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Tapping into Impermanence, A Discussion with Bassist John Ferrara



Tapping into Impermanence, A Discussion with Bassist John Ferrara

All photos provided courtesy of John Ferrara, with Photographer credits, where applicable.

Bassist John Ferrara…

I first became aware of John Ferrara while covering the Felix Martin show at the James Street Tavern in Pittsburgh, PA on March 8, 2017. Ferrara’s band, Consider the Source, was touring with Martin at the time and, during their set, I heard something that really took me aback. It was clear that it was a bass solo, but none like I’d ever heard before. As much of a bass fan as I am, my idea of a bass solo was something you’d hear at jazz concerts or perhaps Cliff Burton’s “(Anesthesia)-Pulling Teeth” from Metallica’s Kill ‘Em All. This was entirely different. It was an amalgam of funk, fusion, prog and jazz, rhythmic at times, melodic at others. Parts were brutally fast and raucous, intertwined with sections that were moody and ethereal. I was awestruck by what I saw and heard, completely mesmerized. That was my introduction to John Ferrara and his definition of bass playing. From that moment, I knew I wanted to talk with Ferrara about what motivated him to hone his playing skills to such a high level, to become a true overachiever on his instrument.  My first discussion with him was incorporated into a motivation and achievement piece I did a year or so ago, not long after the release of Ferrara’s solo debut, A Harmony of Opposites.  Several recurring themes became apparent during that first conversation, one of which was Ferrara’s dedication to excellence and continuous improvement. Another was him finding a very positive, therapeutic outlet in his music, a way to express whatever he’s feeling and share it with others. With Ferrara’s sophomore solo record, A Lesson in Impermanence, set for release on March 11, 2022, I was curious to learn how those themes and others he and I discussed impacted his writing process and shaped the new material. 

Stephan Pruitt Photography Consider the Source Bootlegger Studios
Photo, Stephan Pruitt Photography

We kicked off our discussion talking about how his solo work compares to that which he creates as a member of Consider the Source or when collaborating with other artists, such as Seth Moutal. Ferrara explained that performing in a solo environment is much different than when he’s with a full band. Consider the Source plays larger venues to bigger audiences and the crowd tends to have a party-type mood, a mood sometimes magnified by various substances. Ferrara is quick to exclaim, “I’m not judging any of that. It’s a good outlet and gives people an opportunity to relax and enjoy themselves. But that environment creates a natural barrier between the audience and the band even when a physical barrier doesn’t exist. Everyone is in their own space and you don’t feel as connected.”

Ferrara is closer with his audience as a solo performer, in proximity and perhaps emotionally. Though he didn’t use this word, everything he expressed suggests that he finds performing as a solo artist to be a more intimate, one-on-one experience and, as such, it shapes what material he chooses to play in that setting. He explained, “I don’t write intending for songs to be solo material or end up on a Consider the Source record. I just write and afterward think, ‘Where does that fit best?’” He told me that his writing process is very fluid and organic, that he doesn’t necessarily write songs, but rather, he allows them to develop and evolve in whatever manner they naturally want to go. Ferrara gave the example of Junji Ito, a writer of Japanese Manga, horror comics, in particular. Ferrara told me that Junji once explained that he was writing about a character the plot for whom he’d already planned out. But as he was writing, he came to realize that wasn’t where the character wanted to go, so he changed the plot and allowed the character to grow and develop organically. “That’s the way I write songs. I don’t set out to write in any particular style or using a specific method. I just play and write and allow the song to evolve the way it wants to,” Ferrara said.

Tapping into Impermanence, A Discussion with Bassist John Ferrara
Photo, Ed Gorel

Listening to his latest release or any of his material for that matter and watching him perform makes it clear that Ferrara finds music to be a powerful vehicle for emotional expression. As he explained in our first conversation, it’s something that allows him to share whatever he’s feeling be it positive or negative and, afterward, he’s got something to show for it. At its very core, Ferrara says, “It’s cathartic.” With that in mind, I was curious about how his second record played into the grand scheme of Ferrara’s musical vision. Is A Lesson in Impermanence a continuation of the first record, an evolution of the original theme or is it something wholly different? How does the new material integrate into his overall message and vision?

Ferrara reiterated that he doesn’t write with any particular intention or try to force the music. “Be that as it may,” he offered, “I guess the second album does represent the evolution of my music and of me. Even without trying, it demonstrates where I’ve been and where I’m headed along the journey and it kind of freezes time at this fork in the road. Here’s where I am right now. I wrote A Lesson in Impermanence during the Covid pandemic and writing it definitely got me through some difficult times. It also saw me through positive transitions, such as my move to Rhode Island to be with my girlfriend, Emily.”

We went on to discuss the meaning of the record’s title and what went into naming a few of its tracks. Ferrara explained that the album’s title comes from the Eastern ideal of impermanence. “Coming to terms with change and learning to adapt to it is essential and never has that been more clear than during the pandemic. We’ve all had to make lots of changes and adapt to what we’ve termed, ‘the new normal.’ The sooner we learn to accept the impermanence of things and find ways to adapt to whatever is happening around us, the better off and more at peace we’ll be,” Ferrara said. He went on to tell me that the album tracks’ names are inspired by a variety of different things, including television shows, which was the case for the song “Just Don’t Look.”

‘That song takes its name from the Treehouse of Horror VI episode of the Simpsons wherein Springfield’s billboard characters come to life and terrorize the town,” Ferrara told me. “In that episode, the solution to the problem was quite literally ‘just don’t look’ and the monsters will go away. That’s where my song gets its name, but it goes further than that. Just don’t look has a metaphorical meaning as it relates to our society and the monsters wreaking havoc and causing destruction in our day-to-day lives, things such as social media and the news. As simple as the solution was, ‘just don’t look’ worked in that episode of the Simpsons and it remains a good approach. Social media is part of our lives and can be of great benefit, but we need to use it wisely and remember the outside world. We need to stop feeding the monsters that rob us of our peace and steal time away from the things that matter to us most,” he continued. Hearing Ferrara explains the meaning behind his song titles further revealed that he uses every part of his art, including those names as a way to express himself or share something. Nothing is left to chance, so while track titles might seem catchy or just plays on words, there’s much more to them.

Tapping into Impermanence, A Discussion with Bassist John Ferrara
Photo, Cloud Bobby

At this point, our discussion switched gears and we began talking about Ferrara’s musical style and some of the playing methods he incorporates into his songs. Calling Ferrara’s style eclectic hardly does it justice since he plays everything from classical to jazz to funk and fusion, prog and there’s even some folk mixed in. He seamlessly intertwines the genres, layering them together and he makes interspersing them within the same song seem completely natural. I was interested to learn his trick, the secret sauce if you will, to marrying these seemingly incongruent genres. “Well, when I first started playing and throughout the early part of my career, my focus was on building my chops and becoming technically proficient as a bass player. It’s that idea of continuous improvement and a dedication to excellence that we talked about before. After a while, I’d developed a fairly diverse and sizeable set of tools to choose from, but that only goes so far. Playing fast or mastering some complex time signature, while cool, wasn’t enough. In order for me to connect with my audience and express myself, the music has to be more than a series of tricky, technical sections sewn together,” Ferrara explained.

