Billy Sheehan Top Rock Bassist Speaks Out About Drugs
The Truth About Drugs, Issue VII
Editor: John S. Duff
printed as a public service by Narconon International
Billy Sheehan is the founder and bassist for the rock band MR. BIG whose second album “Lean into It” went platinum in the United States and five other countries internationally. MR. BIG’s newly released album is “Bump Ahead.” Billy is also a member of the Narconon All-Stars Celebrity Softball Team and speaks out about substance abuse whenever possible.
You have been a member of the Narconon All-Stars for a number of years now. What made you want to get involved with the subject of drug prevention?
I think a lot of people get up and lecture such as cops and parents telling you about drugs. They really do not know because they have never been there. They have never been out in the parking lot after class buying a joint from somebody smoking it with friends. They have never done that and I have. I know what that side is like. I remember before, during and after that period of my life, when I used drugs. So I have a good point of view of what drug use is and what it does to you. And I know that it is not good.
I once knew this incredibly great musician who was the most amazing, artistic kid I knew. His name was Bruce and he was an amazing artist. He could draw unbelievable things. He was so creative and this made him a valuable member to society. He could have gone on to change the world as a brilliant guitar player, singer, songwriter, everything. Yet to this day he hasn’t moved an inch because he is so involved in doing acid and smoking dope. I must know easily, another eight to ten guys who I was very close friends with in high school that never made it. Some of them are still to this day living in their bedrooms. They are still living in their parents home. They are 40 years old.
How did you get involved with drugs?
Back in about 1971 I wanted to try and find out more about myself and my past. I had the idea that if I somehow could get back into my past, I could figure out what happened. Anything that was wrong with me could be alleviated by going back into the past and finding out where it started from. I had that idea just totally on my own in school. Now, that was true. However, I also believed the propaganda on drugs; that drugs somehow would open my mind. I would get some kind of extra awareness or benefit from that. And I tried it. I smoked dope for a while and took acid a few times.
Were you in high school at the time?
Yes. At first it actually seemed for a while that drugs were good. However, in retrospect, my life was falling to pieces. I actually heard a tape of myself playing the bass one time when I was stoned. I heard a tape of it the next day. When I was recording it, I thought it was the most amazing thing I had ever done in my life. I thought it was unbelievable. This was in 1971. I said to myself, “this is unreal. I’m playing this amazing stuff. It’s blowing my mind. It’s so incredible and I’m reaching the peak of my creative ability, blah, blah, blah.” Then I heard a tape of it the next day and I almost died. It sucked, horrible, horrible. I hadn’t a clue as to what was going on. I was obviously off in some wacked-out world that made no sense at all to anybody other than myself at the time. It was really embarrassing. I really realized then drugs were kind of a dead-end street.
Back in the 1970s, I actually did parts of the Narconon Program. I did their sauna sweatout program that was developed by writer and philosopher L. Ron Hubbard to actually sweat out residual drugs that store in the body after you use drugs. It felt really good doing this program.
Is music a natural high for you?
For me listening to music could get me into a different state. People smoke dope to get to a different state other than normal. Music does that as well, only not the same way. Drugs are full of chemicals and they pollute your body, and they will eventually destroy your mind, piece by piece, little by little. Music does it in exactly the opposite way; actually music fills your mind and music enhances you and enriches you. I remember listening to music when I was younger that just fascinated me. I remember the music to the film 2001. It was the first time I heard classical music and it just about blew my mind. Later, I sneaked down to hear Jimi Hendrix play and my mother didn’t know. I was in eighth grade and it was my first concert. Now, after playing for so long, I can actually pick up my instrument and really get into it and just play and have a complete blast all by myself. Down in my little home studio at night in the basement of my house, I can just sit there until 4 o’clock in the morning and have a one-man party playing my bass and it is a blast.
How old were you when you first started playing?
I was maybe fourteen or fifteen.
Did you learn through studying music or did you just start playing the bass?
I just started playing along with records. I would put on a record that I liked and figure out the chords or somebody would show me some of the chords and I would figure the rest out.
Was there some point in time when you knew you were going to be a professional musician?
There was a battle of the bands in 1970 and we won against all these huge, big giant bands in my home town of Buffalo, New York. All these other bands had been playing with a lot of pros and we went out there and we beat them all. No one believed we could do it. No one could even believe that we were in the contest. We then won the contest!
It must have been a pretty exciting night.
It was unbelievable. We freaked out. We had some successes earlier on and, of course, a lot of failures. Ironically, for every big success, you come against another wall. Then you get over that wall and there is another wall. Then you are over that wall and then there is another wall. That is pretty much the way it is in almost any endeavor in life. Just like in school. You finished seventh grade. Now you’ve got to do eighth grade, which is harder. Now you have got to do ninth grade, which is harder. You finally finish high school, and you have got to go to college. Music is like that too.
So what happened in to you in 1985?
