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  INTENSIVE BASS COURSE WITH BILLY SHEEHAN
CHRIS DALE'S METAL MELTDOWN
3 September 2013


chris dale

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When you're a freelance backline technician like me, its similar to any other self employed job. You take what you can get and you do what you're asked irrespective of who the client is.

For example, a plumber will accept a job cleaning the drains at the local zoo's elephant enclosure but he'd probably be happier putting in a new bidet for Kerry King.

Sometimes I get offered an interesting tour. Sometimes not so much but it's all the same to me really. Either way, I unload some cases, set up some equipment and tune up some guitars. After that the band can play whatever they like through it all and I'll pack it down when they've finished.

Article continues below...

   


I have no problem with that and besides, most bands are actually quite fun to work for once you get to know them.

Then one day out of the blue, I got recommended to work on a tour as bass technician for Billy Sheehan. He's the guy that was in Mr Big and David Lee Roth's band. If like me you're lucky enough to be a bass player, then you've already heard of him. If you're not of our blessed breed, allow me to educate you. He is quite literally and with no exaggeration or doubt the most incredible rock bass player of the last 30 years. Have a look at this:



He was also one of my heroes when I was a youngster. I literally spent years locked in my bedroom, trying to work out some of his basslines. I didn't succeed, but I tried an awful lot.

I always dreamed that if I ever got a chance to meet him face to face there'd be so much I'd want to ask about; his three fingered picking technique, his use of tapped harmonics or where he learned this all from. The first thing I wanted to know though was exactly how he got his unique bass sound.

I'd read loads of interviews with him in music magazines where he explained his sound but I never really understood the nuts and bolts of it. As a backline technician the first thing I have to ask any musician that I work for is how they want their gear set up and how they want it to sound. This tour was going to be great fun, I would get to ask all my questions and especially the big question and he would have to answer in as much detail as I wanted to know!

We first met at a pre-production rehearsal day in Zoetemeer, Holland the day before the Devil's Slingshot European tour kicked off. The band was Tony MacAlpine on guitar and keyboards, Virgil Donatti on drums and the aforementioned Mr Sheehan on bass.

They are all incredible musicians. The three of them had just finished another tour as Steve Vai's band. I learned so much seeing how they worked over the tour, watching the gigs and just in casual conversation with them. I could write columns on all of them but never understand them fully. Sometimes it was like talking to aliens who are trying to explain to you how simply their time-warping anti-gravity drive system works.

Billy was a pleasure to work with and that first day he went into great detail about his equipment and sound but all in a fairly casual way. I was fascinated.

bully sheehan
Billy's Amp Racks

So it seemed that my job on tour was to make sure his basses sounded great through his rig every night, set it all up, clean it all up, change some strings and then stretch them in. That meant playing with his basses all day long. As a bass player myself it was a treat. As a fan it was a dream.

Each day I'd play through his rig and check it all out. Is there quite enough grind there? Will it keep tune if I bend the strings up a tone or two or three? (His basses play so beautifully). Do the harmonics scream out today? Do the lows rumble my colon? If the answer to all these questions was yes, all was good.

billy sheehan
Yours truly with one of Billy's crazy basses

Billy and I got on very well. We both like watching Family Guy and Peep Show. We both like discussing bass playing and politics into the small hours of the night to the gentle clinking sound of empty bottles swaying on the tour bus. He's intelligent, well read and a very funny guy. His tales of the road would make a whore blush and a vicar wet himself. You'd like him.

As a bass player myself, watching Billy play every night close up was like an intensive bass course for six weeks. It was very inspiring and just made me want to practice more. There's nothing this guy can't do. He can pump and groove like Bootsy, solo like Eddie VH but on bass or lay out vocal harmonies like Paul McC.

Some of the playing I've seen him do, I still don't understand to this day. Other parts of it I just started to understand as we went along but there was always this one annoying lick that he did in the set on that first tour that I just couldn't figure out. I heard it night after night. I even filmed it some nights and watched it back on my laptop in close-up on his fretboard with his spare bass in my hands but still I had no idea how he was doing it.

So one day in Belgium, I thought I should really just take advantage of my job position and knock on his dressing room door.

Billy plays bass all day. He's constantly striving to improve himself.

He's been playing long enough now to have what most people would consider to be mastery of his instrument but he still practises all day, every day, if he can. Pretty much, leave him in a room with his bass, a practice amp, sustenance and a camp bed and he will be happy.

He told me once about the theory of a plateau of learning. When somebody learns a new skill they rapidly soak up information to begin with until they are adequate at the task. Then their learning curve naturally plateaus off as they become comfortable with their ability.

For example, most people learn to drive a car in a few weeks, then once they have the ability to get to work and back without hitting too many obstacles along the way they don't get a lot better over the next few decades. Not many people go on to be advanced stunt car instructors or professional racing drivers. This is because it is hard to break through the plateau of learning.

