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Billy Sheehan

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Billy Sheehan
Sheehan with Mr. Big in 2016
Sheehan with Mr. Big in 2016
Background information
Birth nameWilliam Roland Sheehan
Born (1953-03-19) March 19, 1953 (age 71)[1]
Buffalo, New York, U.S.
  • Bass
  • vocals
Years active1970–present
Member of
Formerly of

William Sheehan (born March 19, 1953[1]) is an American musician known for playing bass guitar with acts such as Talas, Steve Vai, David Lee Roth, Mr. Big, Niacin, and The Winery Dogs. He is also known for his "lead bass" playing style, including the use of chording, two-handed tapping, "three-finger picking" technique and controlled feedback. Sheehan has been voted "Best Rock Bass Player" five times in Guitar Player readers' polls.[2]


Sheehan in 1992

Early years[edit]

Billy Sheehan's first electric bass was a Hagström FB,[lw 1] which was soon joined by a Precision bass. After acquiring the Precision bass, he removed the frets from the Hagström.[lw 2] Over the years, he heavily modified the Precision bass as well, scalloping the five highest frets, adding a neck pickup and additional support for the bolt-on neck, which Sheehan considers the instrument's greatest weakness. The neck pickup was added for what Sheehan referred to as "super deep low end" modelled after Paul Samwell-Smith of the Yardbirds and Mel Schacher of Grand Funk Railroad. The Gibson EB-0 type pickup in the neck and the original split-coil Precision bass pickup each have their own separate stereo output jacks on the bass itself, allowing for control of the tone via the bass. The Precision bass has since been retired, but Sheehan still affectionately refers to it as "The Wife".[4] Sheehan's signature Yamaha Attitude bass is patterned after this instrument. Sheehan also uses two amps to achieve his signature tone, one with full distortion and high pass filtering to sound more guitar-like, and one super-clean for the low end of the neck pickup.


Sheehan (right) in concert with Steve Vai, 2005

Sheehan's first full-time band was Talas, a power trio with Dave Constantino on guitar and Paul Varga on drums. The band played a mixture of cover songs and original material, and all three instrumentalists alternated on lead vocals.

Talas was a popular local band in Buffalo for over a decade, attaining a cult status which spread into the northeast US and into Canada. In 1979, Talas released their eponymous debut album, which generated the regional hit single, "See Saw". It was during this time that Sheehan wrote "Shy Boy" (later re-recorded with David Lee Roth), and "Addicted to that Rush" (later re-recorded with Mr Big).

In the late 1970s, Sheehan also played in a band called Light Years with drummer Ron Rocco who had earlier played in a band called Black Sheep with Foreigner singer Lou Gramm in Rochester, NY. After Sheehan returned to Talas they opened a show for UFO in Buffalo. This led Sheehan to an association with guitarist Michael Schenker and also helped land him the job touring with UFO in 1983.

Talas' first national exposure happened in 1980, when they opened thirty shows for Van Halen. However, success was elusive, and even as their brand of what came to be known as "glam metal" gained popularity over the next few years, Talas remained an unsigned act, partly due to poor management.[lw 3] They independently released their debut "Talas" LP on Evenfall Records (reissued by Metal Blade), and then "Sink Your Teeth into That" on Relativity Records.

Seeking to take Talas further than just regional success, Sheehan reformed Talas with another drummer (Mark Miller), guitarist (Mitch Perry, also later of Heaven), and a dedicated vocalist, Phil Naro, with whom in the late 1970s Sheehan had previously worked in his side project (the Billy Sheehan Band). Talas would release only one more album, Live Speed on Ice. After Mitch Perry left the band, he was replaced by Johnny Angel, who played guitar with them for their 1985/86 US tour opening for Yngwie Malmsteen's Rising Force. There was a fourth Talas record, tentatively titled "Lights, Camera, Action" to be issued on Gold Mountain/A&M, but it never got past the demo stage due to Sheehan leaving to join David Lee Roth's solo band. Talas did briefly continue on under Phil Naro sans Sheehan, enlisting Jimmy DeGrasso on drums, Al Pitrelli on guitar, Bruno Ravel on bass and Gary Bivona on keyboards but by this time Talas was dead and Ravel formed Danger Danger. Sheehan also auditioned for Toronto based rock band Max Webster, being a long time friend of Max Webster singer/guitarist Kim Mitchell.

In the early 1980s, Sheehan became involved with the proto-thrash metal band Thrasher, during this time he shared the stage with future Anthrax guitarist Dan Spitz. His involvement with Thrasher did not last long but he did play on the self-titled LP, reissued on CD in 2008.[5]

David Lee Roth band[edit]

See David Lee Roth.

Mr. Big[edit]

See Mr. Big (American band).


