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July 02, 2015

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Billy Sheehan Bass Clinic

On June 8th, we had the pleasure of welcoming bass legend Billy Sheehan to CME. Sheehan is known for many things, including his work with Steve Vai, David Lee Roth, Mr. Big, and The Winery Dogs. He has won "Best Rock Bass Player" not once, but five times for his lead bass playing style. Needless to say, everyone was pretty pumped to have him in the store for the night.

The crowd started arriving hours before the scheduled start time, eagerly awaiting Billy's entrance. The best thing about someone of his talent level and persona is that he can reach people of all ages - our audience this evening spanned from kids as young as five to seniors.

After playing over five-thousand gigs over the past fifty years, Billy had incredible advice everyone. He immediately set the tone as if he was among a (huge) group of his closest friends. Several minutes of incredible bass jams dropped jaws left and right, but what he really spent time on was interacting with the audience, letting everyone ask questions, and giving them the best answers possible.

Sheehan, a Yamaha sponsored artist, spoke of what he loves about the company. For years, he played a P-Bass, wearing it down until it finally completely fell apart. Yahmama came to him and asked to build him one to his liking. What he loves is the quality control that they have over their products. He knows everything he uses is of superior build.

While he doesn't prefer being asked who his influences are, he still answered the question. Among his favorites are Tim Bogert, Paul Samwell-Smith and the "mind-blowing" tone of Mike Stern. He caught a ZZ Top show in 1974 and saw Billy Gibbons the hit upper part of his bass. At 21, that moment blew his mind, and it had a huge impact on his playing style moving forward.

While speaking of his own personal style and how he learns new things, the lesson he constantly comes back to is simple: just play. Play as much as you can, wherever you can, whenever you can. Billy reiterated that he's like all of us - no matter how much he practices, his hands take two weeks to catch up while on tour. He's also a firm believer that a good drummer is the key to making your music the best it can be. "The drummer holds the time, guitars and vocals add the harmony, and the bass holds it together." The importance of a bassist and drummer rehearsing together, just the two of them, should not be lost. It's the key to holding the rhythm. Without this, the music can get lost.

Clearly, Sheehan has plenty of talent, but he emphasized that he has had to work extremely hard to get where he is, and continues to do so. "With perseverance, anyone can do what I do," Billy began. "Your music, you love it. It's whats inside. You do it, YOU win," he elaborated on creating music that you love. Being an aficionado of all kinds of music is key. The more you build your catalog of songs, the more you can play, and the more you can feel the structure of limitless types of songs. He encouraged everyone to play not only originals, but covers as well.

On getting into the music business: According to Billy, the record business is dead, and he doesn't think that's a bad thing. He spoke of years ago when a record executive was going on and on about all of the money he was making for himself, off of a recording of Billy's band. Infuriated by this, to say the least, he sees the changes in technology as a good thing for musicians. The low cost of producing your own music combined with the technology to spread it all over the world is an incredible thing. "Kick people's asses with good music so they love you and tell all of their friends. Get out there!" 140 people can quickly become 140,000 people hearing your music if you make a point to constantly engage and play. Billy spoke of a gig in his hometown of Buffalo, and how the first night's audience included only two waitresses and the bar staff. Not to be scared off by this, they came back the next week; a few people attended. The next week? A few more, and after several more gigs, it was one of the biggest nights in Buffalo.

Towards the end of the night, Billy spoke of the importance of instilling the value of music and the arts in young children. This is where you have the chance to help mold them and inspire them to do something incredible. He left the crowd with the powerful message that nothing is impossible if you "bring the awesome out and insist on being your best ever". Music is the greatest art form and can absolutely change the world.

The last story he told was about being a kid and looking through two catalogs repeatedly with a childhood friend by the name of Rick - Sears catalogs for instruments and Orvis catalogs for fly fishing. They would sit and daydream about how insanely cool it would be to play music for a living or to fish for a living. Years and years passed until one day after a huge gig, a security guard came to the backstage and told Billy that an old friend was looking for him. The two hadn't seen each other since childhood. After a few minutes catching up, Rick said to Billy, "You did it, man! You make music for a living!" Until that moment, Sheehan hadn't thought about his career that like that. Rick then pulled out a tall box and presented it to him. After a second of confusion, Rick explained, "It's a fly reel. I work at Orvis and I fish for a living."

Billy then wished the crowd the best, most awesome, most vicious life possible and continued on his journey in making the world a better place. If you're unfamiliar, you can check out Billy's music here. If you were in attendance for this Bass Clinic, is your life vicious yet?

Colleen Harvey
Colleen Harvey