It is the same with musicians. Most musicians learn their instrument to a level with which they are comfortable then don't stretch themselves much further over the coming years.

So when I dropped by the dressing room that day Billy was, of course, practising on one of his basses. I had the other.

"Sorry to interrupt mate, but you know that sweeping arpeggio type thing you do in unison with Tony? How does it go? Can you show it to me?" I asked.

He paused for a second and said, "I think its like this..."

A blur of sixteenth notes followed.

"Err... OK," I said "Can you play it a bit slower?"

Another blur of notes.

"... and slower again?" I asked.

Eventually he played it slowly enough for me to figure it out, sort of. I had it very roughly and very slowly. This lick was going to take months or possibly years of practice, I thought. At the time I didn't know how many years.

Go on, you have a go...

billy sheehan

If you're a bass player you'll notice that this is physically impossible to play as 16th notes. If you're not a musician, you'll think I've misunderstood the basics of Sudoku.

"Or if you want to do it in a minor key it'd go like this," he offered along with a further blur of notes. He was up to full speed again.

"And if you want to tap a few more notes at the top you could go like this". More flurries of notes passed me by.

"Right, yeah," I nodded unconvincingly "I see..."

He wasn't convinced.

"It's easy" he said "anyone can do it".

I think that's the point though isn't it? Not everyone can do it. If they could, they would and Billy Sheehan wouldn't be a household name (if your household is full of bass players).

That first tour I did with him was five years ago now. I've worked with him a lot since then all over the world and although we've shared some great times I have to say that I still can't play that one bit he showed me on the first tour anywhere near up to speed.

Billy is currently working with a new band called Winery Dogs with Richie Kotzen and and Mike Portnoy. Their self-titled debut album is out now. They play the London Islington Academy later this week on Thursday September 5th.

See www.thewinerydogs.com for more tour dates.






MORE CHRIS DALE'S METAL MELTDOWN COLUMNS HERE...

July 2013: Rock and Metal Pub Quiz
June 2013: Communication Tips For European Festivals, Or How To Learn A Language In An Evening
May 2013: Storm Thorgerson (1944-2013) RIP
April 2013: Daily Mail Columnist Richard Littlejohn Sinks To New Low With Anti-Heavy Metal Article
April 2013: The Future Of Classic Bands
March 2013: Smashing Pumpkins Video Shoot
Febuary 2013: Ten Years On Total Rock
January 2013: Kiss Follow Up To Monster 2013
December 2012: Kiss Reformation Magick
November 2012: Exclusive Interview With Geoff Tate
November 2012: Morally Worrying Session
October 2012: Kiss 'Monster' Review
October 2012: The Best Invention Of All Time
September 2012: A Conversation With Rudy Sarzo
August 2012: Scream For Me Sarajevo Part 3
July 2012: Scream For Me Sarajevo Part 2
June 2012: Scream For Me Sarajevo Part 1
May 2012: Managers v Producers
April 2012: Kiss 'Monster' Album Preview
March 2012: London Venue's Nazi Past?
February 2012: How Not to Join the Ozzy Osbourne Band
January 2012: Metal Evilution
December 2011: Take Your Pick Competition
November 2011: The Pandora's Box Of Pop
October 2011: Tank Tour Diary 2011
September 2011: Festival Stage Collapses
August 2011: Bruce Air, The Early Days
July 2011: European Festival Round-Up
June 2011: Bernie Torme Proud To Be Part Of MT Ozzy Article
June 2011: Who's Your Favourite Ozzy Guitarist?
May 2011: Japanese Tsunami Disaster
April 2011: 10,000 Tank Albums!
March 2011: Death Metal Session!
6th February 2011: Gary Moore (4th April 1952 - 6th February 2011)
February 2011: Recording Bass at Steve Harris'
January 2011: A Column About Columns



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linkin park LINKIN PARK ANNOUNCE EUROPEAN TOUR FOR NOVEMBER 2014
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joe bonamassa JOE BONAMASSA ANNOUNCES 4 NIGHTS AT LONDON'S HAMMERSMITH APOLLO
The shows will feature songs from new album 'Different Shades Of Blue', played live for the very first time in the UK, and a never-before-seen line-up of musicians...

demonic resurrection ONSLAUGHT ANNOUNCE DEMONIC RESURRECTION WILL REPLACE HATRIOT ON UK 'THRASH INVASION' TOUR
India's Demonic Resurrection will join Nightlord and main support Artillery following acclaimed appearances at Les-Fest 3 and Sonisphere...

judas priest JUDAS PRIEST 'REDEEMER OF SOULS' ALBUM LAUNCH PARTIES ANNOUNCED
A chance to hear new tracks from the album ahead of its release on Monday July 14th, plus these exclusive parties will also feature exclusive merchandise giveaways...

