I’ve been clamoring for an interview with someone, ANYONE from THE WINERY DOGS on a pretty regular basis since their debut came out last year. This group, made up of Richie Kotzen (vocals/guitar), Mike Portnoy (drums/vocals), and Billy Sheehan (bass/vocals) has been wowing people non-stop from day one, and their show here in Dallas last week was no exception! After several scheduling snafus I was finally able to grab some time with Billy. It was tough to cram almost a year’s worth of questions into one interview but I did my best, guys. The A&GS show review was Part I, so now, I am honored and proud to bring you Part II: My interview with Billy Sheehan. Enjoy:
Amps: So, what’s new with Billy Sheehan??
Billy: Well, lots. I’m playing a lot of places I hadn’t been for a while and I’m excited about it. THE WINERY DOGS are doing great, record sales are beyond our expectations, the response has been beyond our expectations, and we’re having a blast playing.
Amps: How have the crowds been on these touring runs?
Billy: Just incredible. Large hot and sweaty crowds of people, a sea of smiling faces. People are really digging the band and I couldn’t be happier about it. I think we played Brazil the second day the record was out and the crowd sang the show louder than we could! It’s been like that just about everywhere, people hootin’ and hollerin’ and singin’ along. Afterwards, when time and the situation allow, we go out and hang out and talk to people. It’s fun, we sign stuff and just get to meet everybody. And the comments from people are really encouraging. People enjoy the record. We did the Monsters of Rock Cruise and it was an overwhelming response, so much so that they invited us back already for next year. These days when most news is bad news it’s nice to have some good news, you know?
Amps: You guys were on just about EVERYBODY’s Top 10 Albums of the Year lists last year, and in most cases, me included, Top FIVE! How did that feel?
Billy: We’re very thankful and very grateful that people like yourself like us and included us in their favorites. It means a lot to us. We made the record with no intentions other than to make the kind of music we love. We had no idea it would be accepted in the WAY it was. I’ve put out a lot of records, and it’s pretty rare to get this kind of response. I think three records stand out in my career: Eat ‘Em and Smile with DAVID LEE ROTH, and the second MR. BIG record Lean Into It, and of course this record remind me a lot of each other. They were just instantly accepted and people enjoyed them. So to be on all these people’s Top 5 and Top 3, Record of the Year in a couple places, we’re very thankful that people have responded that way.
Amps: Dammit!! Stop looking at my questions! I was gonna ask you of all the projects you’ve been involved with or played on, what stands out most to you and why? But you went and answered it.
Billy: (Laughing) yeah my ESP powers kicked in. When we play live we improvise a lot, so you kinda have to have it. I don’t really have ESP mind you, but we like to think we do. This is certainly one of my favorite things I’ve ever done since honestly, the early days of TALAS. We were a three-piece also where the guitar player and drummer sang and I sang. It reminds me a lot of that, and it was the formation for me of what being in a band and playing music was all about, being in that band in particular. That was cool. Mike Portnoy is a TALAS fan and he told me about coming to see us way back when, so we’ve come full circle here.
Eat ‘Em and Smile with DAVID LEE ROTH that was spectacular and life-changing endeavor, and after that I didn’t know what I was gonna do when I put MR. BIG together. You never know how things are gonna turn out, and luckily on our second record we had a #1 single, #1 in fourteen countries, for three weeks in the U.S. and that was a life-changing event, too. So I’m very lucky and I’m very, very grateful for all that’s happened. In the music business the amount of people who succeed is microscopic compared to those who don’t so to be on the other side of that is a beautiful thing. I am forever grateful.
Amps: Not to keep gushing, but I can’t say it enough; this record is a grand slam!
Billy: Excellent. Great to hear. Gush all you want!
Amps: What were the writing sessions like for this record with the three of you seasoned vets?