In 1996, Sheehan formed the jazz fusion band Niacin with drummer Dennis Chambers and keyboardist John Novello.[6][7] The band's name comes from the timbral foundation of the Hammond B3 organ; vitamin B3 is also known as niacin.[citation needed]

Niacin released their first studio album in 1996. Their music is primarily instrumental, with the exception of their third studio album, Deep (2000), which features vocals by Glenn Hughes of Deep Purple. The album also includes guest guitar by Steve Lukather of Toto.[6]

The Winery Dogs and Sons of Apollo[edit]

Sheehan performing with Mike Portnoy, Derek Sherinian, and Tony MacAlpine at De Boerderij, Netherlands, 2012

Sheehan toured with PSMS (Portnoy / Sheehan / MacAlpine / Sherinian), an instrumental supergroup, in the second half of 2012.[8][9][10]

Sheehan, along with Portnoy and Richie Kotzen, recorded the debut album for their new band The Winery Dogs in August 2012. The self-titled album was released in 2013.[11][12] Their second album Hot Streak was released in 2015.[13]

In August 2017, he joined another band with Portnoy, a progressive metal supergroup named Sons of Apollo and also featuring keyboardist Derek Sherinian, vocalist Jeff Scott Soto and guitarist Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal.[14]

Personal life[edit]

Sheehan has been an active member of the Church of Scientology since 1971, having converted from Catholicism.[15] Sheehan and his wife, Elisabetta, live in Nashville, TN.[16][17]

Partial discography[edit]

With Talas[edit]

  • 1979: Talas
  • 1982: Sink Your Teeth into That
  • 1984: Live Speed on Ice
  • 1990: Talas Years (compilation)
  • 1998: If We Only Knew Then What We Know Now - Live in Buffalo
  • 2022: 1985[18]

With Thrasher[edit]

  • 1985: Burning at the Speed of Light

With Daniel Piquê[edit]

  • 2009: Boo!!
  • 2012: Chu (websingle)
  • 2013: Oldboy (websingle)

With Tony MacAlpine[edit]

With KUNI[edit]

  • 1986: MASQUE

With David Lee Roth[edit]

With Greg Howe[edit]

With Mr. Big[edit]

With Niacin[edit]

  • 1996: Niacin
  • 1997: Live
  • 1998: High Bias
  • 2000: Deep
  • 2001: Time Crunch
  • 2003: Live! Blood, Sweat & Beers
  • 2005: Organik
  • 2005: Live in Tokyo (DVD)
  • 2013: Krush

With Explorer's Club[edit]


Terry Bozzio and Billy Sheehan[edit]

  • 2002: Nine Short Films

With Richie Kotzen[edit]

With The Winery Dogs[edit]

With Michael Kocáb[edit]

  • 2014: Aftershocks

With Sons of Apollo[edit]

With Mari Hamada[edit]

With MIWA[edit]

  • 2018: Reach Out and Touch Me
  • 2020: Hell Is Real

With Octavision[edit]

  • 2020: Coexist

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "...your 00:31 first electric bass was a Hagstrom FB 00:33 true true"[3]
  2. ^ "...after acquiring your first 00:57 fender precision bass you removed the 00:59 frets from the Hagstrom. I did."[3]
  3. ^ "02:04 [...] I'm sure was a contributing 02:06 factor [...] but [our manager] it wasn't 02:08 horrible"[3]


  1. ^ a b ""Billy Sheehan - Biography & History - AllMusic"". AllMusic. Archived from the original on March 28, 2018. Retrieved July 5, 2018.
  2. ^ "Sheehan's Bio on his Official Site". Billysheehan.com. Retrieved August 9, 2011.
  3. ^ a b c Graham 'Gruhamed' Hartmann (Interviewer), Billy Sheehan (Interviewee) (October 14, 2015). Billy Sheehan - Wikipedia: Fact or Fiction? - YouTube (Video). YouTube: Loudwire. See notes, group "lw", for auto-generated transcripts and time. Retrieved July 5, 2018.
  4. ^ "Gear article". Billysheehan.com. Retrieved August 9, 2011.
  5. ^ "Thrasher (5) - Burning At The Speed Of Light". Discogs.com. Retrieved November 24, 2019.
  6. ^ a b Huey, Steve. "Niacin". AllMusic. Retrieved October 26, 2018.
  7. ^ Niacin Biography, musicianguide.com
  8. ^ Prokofiev, Dane (October 6, 2012). An Interview with Tony MacAlpine (6th October, 2012)" on YouTube. Retrieved 2012-10-19.
  9. ^ "Portnoy, Sheehan, MacAlpine, Sherinian To Tour Europe and Asia, Fall 2012" Archived April 12, 2020, at the Wayback Machine. tonymacalpine.com. 2012-07-27. Retrieved 2012-10-11.
  10. ^ Cavuoto, Rob (December 2013). "Tony MacAlpine Interview: New DVD Release Live In Tokyo" Archived March 29, 2014, at the Wayback Machine. Guitar International. Retrieved 2014-03-01.
  11. ^ Portnoy, Mike. "MP Studio Diary for Portnoy/Sheehan/Kotzen sessions – Day 1". Archived from the original on October 19, 2015. Retrieved April 11, 2013.
  12. ^ "THE WINERY DOGS: Official Logo, Band Photo Unveiled". BLABBERMOUTH.NET. Retrieved April 11, 2013.
  13. ^ "Hot Streak - The Winery Dogs | Songs, Reviews, Credits | AllMusic". AllMusic. Retrieved August 4, 2016.
  14. ^ Munro, Scott (August 1, 2017). "Supergroup Sons Of Apollo announce debut album". TeamRock.com. Future Publishing. Retrieved August 1, 2017.
  15. ^ "~The Complete Package~". Global Bass online. Retrieved February 28, 2008.
  16. ^ "Billy Sheehan: Why I Moved from Los Angeles to Nashville". August 4, 2021.
  17. ^ @BillyonBass (March 24, 2023). "Yeah, I know it was several days ago, sorry, but I just had to post the surprise I had, courtesy of my sweet wife Elisabetta" (Tweet) – via Twitter. [user-generated source]
  18. ^ "Talas announce new album '1985'". Distorted Sound Magazine. June 23, 2022. Retrieved June 23, 2022.

External links[edit]