There’s always a fuss created when a band embarks on their debut tour down under, especially after being in the music game for so long. Mr. Big are the latest band to do this with us and as they make their way across Australia for a double headline tour with Extreme, we had to grab Billy Sheehan from Mr. Big to find out what the hold up was…
Billy, thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to chat with Wall of Sound. Firstly why has it taken Mr. Big so long to tour Australia?
Nobody there would book us. We don’t choose where we play. No band does. We can only play places that hire us, that book us, that bring us to their country or city. We can’t just fly in somewhere and play. It simply does not work that way. There are work visas, customs declarations, tax documentation, immigration, hotel bookings, ground transportation and a ZILLION other details that must be attended to by the promoters and agents of the country bringing us in. We are ineligible to do much of that work.
I’ve gotten heated and hostile emails and comments suggesting we don’t want to play in a particular place. Nothing could be further from the truth. There’s no place I wouldn’t want to play, other than where there’s a shooting war going on—and we even did that once! They did a truce between warring tribal factions in India for us to do a show one time. No joke. Machine gun wielding guards everywhere. And why would we not want to play? Do a show, have a blast with hundreds or thousands or tens of thousands of happy people, hang out and have a fabulous time. It amazes me that people would think we’re avoiding doing that. Plus we get paid! ( I hope!—sort of) So yes, someone finally booked us in Australia. THANK YOU!
The tour has stirred a ton of excitement. After 30 years and 9 studio albums there is a lot of ground to cover, how do you decide on the setlist?
Unfortunately because they booked two bands, both bands have to reduce the length of their set. If they would have brought the bands in separately, we could have each done our full shows respectively. So we’ll try our best to squeeze in as much as possible.
Will it be a different setlist from other tours due to it being Mr. Big’s first time here?
Not necessarily, no. But it’s a shorter time allotment, so we have to cut it down in time.
Aside from capturing the awe of every rock musician on the planet when Mr. Big launched, you were touted as a supergroup, but yet managed to become a household name with ‘To Be With You’. How did that song come to be and did you expect it to be the international hit it was?
Not at all. If we knew it was going to be a hit, we would have released it first. It got released at a point where we were almost ready to end a long tour and come back home to start another record. I believe 3 or 4 other songs had been released prior to it with limited results. We were very happy and thankful to see it go so well. Having a hit record changes your life. I wish everyone could experience that.
Obviously there was a formula in the late 80’s and early 90’s from record companies. Rock song as the first single, ballad as the second etc. How happy were you with that formula and did you have any say in what was released?
There was no formula, actually. There was no plan. Maybe it might seem there was, but that was not the case. ‘To Be With You’ was put out against the record company’s wishes and was made a hit by our manager. The label had very little to do with it, and in fact, fought against its success initially. Amazingly. Then later took credit for it! Ha! True. Either way—no matter. We are grateful. And I love playing that song every night!
What inspires you musically today?
Seeing greatness in other players. On any instrument, and in any genre. I am a collector of music and my iTunes folder is over two terabytes. All with correct titles & cover art—ha! I browse through it and I’m always finding new and exciting things that inspire and motivate me. I still practice a lot–maybe more than ever, and I’m pleased to say the discoveries are endless. Lots of Australian ’60’s garage rock too!
What is the story behind the bands split in 2002?
No story really. Paul wanted to go out on his own.
Richie Kotzen replaced Paul Gilbert in the band from 1999 – 2002. Obviously you still have a great relationship with Richie as you share the Winery Dogs together. How do Richie and Paul differ as players and writers?
I think that should be obvious to even a casual listeners comparison of the two. They are both supremely talented and wonderful people. Quite different styles, but sometimes similar. I love them both.
Paul and yourself have a special magic together live, is he your perfect fit in a guitar player?
I’m lucky and honored to have played with many great musicians on many instruments. Playing with Paul is a joy, and a wonderful experience. We have much in common musically and personally. We certainly do fit well together, I believe.
One thing that has always drawn me to Mr. Big is the songwriting, you all seem to have an equal share in writing, what is involved in the writing process of a Mr. Big album?
We just come up with ideas of varying degrees of completion, finish them off, lyric them up, and then record. It’s pretty simple and pretty standard. Eric is a great songwriter and the rest of us do pretty good I guess. It’s nice to have everyone contribute.
Your bass sound is so distinct. Your tone and style are your trademarks. How did you develop your tone?
I played in a 3 piece band for most of my early years and I needed a full range tone to make up for lack of keyboards or rhythm guitar, as we, like everyone, started out as a cover band, and many songs we covered had much more extensive instrumentation. I never thought about creating or designing a tone–I just had to get the notes heard and get the job done. Nature took its course and it is what it is today.
You would have to be one of the busiest men in rock n roll, with numerous projects happening; Mr. Big, Sons Of Apollo, The Fell, The Winery Dogs and no doubt a number of pies that you have your fingers in that we aren’t familiar with. All are different, but your touch is evident. Do you have a favourite project/band that you are involved in?
The Winery Dogs are my favorite band. My heart & soul are in Mr. Big of course (and always will be) and I’m having a blast with Sons of Apollo. I consider myself lucky to be able to have the opportunity to play. With anyone! So these are wonderful times. The greatest thing in my life for me, is to be onstage playing.
Any final words for the fans coming to see you on this tour?
We will play our best for you. I consider “fans” to be friends, not fans. I’m looking forward to seeing everyone and playing our best for all of you and doing so in Pat’s honor.
Interview by Andrew Slaidins
Extreme & Mr. Big – Australian Tour 2018
June 7th @ Thebarton, Adelaide
June 8th @ Metro City, Perth