Billy Sheehan: 10 Live Albums That Changed My Life
Winery Dogs bass wizard Billy Sheehan picks 10 live albums that broke the mould
The Winery Dogs hit anything but a second album slump on the recently released Hot Streak, a gutsy set of groove-oriented hard rock originals that lay to waste to notion that the highly pedigreed supergroup (Richie Kotzen, guitar and vocals; Billy Sheehan, bass; and Mike Portnoy, drums) were a flash-in-the-pan success following their 2013 debut.
“To be honest, I didn’t have a molecule of a clue that this would work out so well,” Sheehan admits. “I’ve made other records that I’ve been excited about, and for one reason or another, they didn’t catch on. The fact that I’m super-excited about the Winery Dogs makes it doubly sweet that we’ve been received the way we have.
“I think there’s an honesty to the band, and maybe that’s why people have picked up on us,” he continues. “We didn’t scheme anything or put together a marketing plan before we did this. We just threw it together. But I think you can hear purity in music, and it hits you in a very meaningful way. Hopefully, that’s what everybody’s responding to.”
As they did on their first record, the band produced Hot Streak by themselves, with many of the songs evolving from spontaneous jams. “I might play a bassline, just fooling around,” says Sheehan, “and Mike will start playing a beat, and then Richie will hop in. How Long and Oblivion began that way – they signalled something to both Mike and Richie, and before you knew it, they became songs.”
Whether or not the group might work with an outside producer in the future remains an open-ended question. “I wouldn’t be opposed to it, but I don’t know if it’s really necessary,” Sheehan says. “I sort of like the ensemble approach. We have three strong personalities in this band. We’re all wildly different in how we work, but we’ve all landed on the same page pretty easily. We sort of allow the ideas to be the leaders in the band as opposed to the individuals.”
The Winery Dogs just concluded a sold-out tour of the States, and on January 29 they begin a swing through Europe. In the spirit of live performance, Sheehan compiled a special list of the “10 records that changed his life” – all live recordings. “Playing before an audience is one of the most important aspects of any band,” he notes. “I love playing for people, and I’m glad to be in a great live band like the Winery Dogs, so it felt right to go with this particular theme.”
The Yardbirds – Having A Rave Up (1965)
“It’s a pretty interesting album, half studio and half live. You get to hear them do a I’m a Man in the studio, but on the second side they go nuts and tear it up with a raucous live version. The audience is hootin’ and a-hollerin’ – it’s incredible. The live version is so great that it makes the studio recording sound almost tame in comparison.
“This record made a huge impression on me because it really illustrated what a band can do in front of an audience. It was also my introduction to the Yardbirds; after this album, I went off and got everything else they did – For Your Love, ‘Over Under Sideways Down,’ you name it. Bootlegs of live stuff started coming hot and heavy, and I totally got into it. Having a Rave Up sold me on them as a live band.
“I was always amazed that the Yardbirds didn’t become a huge band in America. Their fans loved them, but they weren’t accepted by the masses like they deserved to be.”
The Rolling Stones – Got Live If You Want It! (1966)
“This was the Rolling Stones’ first live record, when Brian Jones was still their guitar player. Here were all the songs I knew and loved – The Last Time, Under My Thumb, Lady Jane – done live amidst screaming and chaos. The band made mistakes, and at times things seemed totally out of control – and I loved it! It was so exciting.
“This record made me more of a Stones fan than I was before. I preferred the Beatles, but hearing the Stones do their stuff in front of an audience notched them up a bit.
“There’re a great version of Fortune Teller, and they kind of turn Satisfaction into a medley. It’s all really cool. There have been lots of other Stones live records through the years, but this is one of their best, and because it’s such an early one, it’s pretty interesting.”
Jimi Hendrix – Bang of Gypsys (1970)
“Jimi Hendrix was the first concert I ever saw, and Band of Gypsys is the first fully live album he did with Buddy Miles on drums and Billy Cox on bass. Even though it’s Hendrix’s record, it taught me how important it was to have a great, great drummer behind you.
“I can’t say enough about Buddy Miles. He’d be playing 16th notes on the hi-hat, and then he’d pull it back to eighth notes. It’s like the whole size of the room changed when he did that. He had an amazing way of controlling your perception of what you were hearing.
“Mitch Mitchell was a jazzy drummer, and I loved him. He really made Hendrix stand out. However, when it went to Buddy Miles, there was more of a solid foundation underneath Jimi. Mitchell was an up-top player – he kind of floated around very freely – and Miles was a more down-low drummer. It was a different feel entirely. Billy Cox locked in with Buddy, and they created this low frequency. You didn’t have that with Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding.
“I must have listened to this record a thousand times. The automatic arm on the turntable would reach the end, and then it would come up and go back down and start all over again. This went on for weeks at a time – it was a huge part of my life.”
Various Artists:_ Woodstock: Music from the Original Soundtrack and More_ (1970)
“One of the greatest live albums of all time. There’s so much to choose from here, but what’s interesting is all the stuff that didn’t get on the record. Mountain played a whole set, but they weren’t on the album. Through the years, I’ve discovered a lot of those other bands that played Woodstock, and I wish they would have been on the record.