Rather than focusing on a particular genre or writing with the intention of playing songs as a solo artist or with Consider the Source, he allows his emotions to shape the music. Ferrara wants whatever he happens to be feeling or going through at the time, good or bad, to come through in his songs. “In that way, it really is a marriage, connecting the mechanical side of playing with my emotions, an integration of body and soul. Playing and writing that way allows the mood to guide the music and I’m less cognizant of moving between styles or genres and more so aware of how well songs capture what I was feeling and what I hoped to express with them,” Ferrara shared.

In addition to his musical styles, I wanted to delve further into the various playing methods Ferrara uses on some the new record’s tracks, so I asked if he might provide a few examples. He explained, “An approach that I’ve found really works for me is doing a lot with a little. Doing so helps me develop themes that logically flow. That’s not to say that throughout my life I haven’t worked hard to develop a wide vocabulary of techniques and styles, but in this body of work, I gravitate toward certain techniques, chord shapes and rhythmic patterns that I’ve become fixated on. I went through a process of ‘following the thread’ to see if they lead naturally. Here are some songs that highlight the themes that permeate the album.

  • “Zeros and Ones” showcases the use of different polyrhythms
    • If you learn a polyrhythm, and you come up with a chord progression that has a smooth voice leading, referring to a logical way of spelling your chords that flow together nicely into one another, you’ll pretty much have a badass sounding musical idea. In this tune, I use two different polyrhythms, 5 against 3 for the A section and 2 against 3 for the B section. I like keeping the 3 through both sections because it helps tie together the craziness of it all and gives it a consistent groove to latch onto. It’s really fun for me to see how chord voicings mixed with rhythmic shifts create notes that bounce off of one another in very cool ways in pieces such as this.
  • “Perhaps Everything, Perhaps Nothing” starts with a technique I call ‘drone tapping’
    • New bassists and guitarists often lament the fact that they have several different versions of the same note in the same octave on the neck. This technique celebrates that annoyance. The idea is to pick two notes, find the same exact notes on another set of strings and play them with whatever rhythm you want. The effect it gives a listener is one of a rhythmic drone where the notes repeat quickly but with relatively minimal effort.
  • “Riches to the Conjurer” has a Latin feel with a plucking, percussive bridge.
    • I follow a rhythm that goes 12312312 with the ‘1’ being the note accented. I utilize shapes that span 4 voices per chord and I outline and change those voices often to keep it interesting. In the middle section of the song I use a right hand percussive method up by the pickups while the left hand taps chords and melodies. This creates a musical idea with a built-in backbeat that hints at a drum part.
  • “The Gnome and the Skeleton” uses tapped left hand notes mixed with quick, right hand strums to generate a natural tremolo effect
    • This technique is another example of ‘following the thread. I use the same rhythm used in sections of “Perhaps Everything, Perhaps Nothing,” which is a fast 4433 rhythmic articulation that’s actually a 7 pattern. The main difference in the technique in “The Gnome and the Skeleton” is that I’m only tapping the accented notes, the 1s, with my left hand while my right thumb, index, and sometimes middle fingers are all hitting the notes in the remainder of each subdivision.
    • L RRR + LRRR + LRR + LRR
    • Ls are all notes tapped on the fret board with the left hand and the Rs are added afterward with thumb down stroke, index upstroke, middle upstroke for the ‘4s’ and thumb down stroke, index upstroke for the ‘3s.’” 

Listening to John Ferrara’s commentary during his live shows or just glancing through the names of his songs makes it readily apparent how important family is to him. “Song for Ramida” is dedicated to Ferrara’s goddaughter and “Say Charles” to his grandfather. Given that his father is a guitarist, I was curious to learn what role his father’s playing had on his decision to pick up the instrument and if he has any plans to collaborate or record with his dad. “You’re right! Family is very important to me and they’ve always been supportive of my playing and my pursuit of music as a profession. To this day, though age is taking its toll, my grandfather watches all of my YouTube videos and listens to all of my records. The arts were always a prominent fixture in our home, my mom directing community theater and my dad being a guitarist. I didn’t have much interest in playing when I was young, particularly since my older brother picked up the guitar first and was playing Hendrix solos in what seemed like no time at all. He was what everyone thinks of as the quintessential older brother, great looking and wow could he play that guitar! All kidding aside though, he and I have always had a great relationship and are still best friends to this day,” Ferrara shared.

He went on to say, “It wasn’t until I was about 12 or so that my dad finally got me to try playing. He taught me Hendrix’s “Hey Joe” and though I wouldn’t say I mastered it right out of the gate, I could hear myself playing the song, one of my favorite songs, pretty quickly after getting started. It was awesome and from that moment on, I was hooked.” Since his brother was a guitarist and at the behest of his father, Ferrara decided to take up the bass and, before long, his dad began creating opportunities for him to play on stage with touring bands. “It was an incredible experience and I learned a lot. Those guys were so much better than me. Quite frankly, I had no business being on stage with them at all, but the experience inspired me to practice and work even harder to develop my craft and eventually, make music my career,” Ferrara mused. “Getting back to your original question. Yes! I definitely plan to collaborate with my dad and we’re actually doing a show together as part of my mini-tour for the release of the second record, “ he continued.

Since our conversation had taken a turn toward his live shows, it offered a perfect segue for me to mention a performance that really stands out in my mind, his concert with Seth Moutal Live at The Museum of Modern Renaissance. Watching that show, one can’t help but notice that absolute joy Ferrara exhibits while playing, his facial expressions, his body language. I couldn’t help but wonder what made that show special enough to elicit such strong emotions. The way Ferrara explains it, it was everything, the museum, the music, working with Moutal, the audience and more. “The Museum of Modern Renaissance was amazing! It’s this old building that went through several transitions before two Russian artists bought it and turned it into what it is today. Every room is painted, decorated and used to display some type of art. On top of that, working with Seth is always terrific! He and I collaborate well and that night, all of our hard work and practice really paid off. We were in a groove, bouncing rhythms back and forth and improvising. That joy you saw on my face was real. Playing that show was a blast and, while this might sound kind of dorky, a big part of my excitement had to do with the fact that my now-girlfriend, Emily, was in the audience that night. I was stoked for her to be there and hear me play,” Ferrara chuckled. He went on to say, “Since we’re discussing that show, I really want to take the opportunity to thank Alice Feldman for helping Seth and me put it together and make that night happen!”

