMusicGeek.com.

MR. BIG in Japan (2009 performance/interview footage):

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