The Winery Dogs’ Billy Sheehan On Dog Years, Defying Gravity With Mr. Big, And What’s Next!!

I recently got to sit down with legendary bassist Billy Sheehan for the third time. THE WINERY DOGS were just about to release their live CD/DVD/EP Dog Years: Live In Santiago and Beyond 2013-2016 (out now, Loud and Proud Records) which is absolutely stellar, and MR. BIG had just released Defying Gravity (out now, Frontiers Music) the Friday before. Talk about busy, huh?

So Billy being able to squeeze in some time to chat with A&GS was huge. As always, I enjoyed the time I spent chatting with him, and I hope you guys dig it, too. Have a look:

Amps: Since we last spoke in 2015 I saw THE WINERY DOGS live again and man oh man, you guys just kill!

Billy: Thank you very much. We’ve had a good run of it live, that’s for sure. You’re very kind.

Amps: Between putting out this live DVD/CD from THE WINERY DOGS and finishing up the MR. BIG CD I have to ask…how the Hell do you find time to do all of this???

Billy: Well it’s a busy time, that’s for sure (laughs). At this point I’m glad to be in a situation where there’s so much to do based on music, which is what I love to do. So I don’t mind being that busy.

Amps: I am one of the many out there who have been screaming for a live WINERY DOGS recording. I guess it feels pretty good to give the fans a souvenir, huh?

Billy: Well, the reputation of our live show is very, very good. We’re very thankful for that, and thankful to the people who have spread the word. The DVD is a great documentation for those who couldn’t get out or live in areas we haven’t hit yet. Especially with the audience that was there that night in Santiago, Chile. They were just over the top, and that put the icing on the cake. We’re so pleased to get that out to people. The comments I’ve seen on my Facebook have been really wonderful, so I’m very thankful. It’s a good thing.

Amps: Of the five unreleased tracks “Criminal” was on the Japanese version of the debut album, correct?

Billy: Yeah, it was. And people often wonder why that happens. It’s a business reason. Japan is the only market that really sells actual hard CDs anymore, to the degree that they do. Most other areas it’s digital downloads. So if they don’t give them something special for the Japanese version, they’ll just import the cheap version and sell that. And that undercuts the Japanese label who is actually very instrumental in not only financing us, but also so many bands that the Japanese labels have supported and financed that would have drifted away and gone away, like jazz and blues players.

They go to Japan, play for a month, and make a year’s salary. Japan has supported so many musicians from America and Europe for so long that we give them the extra track or two so that they can prevent having record distributors import the cheaper version. Then all that money they spent on a band gets lost. So we like to make it a bonus.

Amps: The other four tracks on the EP, which sessions did they come from?

Billy: I think they were all after the first record. We were just sitting around one day playing songs we all like. “Moonage Daydream” happened to be one of them. Then when sadly we lost David Bowie, we did it live in London our first show of the Hot Streak tour. So Richie (Kotzen, guitars/vocals/keyboards) went back and finished recording vocals on it to pay a tribute to the man. We had done it two years before his unfortunate passing, and we had it in the can. Richie did a great job on that one.

Amps: Last time we spoke you were neck deep into consolidating all your iTunes albums with the proper artwork. Did you ever finish that monolithic project?

Billy: Yes, and it was a massive undertaking. It’s about two terabytes of stuff. And mostly no duplicates. I have a couple of programs that I run on the folder to check for duplictes, or if stuff is spelled wrong, or if the song names aren’t listed, and there’s “Track 1” instead, stuff like that. You have to fix those by hand, so I’ll sit down in the morning with my coffee and my cat on my lap, or a glass of wine at night and I hit it, hit it, hit it. I must have spent hundreds of hours making this collection.

But it’s really worth it because you sit around with a bunch of friends over, and you find out so-and-so is into whoever, and it’s like, “Oh? You are? Well, check THIS out!” And bang, i got it and they’re blown away. “Oh, and here’s the demo of it, and here’s the alternate take that wasn’t on the record.” I actually found a whole record of alternate takes from the Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars album, every single track! And they are legitimate alternate takes, it’s just amazing.

