Billy Sheehan’s “Metal Masters” Challenge

Backstage bassist summit with Billy Sheehan (left) and Frank Bello (right).
(Photo ©2012 by Bryan Reesman.)

The Metal Masters clinic series returned to NYC on Friday night as eight famed headbangers brought the thunder to the Gramercy Theatre in NYC. Most of the “Metal Masters 4” players were vets of the series — vocalist Phil Anselmo, guitarists Kerry King and Scott Ian, bassist Frank Bello, and drummers Charlie Benante and Dave Lombardo — while guitarist Gary Holt and bassist Billy Sheehan joined their ranks this time out. Best known for his playing with Mr. Big and David Lee Roth, Sheehan was the wild card being the only member not associated with thrash metal, although his virtuoso playing is a perfect match for the high-speed genre.

Prior to his hitting the stage, Sheehan chatted with A.D.D. about the event, fitting in and his role as a bassist.

What’s interesting about your appearance in the “Metal Masters” clinic series is that you’re the non-thrash guy.
Yeah, I’m not a thrash metal player or in a thrash metal band. I enjoy a lot of the stuff. My taste in music is all over the map. I love all kinds of things, from the heaviest fucking metal to weird, psychedelic ’60s garage bands to Sinatra to Debussy.

What do you think you guys can teach each other tonight?
There’s an element to this music that is unique — those high-speed 16th or 32nd notes — and for bass it’s the kind of thing I do a lot. So matching up with the double bass drum thing at super high speed is cool and fun, but they do it in a different way here. It’s a stricter rhythm. It’s not as movable as it is in a lot of other types of music.

I could see you and Charlie Benante doing a thrash-funk kind of thing because he brings a lot of groove to his playing.
He is great. And the other gentleman from Slayer [Dave Lombardo] is a brilliant player — high-speed, unreal shit. It’s great. I really like it. Bass players watch drummers, and drummers are the guys that I follow and watch more than anything. The drummer drives the band, and I connect the drummer to the melody. These guys are fantastic. It’s a big factor for me that there are great drummers up here. And guitar players. Kerry King has a really amazing energy and explosive style. He pointed out to me that we do the same EQ curve on our amps, and the gentleman from Exodus [Gary Holt] is a great, great player and brilliant soloist. Frank is an amazing bass player — he’s rock solid. It’s all very cool.

Say that you, Kerry King and Charlie Benante were in a power trio. What do you think that might sound like?
That would sound like the end of the world. It would be awesome.

How do you think you’d mix together?
Perfectly, because I always try to be the guy that fits in. If we need less of something, I’ll do less of it. If we need more of something, I’ll do more of that. If I have to move a little bit to the left or right to accommodate somebody, I’ll do that. It’s kind of a bass player thing. That’s why I think bass players make good producers because they take all these things, get them together and get them all going in one direction. That’s what I try to do as a bass player. I think it would be a blast to do a power trio with them.

Charlie could match some of your fusion leanings, while you could match the craziness of Kerry’s guitar solos.
It’s funny because when I play with jazz fusion guys, I’m the rock guy. I did just a record with Niacin with [drummer] Dennis Chambers, and we’re doing hard bebop jazz, heavy stuff. I had to adapt to that because that’s a whole other world for me too.

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