Tapping into Impermanence, A Discussion with Bassist John Ferrara
Tapping into Impermanence, A Discussion with Bassist John Ferrara

Something Ferrara mentioned in our initial discussion that he alluded to again here is that he finds playing music to be very therapeutic in addition to offering a creative outlet. He talks about how writing and recording this record helped him adapt to the changes surrounding the pandemic. Comparing Ferrara’s prior material with A Lesson in Impermanence, I wondered how him finding an escape in his music affected his work and what songs ultimately ended up on the record. Ferrara explained, ”As I mentioned, I don’t put any parameters around playing or writing. There’s no goal in mind for how a song will sound. It just happens and during the process, song elements find a way to intermingle all on their own, even if they might otherwise seem incompatible. It all stems from the idea of music being therapeutic if that’s how I defined it during our last conversation. If I had an awesome day, it comes through in the songs. They sound upbeat, fast, playful and fun. But if something has me down, it also comes through. Darker tones, brooding even. Or not. That rough day might lead me into some aggressive, percussive-style playing, kind of like going for a run and sweating off your frustrations. I’m just grateful to have music since it not only provides me with a healthy way to deal with whatever I’m feeling; I also have something to show for the catharsis afterward in the form of my songs.”

From my initial encounter with Ferrara and his music in March, 2017 to listening to his most recent release it’s been clear that he pours himself into his music withholding nothing, but trying to explain his sound to someone who’s never heard it is somewhat challenging. It’s not typical, rhythm section bass playing. At times, his two-handed tapping technique sounds more like classical guitar than bass, standing completely on its own with no need for accompaniment. One must see Ferrara’s slap technique to truly appreciate it, his hands moving so fast they become blurry to the onlooker’s eye. His sound and playing style are so unique, in fact, that as Ferrara explains, he’s gotten push back from other bass players. “More often than not, I get positive feedback via social media and even when I don’t, I know better than to feed the trolls. Better to just ignore them with the hopes that they’ll lose interest. There was one instance though, when a player who’d performed with some pretty big names made scathing comments on one of my socials regarding my style of playing, my two-handed tapping style, in fact. He went on about how it wasn’t bass playing, but sounded like solo piano or something. Against my better judgment, I engaged him in conversation and, after several hours of chatting, he and I actually saw eye-to-eye and became friends. No! My style isn’t necessarily traditional bass playing, but I don’t want to limit or restrain my creativity. Just because I play a bass shouldn’t confine me to any one style, method or genre,” Ferrara offered.

Ferrara’s story about his interaction on social media reminded me of something he mentioned during one of his live stream shows. Prior to performing Philip Glass’ “Glassworks” Ferrara talked a bit about how playing pieces such as “Glassworks” likened him more to a solo pianist than a bass player. He also mentioned how challenging it was for him to learn and perform that particular piece. With that in mind and given our prior discussion regarding his dedication to excellence and continuous improvement, I was interested to find out what challenges or hurdles he planned to tackle next. His response was something I definitely didn’t expect. “I’ll always work on my chops and techniques, but getting more technically proficient or mastering some new skill isn’t my top priority. The challenge now is finding new and different ways to use and incorporate all of the various techniques and methods I’ve learned into my music. It’s only natural to use things I know have worked in the past. Therein lies the challenge, not grabbing those trusty tried and trues, but forcing myself out of my comfort zone and finding success using different tools and ideas,” he explained.

As Ferrara and I closed our discussion, he emphasized two things that have been pivotal to his writing and teaching processes, tapping and the modes. “Aside from composing on a piano, I can’t think of anything that offers the compositional autonomy of tapping, be it on a bass or guitar. Tapping teaches players how chords and harmonies work and how to write. We actually play all the voices, experimenting with them and manipulating certain ones over others. Over time, tapping helps bass players develop a vocabulary of what we like to hear and gives us an opportunity to think more harmonically and melodically than when we normally just write or learn a bass line. With that in mind, I always encourage my students to learn tapping regardless of what style of playing they intend to pursue,” Ferrara told me. 

He went on to say, “All we can do is try to tailor our study to those things we think will be most relevant to us, but that can be hard to know and sometimes we need to take our medicine and learn things we don’t care to. One thing I teach all of my students no matter what genre, technique or style they’re interested in learning are the modes. There are seven modes derived from the major scale alone and skipping notes in the scale creates arpeggios. There are probably a billion bass lines derived just from playing arpeggios. Understanding them and how they come together to create chords makes it possible for new players to start writing and gives them a vast toolbox to carry around with them. That’s just the major scale, kind of the mother scale here in the West, but there are countless more to learn. Once students learn the modes and the chords that go with them, they learn to look for low-hanging fruit, how to easily access notes in those shapes and play around with them. While the concept of low-hanging fruit might otherwise carry a negative or lazy connotation, what I’m referring to is the process of finding the notes easiest to grasp and maximize the advantage of those positions. After players reap the maximum benefit of those positions, I can start teaching them how to pursue other shapes or techniques.”

I love Mexican food; so using the modes reminds me of a joke that goes, ‘When you eat at a Mexican restaurant you always get a different version of the same ingredients. A burrito is just a big taco and a fajita is a burrito that you didn’t make yet.’ Regardless, the ingredients work well together and the result is always good. Using the modes is exactly the same. No matter how you combine the ingredients or in what order, they always work well together and the result sounds good,” Ferrara chuckled. 

I learned a great deal during my lengthy conversations with John Ferrara, but what I took away most coincided perfectly with the title of his latest release, A Lesson in Impermanence. Ferrara is many things: bassist, composer, innovator, teacher, follower of Eastern philosophy and emotive expressionist. His bass is simply the implement of his art, but Ferrara’s quest for continuous improvement and exploring new ways of creating makes it impossible to pigeonhole him to one style, genre or technique. His passion for innovative creativity makes him and his art ever-evolving and, as such, he will never settle or stagnate. You never know what to expect from John Ferrara because as an artist he constantly pushes boundaries and fearlessly delves into uncharted territory, all of which make Ferrara himself A Lesson in Impermanence!

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Bass Videos

Interview With Bassist Erick “Jesus” Coomes



Interview With Bassist Erick Jesus Coomes

Bassist Erick “Jesus” Coomes…

It is always great to meet a super busy bassist who simply exudes a love for music and his instrument. Erick “Jesus” Coomes fits this description exactly. Hailing from Southern California, “Jesus” co-founded and plays bass for Lettuce and has found his groove playing with numerous other musicians.

Join us as we hear of his musical journey, how he gets his sound, his ongoing projects, and his plans for the future.

Photo, Bob Forte

Visit Online
IG @jesuscsuperstar
FB @lettucefunk

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Tour Touch Base (Bass) with Ian Allison



Tour Touch Base (Bass) with Ian Allison

Ian Allison Bassist extreme

Most recently Ian has spent the last seven years touring nationally as part of Eric Hutchinson and The Believers, sharing stages with acts like Kelly Clarkson, Pentatonix, Rachel Platten, Matt Nathanson, Phillip Phillips, and Cory Wong playing venues such as Radio City Music Hall, The Staples Center and The Xcel Center in St. Paul, MN.