acrassicauda ACRASSICAUDA LAUNCH KICKSTARTER CAMPAIGN FOR THEIR FIRST OFFICIAL ALBUM
The latest chapter for the Iraq Metal pioneers continues their astonishing story...

black sabbath TONY IOMMI CONFIRMS MetalTalk REPORT THAT HYDE PARK WAS NOT THE LAST EVER BLACK SABBATH GIG
Tony released a video just before Friday's gig thanking fans for their support and he ends it by saying: "See you on the next tour"...

godsmack MULTI-PLATINUM US ROCKERS GODSMACK ANNOUNCE NEW STUDIO ALBUM "1000HP"
The band move into the fast lane for sixth studio album, '1000hp', set for international release via Spinefarm Records on September 1st 2014...

karmaflow 'KARMAFLOW: THE ROCK OPERA VIDEOGAME' IS UNVEILED WITH AN ALL-STAR CAST
This multidisciplinary art project is a must for lovers of gaming and Metal...

hellyeah HELLYEAH TAKES BLOOD FOR BLOOD TO THE TOP OF THE HARD ROCK CHARTS IN NORTH AMERICA
The band will tour Europe in July and August 2014 with six dates in the UK...

steve hackett STEVE HACKETT ANNOUNCES DVD 'GENESIS REVISITED: LIVE AT THE ROYAL ALBERT HALL', WORLD TOUR PLUS EXCLUSIVE VIDEO INTERVIEW
Re-live a seminal chapter of prog rock history live on stage. "It's a feast for eyes, ears and all the senses..."

cannibal corpse CANNIBAL CORPSE TO RELEASE 'A SKELETAL DOMAIN'
The 13th full-length album from the American Death Metal icons is released in September. The extensive tour reaches the UK in October...

electric wizard ELECTRIC WIZARD UNVEIL 'TIME TO DIE' AS TITLE OF FORTHCOMING STUDIO ALBUM
"We had to kill the band so we could be reborn. It was the only way to ensure we could come back even stronger"...

motorhead aftershock MOTÖRHEAD POSTPONE RELEASE OF 'AFTERSHOCK - TOUR EDITION' NOW 4th AUGUST
A production error has put back the release for a month, but it will be worth waiting for...

suicide silence tour SUICIDE SILENCE ANNOUNCE NOVEMBER 2014 UK TOUR
An unmissable opportunity to see the titans of modern Metal. "Come throw your horns up, bang your heads, or mosh your knickers off!! "...

hordes of belial LIPID AND BURNING THE DREAM ADDED TO HORDES OF BELIAL V BILL
The yearly Dundee Metal event continues to strengthen the line up...

snakecharmer SNAKECHARMER ANNOUNCE THREE UK DATES
Six of the UK's most highly-esteemed and experienced rock musicians have joined forces to create Snakecharmer...

manowar MANOWAR ANNOUNCE NEW U.S. TOUR DATES FOR NOVEMBER 2014
Manowarriors have demanded more and further dates have been added. "We can't wait to be back and play for more of our U.S. fans!"...

tygertailz TIGERTAILZ RELEASE NEW VIDEO FOR 'PUNCHED IN THE GUTZ'
The 'Knives' EP is out now and there is an upcoming release of unheard demos for September...

progstravaganza PROG SPHERE INVITES BANDS TO SEND SUBMISSIONS FOR 20TH EDITION OF PROGSTRAVAGANZA COMPILATION SERIES
The call goes out for bands around the world to submit songs for the jubilee edition of the sampler album ...

accept ACCEPT PREMIERE BREATHTAKING VIDEO FOR NEW TRACK 'STAMPEDE'
The stunning locations perfectly showcase the track which is from the band's album 'Blind Rage' out August 18th ..

mr big MR BIG ANNOUNCE ONLY BRITISH ISLES SHOW OF 2014
LA Rockers Mr Big have announced a one off show at London's Koko on Friday 17th October 2014 - their only show on these shores this year...

spike frankie miller SPIKE ANNOUNCES RELEASE OF '100% PURE FRANKIE MILLER' FEATURING RONNIE WOOD, ANDY FRASER, SIMON KIRKE, IAN HUNTER AND MORE
Call it a labour of love. A life's ambition. Or the chance to keep a precious legacy alive. Call it 100% Pure Frankie Miller....

kobra and the lotus KOBRA AND THE LOTUS RELEASE OFFICIAL VIDEO FOR BRAND NEW SINGLE 'SOLDIER'
Explosive hard rockers Kobra And The Lotus have revealed a warsome (get it?!) official video for 'Soldier'...

massive wagons MASSIVE WAGONS ANNOUNCE NEW ALBUM AND UK TOUR
Two years and it's finally here, the brand new album - 'Fight The System'...