Billy: I think one of the reasons this first record is so together is because we’ve all toured with each other in one way or another before, and we knew each other really well as we sat down in the studio to play and I think the record reflects that. It was real casual and there was not a lot of discussion, scheming, or planning, or ideas about music styles or what direction we should go. We got together at Richie’s house, got a little food from our favorite Mexican place right down the street, had a little set of drums, a little bass amp, a tiny P.A., a guitar amp, and we just sat down and started playing. We didn’t think about, “Should we do this?” or “What style should we play?” There was really no planning, we just allowed nature to take its course with a lot of improvisational things.
Plus we didn’t use a producer which I think makes that a component, with the combined hundreds of records the three of us have played on. We’ve done this enough and without a producer it puts more of our own personal stamp on it than having another person involved. It’s all our point of view and our songs, our music, and our arrangements. The only thing we did was have a gentleman mix it, and that’s good because sometimes you get too close to a project and need some outside ears. We got a guy named Jay Ruston (ANTHRAX, STONE SOUR, STEEL PANTHER) who’s real hot right now. And he got it, didn’t really change much. Just some phone calls and e-mails about the occasional lick being higher in the mix or whatever, turn this up, or that down.
Amps: What is your favorite song or songs on the disc? “You Saved Me” and “I’m No Angel” are mine.
Billy: Well it’s hard to pick favorites. Like your children, which one is your favorite (laughs)? “I’m No Angel” I certainly concur with you on that one, that’s gonna be our next video. We just shot it in L.A. and that one meant a lot to me from the beginning. But others like “The Other Side”, “We Are One”, I love those. The ballad “Regret” when we first started playing that there were people with tears in their eyes in the audience. An incredible response to that song, that was unbelievable.
Amps: Plus on “Regret” you guys just know when to turn up and drop out and it’s so perfect.
Billy: Yeah, there’s a lot that occurs in a three-piece band that really occurs nowhere else. It changes things way more than you’d think. It makes things really easy to lock into each other and know when to pull back and when to push forward, when to support, play along with, and when to jump out in front. The trio format is really a wonderful thing and on the road life is almost twice as easy with three guys as opposed to four. And there isn’t one song on the record I don’t like. Most records I do there’s usually a song where I’m like, “Ehhh, that’s ok, but we need to put it on a record because somebody else liked it. I’m not crazy about it.” But that didn’t happen on this record, they all have a special place in my heart.
Amps: What are you currently playing/playing through?
Billy: I’m playing my Yamaha signature basses. I’ve been playing them since about 1990 when I got my first prototype of those basses.
Amps: YES!! You had your commercial where you said, “Now let’s turn it up.”
Billy: I’m glad you remember that, because I had to think of something to say to the camera at the end and I’m NOT an actor, which is painfully obvious when I try to act. I can speak and do things normally but when asked it doesn’t come out the same (laughs). But yeah, I’ve been with Yamaha for years. I’ve got my Rotosound strings, DiMarzio pickups, and I have a new EBS overdrive pedal made from many, many years of distillation and experimentation. People have been singing its praises and I’m real pleased about that. Hartke amps, and that’s about it. Pretty simple setup these days.
Amps: Say something to all the Billy Sheehan and THE WINERY DOGS fans out there.
Billy: Just thank you very much for listening, you know? I do what I do as my artistic outlet but it’s the greatest thing in the world to find that people are happy with what I do and what the band does. My goal is to continue playing the best I can, improve as best I can; I work harder at it now than I ever did. I’m as enthused about it as when I was 16, maybe even more so, and I hope that enthusiasm catches on and spreads. I’m just really, really happy to be doing what I love for my career. Everything I have, my house, my car, everything I own comes from somebody buying a ticket, a t-shirt, or a CD, and I don’t forget that for a minute. I appreciate it completely.
Wow. Humble words from a man who is widely regarded as one of the best at what he does. As I’ve said a zillion times before I love THE WINERY DOGS, and after spending some time with Billy my love and appreciation has shot up a hundred-fold. They don’t make ‘em like this anymore, guys. They really don’t.