“But even so, there’s stellar moments here. Sly & the Family Stone’s set, to me, is one of the most exciting recorded performances ever. Soon after, all of the bar bands were doing the Sly set live – Dance to the Music, I Want to Take You Higher, all of that.
“The Who were remarkable, as were Ten Years After. We did the Alvin Lee version of I’m Going Home in my band Talas as a standard for 10 years. Our guitar player was really good at playing that stuff. I don’t know if I heard the studio version of I’m Going Home, but at Woodstock, Ten Years After tore the roof off the place.”
AC/DC – If You Want Blood You’ve Got It (1978)
“This is the album that turned me on to AC/DC. A super-exciting live record. I even love the way it starts: There’s a problem with an amp, and you hear something buzzing; the crowd roars, and then the band launches into ‘Riff Raff.’ Holy cow! The crowd is going crazy like they’re at a soccer match.
“From hearing this record, I went out and got all of their other stuff. Soon after, they put out Highway to Hell and all hell broke loose – literally. Then they had the tragedy with Bon Scott’s death, but they regrouped with Brian Johnson and Back in Black, and they became one of the biggest bands on earth.
“This record captures them in rare form live, and Bon Scott was at the top of his game. What a showman. And he was a great writer, too – he had such a unique way of describing things. The scenery he set up in your mind was very vivid.”
Les McCann and Eddie Harris – Swiss Movement (1969)
“I’m going to take a real left turn here. This is Les McCann and Eddie Harris live at the Montreux Jazz Festival. It’s an iconic jazz record. Les McCann was a piano player and singer, and Eddie Harris played electric sax. They got together, and at the Jazz Fest they opened up with a raucous jam that broke into a great song called Compared To What. Their version was absolutely kickin’ – amazing in every way.
“In my youth, I had a couple of jazzy friends, and this was one of our favorite records. There’s so many fantastic cuts and performances on the album. It’s not wild, wacky jazz with lots of notes – like you don’t know how they got there or why they got there. It’s more straight-up, with beautiful playing and brilliant solos, and the audience loves it. It’s an incredible live record that I heartily recommend.”
Humble Pie_ – Performance Rockin’ the Fillmore_ (1971)
“One of the greatest, most iconic bands ever – everybody in the group is astonishing. I absolutely love Humble Pie. For many years, on any given Saturday night when I was just hanging out at home, my go-to record was one of their studio albums, Smokin’, the one with 30 Days in the Hole on it. Man, that was good.
“They were kind of always a live band, because in the studio they played as they would on stage, just like they did on the Fillmore record. But when you hear them in front of an audience, the whole excitement level jumps up a few notches. Hearing them play I Don’t Need No Doctor – I mean, how do you top that? The rest of the record is totally riotous and raucous. It’s all brilliant.”
Judas Priest – Unleashed in the East (1979)
“They’re another one of my favorite bands, and their live record really pushed them over the top for me. They did a lot of things that set them apart, like doing Joan Baez’s Diamonds and Rust. When I do a little DJ thing, I always play people the original – they can’t believe Joan Baez did it as her own song before Judas Priest.
“Priest took a spooky, strange and introverted song and turned it into this epic metal number. That’s the true test of a great piece of music – that you can do it so many different ways. There’s so many fantastic cuts on this record. Plus, you get a good sense of them as a live band, the power they generate. I think it set the stage for them to have global success very soon after."
King Crimson – USA (1975)
“King Crimson is another favorite. I remember having a bootleg of them doing Larks’ Tongues in Aspic that was remarkable. I lost the bootleg, but when I heard the live version of it here, it was pretty close to the bootleg. It’s just out of control. When you hear the studio version and compare it to this one, it almost seems tame.
“John Wetton is the singer here, and man, what a voice he has. And his bass tone! I love John Entwistle’s tone – I got a lot from him, and from Jack Bruce, too – but John Wetton is what I was going for. I remember playing a couple of gigs with Marshalls, and I thought, ‘Yeah, this is John Wetton’s tone.’
“And Bill Bruford on drums – I mean, come on. This is probably my favorite era of King Crimson. I love a lot of their albums, but this record really does it for me.”
The Mothers – Just Another Band from L.A. (1972)
“This album had a big influence on me. Back in my apartment in Buffalo, we would play this one all the time. The automatic arm on the turntable would go back and forth, and the record would just play and play and play. Then we’d flip the record over, and it would play ad infinitum. I’m sure we drove our neighbours crazy with it.
“When I got together with Steve Vai to do David Lee Roth’s Eat ‘Em and Smile, we had a lot of common ground because we could both recite the first four or five Zappa records from beginning to end. We had a great starting point because of our love of Frank Zappa.
“This record was when he had Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan from the Turtles singing. It’s so great and beautifully entertaining. You’ve got storytelling and comedy along with mind-blowing musicianship and composition. Few artists have been able to duplicate this kind of thing at this level.
“I played it for my wife recently, and she’d never heard it before. She was entertained beyond belief. ‘Why have I never heard this before?’ she asked me. ‘It’s one of the greatest things ever.’ It’s great when you get to share something that’s been so important to you, and this record really was a big part of my life in the ‘70s. I got so much from Frank Zappa musically, socially, personally. He changed my whole attitude about so many things.”