I had a chance to meet up with him at the Sellersville Theater in Eastern Pennsylvania to catch up on everything bass. Visit online at

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Interview With Audic Empire Bassist James Tobias



Interview With Audic Empire Bassist James Tobias

Checking in with Bergantino Artist James Tobias

James Tobias, Bassist for psychedelic, Reggae-Rock titans Audic Empire shares his history as a musician and how he came to find Bergantino…

Interview by Holly Bergantino

James Tobias, a multi-talented musician and jack-of-all-trades shares his story of coming up as a musician in Texas, his journey with his band Audic Empire, and his approach to life and music. With a busy tour schedule each year, we were fortunate to catch up with him while he was out and about touring the US. 

Where were you born and raised?

I was born in Dallas, Texas and lived in the Dallas area most of my life with the exception of 1 year in Colorado. I moved to the Austin area at age 18. 

What makes the bass so special to you particularly, and how did you gravitate to it?

I honestly started playing bass because we needed a bass player and I was the one with access to a bass amp and bass. I played rhythm guitar and sang up until I met Ronnie, who I would later start “Audic Empire” with. He also played rhythm guitar and sang and we didn’t know any bass players, so we had to figure something out. I still write most of my songs on guitar, but I’ve grown to love playing the bass. 

How did you learn to play, James?

I took guitar lessons growing up and spent a lot of time just learning tabs or playing by ear and kicked around as a frontman in a handful of bands playing at the local coffee shops or rec centers. Once I transitioned to bass, I really just tried to apply what I knew about guitar and stumbled through it till it sounded right. I’m still learning every time I pick it up, honestly. 

You are also a songwriter, recording engineer, and a fantastic singer, did you get formal training for this? 

Thank you, that means a lot!  I had a couple of voice lessons when I was in my early teens, but didn’t really like the instructor. I did however take a few lessons recently through ACC that I enjoyed and think really helped my technique (Shout out to Adam Roberts!) I was not a naturally gifted singer, which is a nice way of saying I was pretty awful, but I just kept at it. 

As far as recording and producing, I just watched a lot of YouTube videos and asked people who know more than me when I had a question. Whenever I feel like I’m not progressing, I just pull up tracks from a couple of years ago, cringe, and feel better about where I’m at but I’ve got a long way to go. Fortunately, we’ve got some amazing producers I can pass everything over to once I get the songs as close to finalized as I can. 

Describe your playing style(s), tone, strengths and/or areas that can be improved on the bass.

I honestly don’t know what my style would be considered. We’ve got so many styles that we play and fuse together that I just try to do what works song by song.  I don’t have too many tricks in the bag and just keep it simple and focus on what’s going to sound good in the overall mix. I think my strength lies in thinking about the song as a whole and what each instrument is doing, so I can compliment everything else that’s going on. What could be improved is absolutely everything, but that’s the great thing about music (and kind of anything really). 

Who were your influencers in terms of other musicians earlier on or now that have made a difference and inspired you?

My dad exposed me to a lot of music early. I was playing a toy guitar while watching a VHS of Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble live at SXSW on repeat at 4 years old saying I wanted to “do that” when I grew up. I was the only kid in daycare that had his own CDs that weren’t kid’s songs. I was listening to Led Zeppelin, Hendrix, and The Doors when I could barely talk. I would make up songs and sing them into my Panasonic slimline tape recorder and take it to my preschool to show my friends. As I got older went through a bunch of music phases. Metal, grunge, rock, punk, hip hop, reggae, ska, etc. Whatever I heard that I connected to I’d dive in and learn as much as I could about it. I was always in bands and I think I kept picking up different styles along the way and kept combining my different elements and I think that’s evident in Audic’s diverse sound. 

Tell me about Audic Empire and your new release Take Over! Can you share some of the highlights you and the band are most proud of?

Takeover was an interesting one. I basically built that song on keyboard and drum loops and wrote and tracked all my vocals in one long session in my bedroom studio kind of in a stream-of-consciousness type of approach. I kind of thought nothing would come of it and I’d toss it out, but we slowly went back and tracked over everything with instruments and made it our own sound. I got it as far as I could with production and handed it off to Chad Wrong to work his magic and really bring it to life. Once I got Snow Owl Media involved and we started brainstorming about a music video, it quickly turned into a considerably larger production than anything we’ve done before and it was such a cool experience. I’m really excited about the final product, especially considering I initially thought it was a throwaway track.

Describe the music style of Audic Empire for us. 

It’s all over the place… we advertise it as “blues, rock, reggae.” Blues because of our lead guitarist, Travis Brown’s playing style, rock because I think at the heart we’re a rock band, and reggae because we flavor everything with a little (or a lot) of reggae or ska. 

How did you find Bergantino Audio Systems?

Well, my Ampeg SVT7 caught fire at a show… We were playing Stubbs in Austin and everyone kept saying they smelled something burning, and I looked back in time to see my head, perched on top of its 8×10 cab, begin billowing smoke. We had a tour coming up, so I started researching and pricing everything to try and find a new amp. I was also fronting a metal band at the time, and my bass player’s dad was a big-time country bass player and said he had this really high-end bass amp just sitting in a closet he’d sell me. I was apprehensive since I really didn’t know much about it and “just a little 4×10” probably wasn’t going to cut it compared to my previous setup. He said I could come over and give it a test drive, but he said he knew I was going to buy it. He was right. I immediately fell in love. I couldn’t believe the power it put out compared to this heavy head and cumbersome cab I had been breaking my back hauling all over the country and up countless staircases.  

Tell us about your experience with the forte D amp and the AE 410 Speaker cabinet. 

It’s been a game-changer in every sense. It’s lightweight and compact. Amazing tone. And LOUD. It’s just a fantastic amp. Not to mention the customer service being top-notch! You’ll be hard-pressed to find another product that, if you have an issue, you can get in touch with the owner, himself. How cool is that? 

Tell us about some of your favorite basses.

I was always broke and usually working part-time delivering pizzas, so I just played what I could get my hands on. I went through a few pawn shop basses, swapped in new pickups, and fought with the action on them constantly. I played them through an Ampeg be115 combo amp. All the electronics in it had fried at some point, so I gutted it out and turned it into a cab that I powered with a rusted-up little head I bought off someone for a hundred bucks. My gear was often DIY’d and held together by electrical tape and usually had a few coats of spray paint to attempt to hide the wear and tear. I never really fell in love with any piece of gear I had till I had a supporter of our band give me an Ibanez Premium Series SDGR. I absolutely love that bass and still travel with it. I’ve since gotten another Ibanez Premium Series, but went with the 5-string BTB.  It’s a fantastic-sounding bass, my only complaint is it’s pretty heavy. 

Love your new video Take Over! Let us know what you’re currently working on (studio, tour, side projects, etc.)

Thank you!! We’ve got a LOT of stuff we’re working on right now actually. Having 2 writers in the band means we never have a shortage of material. It’s more about getting everything tracked and ready for release and all that goes into that. We just got through filming videos for 2 new unreleased tracks with Snow Owl Media, who did the videos for both Love Hate and Pain and Takeover. Both of these songs have surprise features which I’m really excited about since these will be the first singles since our last album we have other artists on. We’ve also got a lot of shows coming up and I’ve also just launched my solo project as well. The debut single, “Raisin’ Hell” is available now everywhere. You can go here to find all the links

What else do you do besides music?

