Born: Mar 19, 1953 in Buffalo, NY
Styles: Hard Rock, Heavy Metal, Guitar Virtuoso
Often called "the Eddie Van Halen of the bass," Billy Sheehan just happened to catch his big break playing with former Van Halen frontman David Lee Roth. Although Eddie Van Halen gets the lion's share of credit for popularizing the two- handed tapping technique on guitar, it's been rumored that Sheehan began utilizing the same technique around the same time, albeit on his bass, resulting in a debate during the '80s (among guitar geeks, at least) as to who was the true originator. Hailing from the chilly locale of Buffalo, New York, Sheehan spent much of the '70s and early '80s as the leader of Talas, a bar band that first started by playing covers before focusing primarily on original material (that sounded quite similar to Van Halen). The Van Halen connection grew stronger when the band took Talas out on the road for a smattering of arena gigs in 1980 (despite the fact that Talas wasn't even on a major label at the time). According to Sheehan years later, Eddie Van Halen supposedly made overtures to Sheehan to replace Michael Anthony in Van Halen, but Sheehan remained in Talas. Several indie releases followed, 1980s Talas: Featuring Billy Sheehan, 1982's Sink Your Teeth into That, and 1983's Live Speed on Ice, as Sheehan began to be recognized for his exceptional bass talents in national guitar publications. Just as Talas was about to sign their much-sought-after major label contract in 1985, Sheehan received a call from his old pal, David Lee Roth, inquiring if the bassist would like to join his solo band (Roth had just exited Van Halen). Sheehan accepted, and along with guitarist Steve Vai and drummer Gregg Bissonette, David Lee Roth's band was born. Although this lineup would last for a single album (1986's Eat 'Em and Smile) and tour, the group managed to do a fantastic job of balancing their instrumental technical prowess with penning anthemic arena rockers (a Talas-era Sheehan composition, "Shy Boy," would be included on the album and serve as a concert opener). Despite the accolades and success the group received, the union would sadly prove to be short-lived, as Sheehan was forced by Roth to tone down his playing style on the next release, 1988's Skyscraper - resulting in Sheehan's exit from the band prior to the supporting tour. Sheehan didn't take long to appear again, as he followed in the Roth band's commercial hard rock sound with a new band called Mr. Big, comprising ex-Racer X six-string shredder Paul Gilbert, former solo recording artist Eric Martin on vocals, and drummer Pat Torpey. The band's debut, Mr. Big, debuted in 1989, but it wasn't until 1991's Lean into It that the group experienced commercial success in the U.S. (albeit brief), with a pair of hit ballads, "To Be with You" and "Just Take My Heart." Although Mr. Big would continue issuing albums throughout the '90s, their U.S. fan base dwindled (they remained an arena headliner in Japan, however), resulting in the group's demise by the early 21st century. Sheehan has since kept himself busy with a variety of other projects, including a power trio named Niacin (along with keyboardist John Novello and drummer Dennis Chambers), a collaboration with ex-Frank Zappa drummer Terry Bozzio (Nine Short Films), as well as backing old pal Vai on several G3 U.S. tours. 2001 finally saw the release of Sheehan's first true solo album, Compression. Additionally, Sheehan has guested on numerous recordings by other artists over the years, including those of Glenn Hughes, Glenn Tipton, Explorer's Club, Tony MacAlpine, and Richie Kotzen, in addition to various tribute albums.
- Greg Prato (All Music Guide)