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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...

April 2015: Undiscovered Kisstory: The Kiss Drummer Auditions Of 1980
March 2015: Matthew Trippe RIP - The strange case of the man who would be Nikki Sixx
November 2014: Kiss: 'Love Gun' Deluxe Edition
October 2014: Mr. Big – Live Review at Koko, London
September 2014: Mr. Big: 'The Stories We Could Tell' album review
September 2013: Intensive Bass Course with Billy Sheehan
August 2013: Booking Agents vs Promoters
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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"They toured with Motörhead in the 80s, including four sold out shows at the Hammersmith Odean and I have to say, we're pretty excited about this!"

headbangers ball ICED EARTH AND ENSIFERUM TO HEADLINE MTV HEADBANGERS BALL TOUR 2016: FULL DATES HERE
"So brace yourselves for the ultimate Metal experience of a lifetime! See you in front row!"

bloodstock BLOODSTOCK ADDS MORE BANDS, DETAILS METAL 2 THE MASSES FINALS AND ANNOUNCES FIRST NEW BLOOD STAGE WINNERS
Bloodstock HQ is readying to send Team M2TM out on the road for the finals, but in the meantime, there's a few more band additions to the August bill

dead daisies THE DEAD DAISIES ANNOUNCE UK AND EUROPEAN DATES FOR JULY/AUGUST IN SUPPORT OF NEW STUDIO ALBUM 'MAKE SOME NOISE'
The Dead Daisies, the biggest new name in Rock, have just recently announced the addition of Doug Aldrich (Whitesnake, Dio) as their new lead guitar player

wolf hoffmann WOLF HOFFMANN TO RELEASE SOLO ALBUM 'HEADBANGERS SYMPHONY' ON JULY 1st
"I have always incorporated classical music in my song writing with Accept, especially with 'Metal Heart', but I constantly felt there was so much more that I could do..."

jaegermeister JÄGERMEISTER RELEASE FULL DOCUMENTARY OF WORLD'S FIRST MUSIC GIG ON AIR, SEA AND LAND
"We go bigger every year and because of the nature of this world first this gig was not only a test of friendship but one of supporting each other too..."

john otway JOHN OTWAY PLANNING ON BEING FIRST ARTIST SINCE THE ROLLING STONES TO RECORD IN MONTSERRAT
"Although the old Air Studios are now derelict the studio in the basement of Sir George Martin's house is sound – it just needs rebuilding..."

fates warning FATES WARNING - NEW STUDIO ALBUM 'THEORIES OF FLIGHT' ANNOUNCED, ARTWORK UNVEILED
"There's a loose theme running through a lot of the lyrics, and this developed organically and separately..."

amon amarth RAISE YOUR HORNS AND BE IN AMON AMARTH'S NEW MUSIC VIDEO
Swedish Heavy Metal goliaths Amon Amarth are inviting their fans around the globe to be a part of their forthcoming video...

sixx am SIXX:A.M. ANNOUNCE THE "#REASONTORISE" CAMPAIGN, TOUR DATES AND 'VOL.1 PRAYERS FOR THE DAMNED' DETAILS
"It is our duty as citizens of this world to come together, communicate with one another and rise up to demand more of ourselves and our leaders."

armored saint ARMORED SAINT ANNOUNCE EUROPEAN FESTIVAL AND CLUB APPEARANCES
"For our first time in Spain, it's gonna be sick! And as if this wasn't enough - Saint is playing for the first time ever in Japan..."

black country communion BLACK COUNTRY COMMUNION TO REFORM IN 2017
"Preparing BCC Rocket Ship Re-launch for 2017 - all systems go."

tarja TARJA PREMIERES OFFICIAL MUSIC VIDEO OF HER NEW SINGLE 'NO BITTER END'
'No Bitter End', the opening track of the prequel album 'The Brightest Void', is the first glimpse of Tarja's new work – her heaviest to date...

stratovarius STRATOVARIUS RELEASE LYRIC VIDEO FOR 'UNTIL THE END OF DAYS'
"To me it's a testament to the fact that paying attention to song writing and production was expensive, but so worth it..."

brian johnson EXCLUSIVE: PROMINENT AC/DC CREW MEMBER GIVES REMARKABLE INSIGHT INTO AXL ROSE APPOINTMENT
AC/DC are covering themselves in case Axl's poor reputation for unprofessionalism manifests itself...

brian johnson THE DARKEST DAY OF MY PROFESSIONAL LIFE: BRIAN JOHNSON ISSUES PERSONAL STATEMENT ON AC/DC DEPARTURE
"I wish to assure our fans that I am not retiring. My doctors have told me that I can continue to record in studios and I intend to do that..."

thin lizzy THIN LIZZY ANNOUNCE BASS PLAYER AND NEW DRUMMER FOR 2016/17 ANNIVERSARY SHOWS
Thin Lizzy are undisputed legends and to be a small part of their lineage is a humble honor for me...

ian gillan IAN GILLAN TO PERFORM UNIQUE SOLO SHOW OF DEEP PURPLE CLASSICS IN BULGARIA
There is a possibility that Ian will also play some material from his catalogue outside of Deep Purple...

don airey DEEP PURPLE'S DON AIREY AND FRIENDS ADDED TO CAMBRIDGE ROCK FESTIVAL PLUS ATOMIC ROOSTER
Expect to hear many classics from Airey's illustrious past which includes time spent with Rainbow, Ozzy Osbourne as well as his current job with Deep Purple...

wildfire festival WILDFIRE FESTIVAL 2016 ANNOUNCE SUNDAY NIGHT HEADLINERS AND FIVE MORE ACTS
With June creeping ever closer, Wildfire Festival's impressive main stages line-up is all but finalised...

whitesnake THE END OF WHITESNAKE: DAVID COVERDALE TO RETIRE IN 2017
Whitesnake headline the UK's Ramblin Man Festival in July in what could be their final ever UK appearance...

axl rose AXL ROSE CONFIRMED AS AC/DC SINGER FOR THE REMAINING ROCK OR BUST DATES
The worst kept secret in rock is now official...

aerosmith THE END OF AEROSMITH?: NO FAREWELL TOUR CONFIRMED AT THE MOMENT
"A farewell tour is something we've talked about doing for years, let's say roughly in the last five years..."

hrh united ALESTORM, HAMMERFALL, FINSTERFORST, NAPALM DEATH, ARMORED SAINT, VENOM INC. AND EVIL SCARECROW ANNOUNCED FOR HRH UNITED
HRH United 3 will be an exclusive upgraded Metal Edition taking over the entire site @ Camp HRH, Pwllheli, North Wales...

rolling stones PROUD GALLERIES PLAYING HOST TO FABULOUS ROLLING STONES PHOTO EXHIBITION: TERRY O'NEILL TO ATTEND SIGNING SESSION
It's a wonderful book by photographer Terry O'Neill of Rolling Stones images from 1963 to 1965, an era when the Stones were just "breaking through"...

between the buried and me BETWEEN THE BURIED AND ME ANNOUNCE EUROPEAN SUMMER DATES
As well as the European tour dates, BTBAM have launched a live video for 'The Ectopic Stroll' whih you can see here...

jade vine LONDON BASED ALTERNATIVE PROG ROCKERS JADE VINE ANNOUNCE ALBUM LAUNCH SHOW
Jade Vine's music has been influenced by artists such as Pink Floyd, Jeff Buckley, Radiohead, Anathema and Pain Of Salvation...
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