Veteran bassist Billy Sheehan wasn’t on the road with David Lee Roth during the singer’s Skyscraper tour — but his vocals were.
The four-string virtuoso, who played on Roth’s 1986 full-length solo debut Eat ‘Em and Smile and 1988’s Skyscraper, said pre-recorded backing tracks were one of his final points of contention before exiting the band in 1988.
“My last moments with David Lee Roth [were] in the studio,” Sheehan told I’m Music Magazine. “We sang all the background vocals for the Skyscraper tour to be on samples for them to use live, which went against my grain to start with. And later that day, I had the meeting which ended my relationship with Dave. Fortunately, I did not go out on that tour with fake vocals. I did sing on that tour, but I did it digitally. I’m very, very much against faking it.”
Sheehan has repeatedly expressed his dissatisfaction with the poppier, keyboard-heavy sound of Skyscraper, which also marked Roth’s last album to feature guitarist Steve Vai. “I think if we would have kept that Eat ‘Em and Smile vibe and style, the band would have really done incredibly well. Unfortunately, [Roth] made a left turn and did Skyscraper,” the bassist told the Talk Louder podcast in 2022 (via Blabbermouth). “I give him credit for the courage. I didn’t like the results of it myself, personally.”
Despite his misgivings about using backing tracks, Sheehan praised Roth’s consummate showmanship. “We had a riot on- and offstage. Dave was generous to us. We learned a lot from him,” he said. “It was Dave’s idea for me and Steve to do that little back-and-forth bass and guitar solo. At the start of the tour, we did separate solos, and [at] one point Dave said, ‘That’s not entertaining enough. We gotta do more.’ So he came up with the idea and it was brilliant. Working with him was like getting a PhD in show business. He’s a full-time entertainer. He’s a comedian, a storyteller and a very entertaining human being.”
Sheehan now plays in the Winery Dogs alongside singer/guitarist Richie Kotzen and drummer Mike Portnoy. The trio is currently touring in support of its new album III, and fans can expect them to keep things 100% live onstage.
“With the Winery Dogs, we improvise a lot. We do a lot of jamming, and we don’t know what’s going to happen,” Sheehan said. “Somebody turns left or turns right and we decide to follow him. It makes it fun and alive, and people are enjoying a spontaneous moment where something happened that will never happen again.”
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