For work, I own a handyman service here in Austin doing a lot of drywall, painting, etc. I have a lot of hobbies and side hustles as well. I make custom guitar straps and other leather work. I do a lot of artwork and have done most of our merch designs and a lot of our cover art. I’m really into (and borderline obsessed) with health, fitness, and sober living.  I have a hard time sitting still, but fortunately, there’s always a lot to do when you’re self-employed and running a band!

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Interview With Bassist Edmond Gilmore



Interview With Bassist Edmond Gilmore

Interview With Bassist Edmond Gilmore…

I am always impressed by the few members of our bass family who are equally proficient on upright as well as electric bass… Edmond Gilmore is one of those special individuals.

While he compartmentalizes his upright playing for mostly classical music and his electric for all the rest, Edmond has a diverse musical background and life experiences that have given him a unique perspective.

Join me as we hear about Edmond’s musical journey, how he gets his sound and his plans for the future.

Photo, Sandrice Lee

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Billy The Kid: Tapping Into Sheehan’s Eternal Youth!



Bassist Billy Sheehan

By David C. Gross & Tom Semioli 

BS: Billy Sheehan
DCG: David C. Gross
TS: Tom Semioli 

“When you find one door, open it up! It leads to another world…” 

William Roland Sheehan needs no introduction to bassists, nor hard rock aficionados – however such perfunctory salutations are required for the uninitiated. 

A virtuoso (tap, shred, effects maestro – you name it) who plies his craft in genres loosely termed as metal, prog-rock, and heavy-prog, Sheehan is actually a musical polymath. Though he’s most commonly associated with the numerous high-profile voltage enhanced ensembles he’s been an integral part of – namely Sons of Apollo, Talas, Winery Dogs, David Lee Roth, Mr. Big, Greg Howe, Niacin, and Tony MacAlpine to cite a very few – Billy digs everything from classical to jazz to synth-pop to electronic to flamenco to Tuvan throat singing – and then some. All of which is reflected in his work on stage and in the studio – which incidentally, has been going strong for six decades and counting.

With age comes wisdom. We caught Billy in the midst of Mr. Big’s farewell sojourn with his signature Yamaha Attitude bass in his lap. Note that while we were setting up the Zoom connection – Billy was working scales and warming up despite the reality that there was no show scheduled that evening! Sheehan explains why said collective is taking its final bow. Not to worry, the Buffalo-born bassist has much more work to do. In fact, you could say that Billy’s just getting started. 

TS: Someone once sang “I hope I die before I get old…” Yet when we take a look around us at a few of your peers and heroes such as Tony Levin and Ron Carter just to name two– they’re going stronger than ever. Reflect on the young Billy Sheehan and the 21st Century Billy Sheehan. What’s changed? What is the same? 

BS: As you grow you become more focused. I don’t want to say that I’m more mature, because that has other implications! 

As a musician – and I think this is true with all artists – we maintain our 16-year-old sensibilities for life! It’s healthy to maintain a youthful exuberance.  I’m thankful that I still have it. Somehow that was built into me. 

I’m still excited about getting up in the morning and working on my bass playing every day. I’ll be driving in my car and a musical idea will suddenly hit me and I have to get home to pick up my instrument.

Perhaps it’s because we can devote more time to things at this point in our lives. Hopefully, we’re not running around trying to get our lives together and we have more stability. That can lead to a new personal Renaissance for the over 50s players. It’s a great time to be alive at my age. 

DCG: Do you think the snow in Buffalo helped you develop into a virtuoso player?

BS: Absolutely! (laughter) I remember the Blizzard of ’77! I couldn’t leave my house. The snow was up to my chest. I think we went something like 60 to 90 days with the temperature not getting above freezing. I had my little apartment, my little bass, my little heater – so what else could I do? 

I learned the Brandenburg Concertos on bass…well, not all of it, just chunks here and there. However, the adversity you get from your environment can be an advantage, like it was for me – I was isolated. I was on my own with no interruptions. Back then I was free – no kids, no girlfriend. I froze but I think it paid off! 

DCG: There is one bass tip you gave me – not personally, it was in an interview – regarding strap length. The advice was to simply grab a piece of leather, sit down the way you practice, put the leather on you, stand up, and that is the optimum position for your bass!  

BS: Of all the fancy stuff I’ve tried to show people I’ve received more response from the strap length than anything else. 

But it’s really important. I’m sitting here with my bass practicing. When I stand up to play live, I need it to be in the same place. You need to maintain the angles of your hands, fingers, and arms. If you get up to play and the bass is lower nothing seems to work. 

DCG: That’s because you’re not using the muscles you’ve developed during practice. However you do want to look cool on stage, and the low-slung bass is the ultimate rock star aesthetic.

BS: Right, which is why we should invent a strap with a button on it to instantly lower and raise the bass! (laughter)

Note: Billy proceeds to model different bass lengths – chest level for progressive rock, and under his chin for what Sheehan terms as ‘the jazz bowtie.” 

TS: You came to prominence in a decade known as the 1980s which to my ears was a golden era for bassists. Our instrument was able to adapt to the new technologies. The improvements in recording and pro audio allowed bass notes to be heard rather than a low rumble lost somewhere in the mix. 

BS: It was a great decade. There is a constant evolution going on. It goes from artist to artist. One artist hears somebody – let’s say Oscar Peterson hears Art Tatum – and suddenly we have this amazing confluence of both styles together. I learned from many of the players that came before me – it’s a long list – everybody imaginable – and some not. Consequently, I stood on their shoulders. 

Today there are people who are standing on my shoulders! There is a whole generation of players who are doing what we thought was impossible – or couldn’t even imagine. And that’s a great thing. We see that happen in all the arts.

In music, more than anything, we notice a significant ascension in skills. Some other art forms go off into abstractions whereas in music, there is a real technical, definable and quantifiable ability to play a string of notes in time, in tune, and righteously. That has gone way, way up to me. 

I have a huge collection of music. I often focus on one particular brand of music – for example: garage rock from the 1960s.  There is rarely a bass in tune! Not even close – sometimes a half step off! Why nobody noticed it, I’ll never know! 

As we progressed, it got much better – more in tune, in time. 

My first concert was Jimi Hendrix. I went to see him play and I got up close and took a few photos. That was as close as I ever got to him. Now on YouTube – you can see his fingerprints as he’s playing. You can see the iris in his eyes. You can watch and learn everything. I think that is a great advantage to a new generation of players. 

They are fortunate in ways that we never were in that there are amazing documents of the musicians that came before them. So now the shoulders are even wider to stand on! Before that the best we could do, as you guys know, is listen to a record and go ‘I think it’s this (Billy renders imaginary riff)! I’m not sure…’ We find out later that we were either right on the money or somewhere in between. 

TS: However, ‘getting it wrong’ sometimes develops your individual style. Even if I couldn’t get John Entwistle’s line perfectly, I came up with something else that is unique to me. 