Amps: Do you plan to take any time off in 2017/2018?

Billy: We finish the MR. BIG tour end of this year, maybe spilling over into ’18 a little bit. Then I have a couple of other projects, and after that we’ll probably do a little writing for a new WINERY DOGS record. There is a very conscious decision to not do the album/tour/album/tour thing because we’ve seen what happens with that. And sometimes it’s not good. And you’ll be out there slogging it, and you may not necessarily feel inspired, but you gotta do an album because that’s the schedule. And we want to make music when we’re inspired. And what’s the best way to get inspired? Go out, do your thing, live some life. I’ll do my thing, Mike (Portnoy, drums) does his thing, and Richie does his thing. We come back together six, eight, nine months later and we’ve got a whole new outlook on many things, as you get when you go out and live some life. So we broke that chain, that common sequence of having to put out records and tour. And when we go back, it’ll be fresh and new, like the first record all over again, and we’ll have a lot more to sing about and play about.

Amps: I really think that shows on a WINERY DOGS record. It always sounds to me like three guys who got together to have some fun. Nothing is forced, and it all feels very natural.

Billy: Exactly, and that’s what I dig. We are just enjoying the moment and it’s fun to be together. When you put any three or four people together constantly, you wanna get away from each other after awhile; that’s human nature. And I LOVE playing with Richie and Mike, as friends as well as players, but it’s nice to take a break and come back recharged. It’s like coming back to school after summer break. “Hey, what did you do?” And someone else goes, “Sally’s top came off in the pool, it was amazing!” (laughs) And you have a story to tell. You can’t just look at a schedule and go, “OK, it’s time for some inspiration.” That doesn’t work for us.

Amps: I’m so glad we now have THE WINERY DOGS captured in a live setting. Because to me, these songs are simply timeless, and will be forever.

Billy: Well you know, that’s really beautiful. Thank you, you’re too kind. I’m so glad you feel that way. We’ve gotten a lot of comments from people that share your point of view. I’m really pleased when I can do something that people find entertaining or enjoyable. That’s the payoff for me since I’ve never been money-motivated. It’s not about getting rich. I never thought about getting rich from music, and I’m NOT, so that’s a good thing (laughs)! But there is incredible richness in having the plane land in Manila in The Philippines, Russia, China, or Brazil, and people come up to you with your record to sign, telling you how important it is to them. It’s like, “Wow, that’s unbelievable!” you know? I consider myself extremely lucky. I get to play music that I love with some great guys that I love. I get to travel around the world and play to hundreds or thousands of my friends. Wow…it doesn’t get any better.

Amps: On the MR. BIG front, I think “Be Kind” is the best song on this new album and a perfect closer.

Billy: It’s my favorite too. I love that one. It’s got such a great message, and how it’s sung really touches me. Paul (Gilbert, guitar) wrote that just brilliantly and I’m so glad we ended the record with it. It’s the kind of song we need in the world during these times, that’s for sure.

Amps: What would you like to say to all your fans out there?

Billy: Well, a huge, giant, massive, astronomically-large “THANK YOU” for people allowing me to play, and listening to what I do.

I’m forever grateful for it and I will always do my best for everyone out there that has been kind enough to listen, buy a CD, show up at a show, and/or buy a T-shirt. I appreciate that completely, and I will always do my best for you.

Let me say it once again for those of you up there in the cheap seats: Billy Sheehan is arguably the most humble guy in all of rock and roll. When you’ve achieved everything he has, been the recipient of a million and one accolades, and can still be such a down to earth dude, that speaks volumes about your character. And for that reason, along with being a massive fan, I will line up to interview the man every single chance I get. If you haven’t already, be sure to pick up THE WINERY DOGS’ and MR. BIG’S new records, put ’em on, call up your friends, get together, and rock out!!



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