temperance movement THE TEMPERANCE MOVEMENT ANNOUNCE EUROPEAN TOUR DATES
The headlining dates will take place in November 2014...

overkill OVERKILL REVEAL NEW TRACK 'ARMORIST' ONLINE
"Our confidence is high for this shoot. From the director's eye to yours/ours, should be a killer!"...

avenged sevenfold AVENGED SEVENFOLD ANNOUNCE 'WAKING THE FALLEN: RESURRECTED' - OUT AUGUST 25TH
The restored breakthrough album includes a DVD & never before heard tracks, demos, and more...

dragonforce DRAGONFORCE ANNOUNCE LONDON SHOW WITH EPICA
Grab your tickets quickly as demand for this double bill will be high...

devildriver DEVILDRIVER PREMIERE LYRIC VIDEO FOR 'GUTTED'
Check out the band's latest offering from sixth studio album 'Winter Kills'...

down n outz DOWN 'N' OUTZ ANNOUNCE UK & EIRE TOUR DATES
"It's like Joe and the boys have taken some vintage films and slapped them onto a big, bright Technicolor screen. A great, in-your-face new way to experience some of Mott's finest songs!"...

nuclear assault NUCLEAR ASSAULT TO RELEASE 'LIVE AT CBGB'S'
There will be a limited release of 500 picture discs capturing the old school thrashers back in 1986...

seether SEETHER REVEAL NEW TRACK, 'SUFFER IT ALL' AVAILABLE FOR IMMEDIATE DOWNLOAD WITH 'ISOLATE AND MEDICATE' PRE-ORDER
The band have also announced UK Headline Shows for November...

gravedigger GRAVE DIGGER PREMIERE 'HELL FUNERAL' VIDEO
The track is from 'Return Of The Reaper', out July 14th...

voodoo six VOODOO SIX SET TO GUEST WITH THE WINERY DOGS ON TWO UK DATES IN JULY
These performances follow their Sonisphere appearance on Saturday July 5th...

orphaned land METAL MUSIC IS BIGGER THAN WHAT POLITICS CAN OFFER: ORPHANED LAND BRING ISRAEL AND PALESTINE TOGETHER
"We are the ambassadors of peace, more than our foreign ministry, or prime minister, or authors..."

madball MADBALL REVEAL OFFICIAL VIDEO FOR 'BORN STRONG' FEATURING CANDACE PUOPOLO FROM WALLS OF JERICHO
The track is taken from the album 'Hardcore Lives', released June 30th...

metallica METALLICA RELEASE NEW SONG
'Lords of Summer - First Pass Version' gets official release after being premiered on the first night of the current tour...

ted nugent kamp "TED NUGENT KAMP FOR KIDS" CELEBRATES 25TH ANNUAL SUMMER "KAMP"
When he's not being a guitar icon, Ted Nugent is on a mission to improve young lives. New album 'Shutup&Jam!' is out July 8...

massive wagons MASSIVE WAGONS RELEASE SINGLE AND NEW VIDEO 'RED DRESS'
The video incudes circus performances from the girls at Monster Cirque in the first release from the album 'Fight The System'...

black state highway THE DEBUT ALBUM FROM BLACK STATE HIGHWAY IS OUT ON 18TH AUGUST
The highly anticipated release is packed full of heavy riff-based rock...

helmet HELMET ANNOUNCE 'BETTY' 20TH ANNIVERSARY TOUR OF EUROPE FOR AUTUMN 2014
UK dates in Glasgow, Manchester, London now added due to popular demand ...

wacken LIVE AT WACKEN 2013 TO BE RELEASED AS DVD/ BluRay / 2 CD
Experience the world's biggest Metal Festival at home and be in with a chance to win a Lifetime Membership...

uncle rust UNCLE RUST ANNOUNCE AUGUST UK TOUR
The recently formed London based rock/Metal band will undertake a set of UK dates in August 2014...

blitzkreig BLITZKRIEG ANNOUNCE EUROPEAN TOUR FOR SEPTEMBER 2014
The band will visit five countries on their only tour this year...

sonisphere LATE NIGHT ENTERTAINMENT AT SONISPHERE ANNOUNCED
Only two weeks away - get ready to continue the party after the headliners leave the stage...

finntroll FINNTROLL REVEAL LIVE FOOTAGE OF SEMINAL TRACK 'TROLLHAMMAREN', FILMED AT THEIR LIVE ALBUM RECORDING SHOW IN AMSTERDAM
"Lock up your daughters, kegs of rum and men of God, for The Trolls from Up North are coming for you...live!..."

dragonforce DRAGONFORCE REVEAL NEW VIDEO 'THE GAME' (FEAT. MATT HEAFY OF TRIVIUM)
The track is taken from the album 'Maximum Overload', which will be released in August...

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