BS: Very true! You had to improvise and try to figure out how they did it. As a result, we have the ability to play stylistically. And the mechanics can be wildly across the spectrum of innovation. 

I traveled to Japan years ago to participate in a huge bass clinic. There were 3000 people in the auditorium and about 10 players on stage. One bassist played this complicated piece that I had recorded. And he did it exactly, but his technique was nowhere near the way I played it. It was amazing and it taught me a lot. He took a left turn and still landed in the right place. Awesome! 

As you both know, there are a million factors that go into this.  There are many paths to express yourself, and to be the way you want to be. 

TS: Growing up in the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s – we heard pop music on the radio with such extraordinary players as James Jamerson, Chuck Rainey, Louis Johnson, to name a few. Aside from metal, alternative, country, and funk – there hasn’t been a bass on hit tunes – even with such contemporary R&B artists such as Rhianna, Cardi B, and Beyonce – how do we get our instrument back into the mainstream? 

BS: I think it is cyclical. That sub-sonic, sub-harmonic pre-programmed thing – you know where they pump the bass line, or make a midi-file of it – is very popular now. And sonically – it is bassier! It’s more precise, and right on. 

That is the style that people’s ears are used to right now. They are also acclimated to auto-tune vocals. When they hear a natural vocal, which 99% of the time is not in perfect pitch, it throws them! Nowadays every note lands perfectly on that ProTools grid. The vocals are tuned to perfection, there is not a slightly flat or slightly sharp note to be found. 

I think the pendulum will swing back at some point. People are going to want to hear more humanity. They gravitate to something slightly out of time or out of tune which gives the music authenticity. Like taking a breath – we all do not inhale and exhale at the same rate. Our hearts do not beat at the same rate! I believe that there is an analogy there for music as well.

At present, we are in the perfection stage. There is beauty to that too. I don’t put it down. There’s not much about music that I do not like. Millions of love this type of music, and I acknowledge it. Who am I to say? There are a lot of cool things to think about. Especially in electronic music that was coming out in the 80s and 90s – artists such as Prodigy, Fat Boy Slim.

DCG: Yes, it was very experimental. 

BS: I loved that right away. There was a Stacey Q song ‘Love of Hearts’ with the coolest synth bass part. I remember sitting down and my challenge to myself was to work that out on a bass guitar. I tried to play it as rock solid as the programmed track. Sometimes it’s good to go with ‘man vs. machine!’ and try to match up to that studio perfection. And that goes for any musician, not just a bass player. You have to push yourself in different directions. When you find one door, open it up! It leads to another world… 

DCG: The older we get the more we appreciate things, and even in new music -which may not speak to us per se – there is something to be learned. For example, Justin Timberlake commented that he commences the songwriting process with beats as opposed to traditional chord changes and melodies – which is how our generation hears music. 

BS: This is true. And when I was young, I remember the older generation saying ‘What is this Jimi Hendrix stuff you’re listening to, it’s not music!’ 

And now I see a lot of young folks at our shows – especially Winery Dogs and Sons of Apollo – so there is somewhat of a generational hand-off going on today. 

My mom was big into the standard singers of her era; Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Mel Torme, Ella Fitzgerald, Bobby Darin, and similar artists. I am big into Sinatra!

DCG: What is your favorite Sinatra record?

BS: That would be Live at The Sands! Of course!

DCG: Mine is Frank Sinatra Sings for Only The Lonely. 

BS: That’s a good one! Live at The Sands is a compilation of five shows. It is a collection of the best parts of five nights…

DCG: Quincy Jones did the arrangements! 

BS: Right! I found recordings of all the other shows! That’s the nature of my collection. I always search out the impossible. I also have the rehearsals for Jimi’s Band of Gypsys before they ever performed. It’s amazing to hear different versions of those songs. 

Getting back to your comment on the components of music from this generation to the previous ones– I think it’s harder to go from the standard verse-chorus-bridge to a flat beat and vocalizations without any real pitch. That is a big jump. 

Yesterday I was discussing the chord changes in Beatles songs with a colleague of mine. For me, the greatest song ever written is The Beatles ‘If I Fell.’ How elaborate they were. I remember learning Everly Brothers songs on guitar and then the Beatles came out and it changed everything. I recall thinking ‘How does this even work?’ That was a jump back then, now what is happening is an even bigger jump because there were still harmonic relations between new and older music. 

But that does not mean that the new way of doing things for some artists cannot be crossed over.  Again, I appreciated a lot of new stuff. The computer-generated stuff, I’m not crazy about it because many of my friends are musicians and I like to hear them playing instead of programming. Yet there is a real beauty to electronic music. 

I was way into Wendy Carlos (composer/recording artist who was a 1960s electronic music pioneer and worked with Robert Moog, inventor of the Moog Synthesizer) back in the day. There was a great record by Mark Hankinson entitled The Unusual Classical Synthesizer (1972). I love the work of Japanese synthesist (Isao) Tomita – he wasn’t doing rhythmic Bach and Beethoven – he was doing Debussy on synthesizer which was mind-blowing to me. His record of Debussy Snowflakes Are Dancing (1974) – is full of lilting, emotional pads and colors. Just incredible. 

I’m also a big fan of world music – though that is a title that is too often misused. Bulgarian choir music intrigues me.

DCG: How about the Tuvan throat singers…

BS: Oh yeah, that is not human! Unbelievable. And they’re all in a room singing… I am also a huge fan of Indian music especially violinist L. Shankar whom Frank Zappa referred to as the best musician he ever knew. 

And it’s all available now…

TS:  You bring up the topic of streaming music – and a question to all the artists David and I speak with. Given the nature of the platform, which is song-oriented, is the album format still relevant today? 

BS: To some of us, the format is still relevant. When I’m on tour we sell lots of vinyl. The 1985 Talas record came out on vinyl and we have a hard time keeping up with it. The pressing plants are backed up from six months to a year in some instances. 

I saw one columnist comment that he didn’t know if people were actually playing the records as much as they enjoyed holding them in their hands! 

Who knows, there may be a time when the grid goes down and everyone is going to have to get their bicycle out, or their generator and get a turntable going again! 

DCG: Tom, how do you make a musician complain? 

TS: Give him a gig!


BS: That’s true! The internet has brought on the age of complaining…

TS: Musicians complained that the record labels were unfair gatekeepers. When MTV came along – a platform that gave massive exposure to scores of artists – yourself included; musicians once again complained that it favored only the visuals as opposed to the music. Now with digital technology, musicians can go directly to the consumer. 

BS: For lack of a better word, things are more ‘democratic’ now. You can accelerate your promotion. For example, I am on a laptop now and I can record an entire symphony orchestra and do the movie soundtrack along with it. Then I can go online and sell it. That has leveled the playing field quite a bit. Before, you could only do that if you had a big budget – you’d have to hire a studio, engineers – it was cost-prohibitive in many instances. You can even do it on an iPhone! 

So, to me, that’s a good thing. 