In 1985 I had a band named “Talas” out of Buffalo, New York. We were doing pretty good. We were doing really good regionally. In the Northeast we played all around in about an 800-mile radius. We were becoming known internationally in Japan and Europe. We had done a tour with Van Halen, but after that things started to go downhill in the band.
How did you start the band MR. BIG?
I started the band after I left David Lee Roth in 1988. I knew that I wanted to start a band that had equal members. People that worked with each other rather than having a boss. To be the boss, you have the whole world on your shoulders. To be an employee, you do not have much responsibility, but then you do not have much control either. I wanted to start a band that had kind of the best of both worlds. I wanted the band to be a group and not have anybody being the boss. To be kind of self-employed. If you ever had a job with a boss, or like a teacher in charge of a class. It is okay some of the time, but it comes to a point where you want to be in charge of what you are thinking of and what you are doing.
Do all the band members have artistic input into what the band plays?
Yes, it’s like a four-way thing. Even if someone brings in a song they wrote by themselves. We each still have our own input because I play bass the way I play bass. Pat Portey plays drums the way he plays drums. Eric Martin sings how he sings. Paul Gilbert plays the guitar the way he plays the guitar. And we all kind of add our little thing to it in our own way, together. Unlike a work environment or a school environment, we have some control over what we do.
Do you have any advice to help young musicians?
Some people play for like three years and they are already getting frustrated. Man, I was playing for three years and I was still in my bedroom. It’s really true, you’ve got to allow for some time. Like anything you do. If you start a restaurant or a car repair shop, you’ve got to give it about 10 years before it really starts to roll. Not to limit anyone. There is probably someone out there who could pick up a musical instrument and within eight months have a complete total command of that instrument. Maybe a far better command than I have and I have been playing for over 25 years. It is not impossible, but it is unlikely. So, better to take a more realistic point of view, of “give it a decade.” If you can cut that decade in half or in a quarter, great. In any event, give yourself some time whether it is music, poetry, painting, writing or auto mechanics, engineering, chemistry, etc. There is an “instant gratification thing” going on out there. And quite frankly, I have seen players, who are really great players, that have not been at it long and there are holes in their playing. They do not really have that good, solid foundation of playing for a good ten years to stand on. I am personally pushing upwards of almost 4,000 gigs in my life, which is an unbelievable amount.
We used to play six nights a week for years in a row. I mean, we never had vacations, or anything. Work, work, work. And fortunately for me, no matter what happens, catastrophe, fire alarm goes off, or there is an accident outside, I know how to handle anything and the show goes on.
I can go up on stage now and have the amp break, have the bass break, have a string break, have a cord break, have somebody about to throw something, or something else goes wrong. Any number of things. Anything happen and I can handle any of them. I have been through it all. After the show I can say to people, “Did you see when we had that problem up there?” And they will say, “what problem, I didn’t notice.” They didn’t see it.
It is very much like that with pro sports, too. You get a guy who is really hot in basketball, football, baseball, or hockey. Really hopping, but he just does not have that experience. He then gets himself up against an older player who he may be much faster than. Youth is usually faster than old age. But the older guy, who has been playing for a long time, can play rings around you. He knows all the tricks.
If you stick to it, the experience comes.
Any other advice?
Yes, turn off the TV. Turn your TV off. Pick up a musical instrument. And get out in the world and start playing. Find people you can work with, and do it.
How do they choose what instrument?
Go with whatever you like. Go with your feelings because it must be something you enjoy hearing. I like the bass. Even in my car stereo I have a super bass sound. I always turn up the bass because I love that super low, super low thing moving around.
How do they deal with getting through the pain of picking up a musical instrument and being completely uncoordinated, the sound is horrible, and you are confused and do not know what your doing?
You just got to keep at. It is a wall you have got to bash up against. But I know from experience that this wall does eventually crack and split open and then fall down and you walk right through it. But it does take some doing. Just like any other endeavor. Like a coloring book when you are three years old. Trying to get all the color in the lines. Trying to get the basketball in the hoop or throwing a 40-yard pass. I mean it is just a thing where you eventually can do it. Anybody can play an instrument. I do not necessarily think that I have natural talent. I just worked at it and I made it by working at it. So, if I can do it, anybody can find their thing and excel at it.
“I began to use drugs in 1968. For a while, it seemed that 1 had found the magic key to life. Over the years, however, my life and my music became increasingly damaged. I tried a few times to clean up, but with no success. Then I heard about and entered the Narconon program. I am now completely free of the desire to take drugs. I wanted help and Narconon gave it. It’s fast, it’s thorough, and it works.”
- Nicky Hopkins, Rock Pianist for The Beatles, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, The Rolling Stones, and many more.
“Sometimes it takes losing everything to see what you really have. And that’s exactly what happened to me as a result of my heroin addiction. I’ve been clean now for a year and a half and have gotten back all that 1 lost, including my ability to create, which is the most important thing to me in the world! I have seen in seven other rehabilitation programs. The Narconon Program is the only program that really helped me save my life.”
- B.P., United States