Spotlight Then and Now: Billy Sheehan

BACK BEFORE THERE was a Bass Player magazine, GP used to cover bassists, and that coverage extended to the Spotlight column as well.

BACK BEFORE THERE WAS A BASS PLAYER magazine, GP used to cover bassists, and that coverage extended to the Spotlight column as well. In the December 1982 issue, Mike Varney introduced us to a lead bass player with crazy blond hair, a heavily modified and beat-to-hell Fender bass, and out-of-this-world technique named Bill Sheehan. Players everywhere would soon come to know him quite well, albeit as Billy, when they saw him in full-page ads, on magazine covers, and on the biggest stages in David Lee Roth’s band. Sheehan won GP’s Best Rock Bassist award five years in a row and toured the planet with Mr. Big. Along the way, he collaborated with Yamaha to design a signature bass, put out the solo album Compression, and participated in the bass extravaganza of Bx3 with Jeff Berlin and Stu Hamm (and GP’s own Jude Gold on guitar). More recently Sheehan has released Krush with his band Niacin and the debut album with his new band the Winery Dogs, featuring Sheehan alongside drummer Mike Portnoy and guitarist/vocalist Richie Kotzen.

“Back in 1982,” says Sheehan, “Mike Varney was kind enough to feature me in his Spotlight column, and that was my first major press in the USA. The impact was immediate— at Talas shows, we had lots more people come out to see us and even better responses from the crowds. Even though we’d been around for a while and were doing well—I was actually on tour with UFO at the time the article came out—Mike’s column put a ‘stamp of legitimacy’ on the band and myself. I very much enjoyed becoming friends with Mike. He is hilarious, and a real straight shooter business-wise. Later on, I ended up playing bass on two other of his Spotlight artist’s debut records—Tony MacAlpine and Greg Howe—as well as a Rush tribute record with Mike Portnoy. And as of right now, I’m starting a new band with Mike Portnoy and Richie Kotzen, who was in the Spotlight column himself when he was 17 years old, and rightfully so. Most of all, Mike Varney was instrumental in putting together my band Mr. Big, which led to incredible success all over the world. For all this I’m very grateful for GP and Mike Varney’s initial help and support. Thank you!”