I’ve heard of this parallel with this, perhaps you will concur with me; when desktop publishing first came out the reaction was ‘Oh no, there will be so many amazing books we won’t know what to do anymore!’ However, the same number of books still made it to the top of the list – despite the fact that there are hundreds of thousands of people writing via desktop publishing. 

And I think the same situation exists with music. Despite the population of the world making music, there is still going to be stuff that gravitates to the top. So, I don’t think it is so wildly different from when there were gatekeepers as you say. 

So that’s a good thing. You can be one click away from a billion listeners. That is amazing. The bad thing is, so are a million other people! 

DCG: As I said to Tom yesterday, in 100 years, I don’t think people will be reading. 

BS: I agree, and that it sad to see. Because similar to music, you can use your imagination. There is a fantastic book entitled This Is Your Brain on Music (written by neuroscientist Daniel Joseph Levitin, first published in 2006) – and I had a conversation by email with the author. 

The creativity that you must have in your mind when you’re reading a book – if a passage reads ‘snow is falling, smoke is coming from the chimneys…’ you can see it and smell it in your mind. You create a cinematic scenario. Whereas in a movie, it’s all spoon-fed to you. 

TS: The latest kerfuffle in the music business in 2024 is the use of artificial intelligence. What say you of AI?

BS: I am a purist in a lot of ways. When people ask me for advice about getting into the music business I tell them three things: 

1. Get in a band. 

2. Get in a band with songs… 

3. Get in a band with songs that you sing!

Run the numbers of every bass player, every guitar player and so forth and those three steps are the most successful. AI does not necessarily fit in with that. I have yet to wrap my head around AI to have a solid opinion about it.  In general, I am leaning towards humans, humanity, and people thinking up things. 

People thought up AI, it didn’t think up itself. And it’s all on a computer which is made by humans! I see the urge to create a robot world where everything is done by robots. But unless somebody programs it…it ain’t gonna happen. So there is that human element that is still essential.

Until we get robots that can program, then they’ll be some self-replicating, and then we’ll wind up with Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator of some sort!  That could happen. Science fiction has predicted many things that came to be! 

I prefer the Everly Brothers to AI. If and when the whole world goes to hell, we can still sit around a campfire with a guitar and sing songs. 

TS: Let’s talk bass for a change. David and I have a credo that states ‘it’s not a real bass until you drill holes in it.’ David now favors custom instruments, though he still loves to tear up a perfectly good bass and rebuild it in his own image every now and then. I prefer to modify my Fender basses. What was your original inspiration to create the legendary ‘wife’ and other basses? 

BS: For me, the Fender Precision bass is the bass. Ninety-nine percent of everything has been done on that instrument or some variation thereof. 

This (Billy holds aloft his Yamaha Attitude bass) is very P bass-ish. When Yamaha contacted me to make a bass and endorse their instrument – Fender was at a low point. They were changing ownership, there were shifts going on in the company, and their instruments weren’t that great. I’m going to say that was the mid-1980s.

Yamaha came along with quality control second to none in my opinion. I am glad went with them and I will always be with them. 

The P bass is undeniable. Before my first P bass came into the store – that was Art Kubera’s Music Store on Fillmore Avenue in Buffalo, New York – they let me take home an Epiphone Rivoli bass – or the Gibson version of that, which had the big, fat chrome pick-up right here beneath the base of the neck.  It had a super deep low-end resonance. 

I played for a few days, and when my bass came in I played it and it sounded great but it was missing that sound from the Rivoli. It was a super deep low sound like I’d heard on ‘Rain’ by The Beatles – which may have been Paul’s Rickenbacker or Hofner. 

Notes From An Artist Notes: Paul’s aforementioned instruments both featured pick-ups beneath the base of the neck and body! 

Paul Samwell-Smith of The Yardbirds, who used an Epiphone Rivoli – was a big inspiration to me and he had that deep sound.  

I loved the P bass but I wanted those sounds so I figured ‘Hey, I’ve got all this space right here, why don’t I dig a hole and put a pick-up in there!’ I didn’t know how to wire it, so I made two outputs and ran it into two channels of my amplifier. We’re talking 1970…1971. When dinosaurs roamed the earth!

Then I got a second amp – one was for all the harmonics and high-end content and then the super low deep end on the other. That really helped me in a three-piece band. We didn’t have a keyboard or rhythm guitar, so I had something that sounded guitar-ish and keyboard-ish but there was always bass underneath it. I never lost that low end. And that is basically the formula I stuck with. 

Then I found out later on – of course, I did not invent it, I came up with it on my own – all the others did too, that all the early Alembic basses had duel outputs for each pickup. Rickenbacker’s Rick-O-Sound had both pickups going to two places. 

I’d read that John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin took his Fender Jazz bass and split the pick-ups into two amps. John Entwistle did stuff like that as well. Chuck Burghofer,  who played the iconic bass part to the Barney Miller show theme song had a Gibson EB-0 pick-up on his Precision bass! A lot of players used that for the same solution to the same problem. 

If you really want to extend the low end – that neck pick-up is really where it is at. And that’s how I got to where I am on my Attitude bass. The Attitude neck is modeled after a 1968 Fender Telecaster bass – it’s a big fat baseball bat! It’s meaty with a lot of sustain. And that’s my story sad but true! (laughter)

TS: The great Mel Schacher of Grand Funk Railroad modded out his Fender Jazz with an EB-1 pickup at the neck – that’s how he attained his signature tone. 

BS: One of my favorite players!

TS: Since our show commenced three years ago as The Bass Guitar Channel David and I have debated the merits of the extended-range bass. You’ve always been a four-string guy. I last saw you with Sons of Apollo with a double neck bass – with both in four-string configurations. 

David and I spoke with Jerry Jemmott, the legendary bassist who, as you know, was a great influence on Jaco Pastorius. He maintains that Jaco would have continued with the four-string had he lived to see the advancements in extended-range five and six-string instruments. He also stresses that it was the limitations of the four-string that were a major factor in Jaco’s style – it prompted him to be more creative within those so-called restrictions.  Your thoughts?  

BS: I’ve already got enough death threats from five and six-string players! (laughter) 

I refer to the five-string bass as a ‘flinch.’ You have a guy sitting at home playing a four-string, it’s not really working out for him. He’s not playing in a good band… he’s not happening. So he thinks ‘I’ll go to five-strings!’ 

DCG: Oh Jesus!!!! C’mon Billy…

BS: Well, that’s really not a true blanket statement… (laughter)

Really, if you want to play five-string, God bless you, go for it! Go for however many strings you want.

When I posted my double-neck on social media, there was a ton of vitriol! Hostility! Attacks! I got feedback such as ‘You should play a five-string, that’s just wasteful!’ 

Hold on, I played a double-neck for a lot of different reasons. First of all, they are tuned differently. On the Mr. Big tour, we had to lower the keys on many songs. We’re not like we used to be vocally. Some of our songs are a whole step lower – so I’d have to switch basses, which would interrupt the flow of the performance. With the double-neck, I have every tuning I need right here. 

