EntertainmentUnleashing Creativity: Billy Sheehan Debunks the Myth of Overplaying on Bass

Unleashing Creativity: Billy Sheehan Debunks the Myth of Overplaying on Bass

When your professional career spans five decades and all the musical fads that period covers, you’ve played packed-out stadiums, made platinum albums and scored number one singles, what keeps you going? For Billy Sheehan it comes down to one simple thing: his instrument. “The bass guitar is everything to me,” he told BP. “You know, everything I own and have is a direct result of people buying my records, or a ticket to my shows – and that all comes from the bass.”

Obviously Sheehan has been known for his incredible fingerstyle and tapping technique since time immemorial (well, 1979), and interviews with him by hacks like us tend to reflect that fact. But before we get into the details of his insanely evolved playing, Sheehan points out that the true focus of any serious musician should really lie elsewhere. 

“I’ve spent a lot of time improving the mechanics of my hands, but I’m afraid to show bass players because I’m afraid they’ll get caught up in it. They forget that the mechanics is nothing: it’s just stretching the canvas on the frame and trimming the brushes before you start to paint. That said, I practise more now then I ever have, and it’s paying off. I’m noticing improvements in consistency and getting new stuff onto the stage. Playing new stuff in your hotel is easy, it’s getting it on stage that counts.”

According to Sheehan, simplicity is just as valid as complexity. “I still sit down and pick a note, say like a low G or F# and just pound out quarter, eighth and sixteenth notes for an hour. That kind of bass playing can become something else entirely when you have the notes totally under your control – and not a lot of players manage that. You don’t need to play with three fingers. You could play a one-string bass with a pick and still create amazing music and be just as legitimate a musician as anyone else.”

Although this is true – any bass geek who, like us, has followed Sheehan’s career through shred-heavy albums by Talas, Mr Big and Dave Lee Roth will know what we’re talking about – isn’t much of Sheehan’s reputation based on speedy playing? And given that, does he feel pressure to play difficult basslines?

“I play complex parts because I want to, not because I feel pressured to do it. I also love playing simple songs with simple basslines. There’s a book called The Story Of Philosophy, and many philosophers touch on the idea that music is the greatest art form. I really believe that. As musicians we have an amazing tool in our hands, and I’m very pleased that we have it. What music has done for me and to me is amazing, and I hope that I can do that same thing for other people.

“I do like playing challenging stuff, though – and I still practise a lot of stuff that is new to me.

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