It seems like nobody could figure that out, especially the five-string. The double-neck is a fantastic instrument, it feels good, and it’s perfectly balanced for me. Standard tuning on the top neck, BEAD on the bottom. All my notes are where I want them to be. 

I agree with Jerry, I think Jaco would have stuck with the four-string. Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen played four strings. Monk Montgomery… There really is no limitation on a four-string. 

I can bend my Attitude on the G string to a high G. I can go really low with my de-tuner. I can bend the low D to a low B! So I have almost the same range as a lot of extended ranges basses right here.

I remember being in a band with Steve Vai and I had one low B note in one song, so I simply hit the de-tuner! Where there is a will there is a way! 

If you want to play a 90-string bass, I’m with you! The insistence that we all have to play the same bass with the same tone with the same everything – and if you don’t – you’re out of the club! I can’t hang with that. 

TS: You’ve collaborated with so many virtuoso guitarists – Steve Vai, Tony MacAlpine, Ritchie Kotzen, Paul Gilbert, and Michael Schenker to select a scant few. Who are the players, past or present, whom you would like to work with the most? 

PS: Sadly we lost that guitar player, and I don’t think I am qualified either: Paco de Lucia! He was tops on my list. Also I have to add John McLaughlin to the list. I am a huge Mahavishnu Orchestra fan. I am a big Billy Cobham fan too.

You mention guitar players, but I am more of a ‘drummer’ guy! I got to see Cobham in Dreams before the Mahavishnu Orchestra with the Brecker Brothers on horns for $1.50 at the University of Buffalo. He blew my mind! 

I love Dennis Chambers. Playing with him changed my life. 

DCG: Tell us how you approach working with guitar heroes.

BS: I like to work ‘with’ guitarists. I do what they need to have done. In the past when I played with Steve Vai, I removed myself from the equation. My approach was ‘What does Steve want? What does he need?’ In some ways, it takes the burden off me to be continuously creative. I strive to play accurately and righteously and make him happy. I don’t want him to even think of the bass while he is doing his thing. 

He is free and I am providing that big foundation – think of it as 18 inches of steel-reinforced concrete! With Paul Gilbert in Mr. Big, I always make sure there are big fat notes underneath him while he is soloing and I get the heck out of his way! I want to hear him too!

Bass is primarily a supportive instrument. Most anybody will agree to that I believe. The instrument does its own things too; sometimes its really woven into improvisation, sometimes it’s the foundation.

The problem I have with some guitarists is that if I move harmonically – they get thrown off because they cannot play over changes. Even if I am in the key of E minor, if I do some movement in the key other than the root, they are completely lost. I tell them not to worry, we are still in the same key! 

If you listen to Bach, what he does in the left-hand affects the sound of the right hand. The moving notes create intriguing counterpoint which are essential components of music and harmony. 

Depending on the guitarist, I’ll move around all over the place. Within reason of course! I give them the option to go where they want to go, and not to work because I’ll follow you! I will instinctively get out of the way when you need me to. Lock in with the drummer and I’ll jump in when it’s time. This way we create an interchange – an improvisation. Again, think Bach with the left hand and the right hand. You hit one note, you hit another, and something changes! That is harmony. It creates a third tone in a way.

When you can do that as a bass player it leads to more harmonic complexity in a good way. 

That’s not to say that Cliff Williams in AC/DC isn’t a genius. He’s pounding that beautiful open E string while Angus is doing his thing and it is glorious. Amazing. Same thing with Ian Hill of Judas Priest – he holds the whole band together. 

TS: And on the topic of drummers, Michael Portnoy and you have two remarkable bands that are completely different: the prog-rock collective of Sons of Apollo, and the blues-based Winery Dogs. 

BS: Winery Dogs is straight-up rock with a lot of improvisational stuff. Sons of Apollo is more of a progressive arranged style – the parts are the same – they are written into the song, much like classical music. As you can hear, there is not as much free form moving in Sons of Apollo. 

Sometimes I have this ESP thing going on with drummers. I remember one time I was setting up in a little club to do a jam and drummer Ray Luzier of Korn – we are dear friends and have a production company together – I had my back to him and I was plugging in my little amp. The lights were down and while we were playing Ray just hit his bass drum – boom!  at the exact moment when I hit my E string – boom! We spun around and looked at each other and said to each other ‘how did you know!’ (laughter)

When a drummer goes chicka-ta-ba-ba-do-bop, I play chicka-ta-ba-ba-do-bop! You can really incorporate motion in the bass into a useable, uncluttered thing if you are really locked in with the drummer. That’s something I tell young players all the time. 

Start on the bass drum – when the drummer hits the kick – the bass player hits a note. Same with the accents. Then later on if you want to do it you can play lower and higher octaves with the bass and snare drum – ala The Knack on their hit ‘My Sharona.’ There are so many hits constructed on that way of doing things: ‘Gimmie Some Lovin’ by Spencer Davis – there are many examples.

If you want to get adventurous you play along with the tom-tom fills! That’s my thing. I build my basslines more on drums than guitars. 

TS: Moving from Sons of Apollo to Winery Dogs is just another day at the office for you…

BS: Fortunately, I grew up in a time where my bands’ setlists were wild. Like everyone else, I started off in copy bands. My groups played everything from The Tubes –‘White Punks on Dope,’ to King Crimson’s ‘21st Century Schizoid Man,’ to Three Dog Night’s ‘Joy to the World,’ to Grand Funk Railroad…all this diverse stuff. A broad array of styles. 

When you’re playing in a bar band, you never know who is coming through the door. Some audiences like to hear complex music, other audiences want to sing along with ‘Jeremiah was a bullfrog… was a good friend of mine!’ 

It was good training for me to get in a situation where I could jump from genre to genre – somewhat convincingly I hope – and still manage to stay on my feet.

TS: Playing Top-40 was a boot camp experience for me as well. We had our disco set, slow dance set, dinner standards set… how is Mr. Big doing on your 2024 farewell tour.

BS: We’re doing great, we’re selling out venues, the feedback has been fantastic. We’re having a ball. And it’s a real farewell tour too – not a fake farewell tour! (laughter)

We want to cross over the finish line standing up rather than crawl over it with a walker and an oxygen mask with backup singers and running tracks! We are still actually singing and playing! I’ll be 71 next month (March 2024) – I am the oldest in the band. Not everyone ages the same, it can be difficult to get up there for a two-hour show. 

DCG: Doesn’t it strike you as funny when you go from being the youngest member of the band to being the oldest?  (laughter) 

BS: My timeline has shifted! I feel great. I still feel like I’m 16. I recall that after the pandemic when I first went out with the Winery Dogs, I felt like an MMA fighter! Get me in the octagon, let’s go! I was dying to play, and we hit it hard. Then I went back to Mr. Big, then back to Winery Dogs again… twice to Japan…two or three times to South America… all within the span of a year. 

I’m still ready to go, it’s all good!   

Note: Our complete conversation with Billy Sheehan will be available in an upcoming book: Good Question! Notes From An Artist Interviews… by David C. Gross & Tom Semioli 

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