Billy Sheehan earned notoriety and commercial success in the ’80s and ’90s as a member of David Lee Roth’s post-Van Halen band and then with the supergroup Mr. Big. He’s kept busy through the years with sessions, solo albums, and work with other bands including the Winery Dogs, Sons of Apollo, and Niacin.
It all began with Talas in the mid ’70s, in Sheehan’s hometown of Buffalo, New York. By the mid ’80s, the hard-rockers had some lineup changes, yet conquered New York state and released a few albums before Sheehan left to join Roth in ’85. Sheehan, drummer Mark Miller, late vocalist Phil Naro, and new guitarist Kire Najdovski have released 1985. All but one song was written back then and it would’ve been Talas’ fourth album. Some reunion shows with different lineups occurred over the years, but 1985 marks a formal return.
Did Talas feel like unfinished business?
It could, to some degree. Life interrupted, but in a good way, when I got a call in 1985 to go out to L.A. and join Dave for the adventure that was Eat ’Em and Smile. But in Talas we had amazing times together and remain friends. It was always in the back of my mind to go back and do something with the unrecorded material. We did a couple of things on the new record on Live Speed on Ice, which was kind of rushed, so we wanted to do it justice. We had the option to modernize everything and bring it up to date and revamp it or do it just the way we left it, and we chose the latter because we thought it was a more accurate representation of what went on back then. That was an amazing time in music, 1985. So, we got in the time machine and headed back!
Why did it finally come together now?
I played a show with the Winery Dogs, and Mark Miller was there. I hadn’t seen him for a long time. I left Buffalo to go to L.A. and lost touch with people. Mark’s kids had never seen him play. He’s a phenomenon of nature. What a drummer!
This version of the band later did a show in Rochester, then decided to make an album. How did Kire Najdovski join?
He was a friend of Phil’s. Johnny Angel, the other guitarist we replaced Mitch Perry with, wasn’t available. I got in touch with him and we tried to work it out, but couldn’t. Phil said, “I’ve got a guitar player I work with all the time and he knows all the stuff.”
Mitch does play on the two songs he wrote, “Crystal Clear” and “On the Take.” Those were crowd favorites.
Sadly, Naro died of cancer after 1985 was recorded.
I was very impressed with the job he did. I don’t know if I would’ve been able to do that. If I see that off in the distance coming my way, I don’t know how I could perform like that. Everyone who hears the record just loves his vocals on it. We did have fun. In retrospect, it was probably great therapy (for him). This was something Phil really wanted to do.
We may do some shows again. We’re not sure in what capacity, and how, and with who. We would like to – to honor Phil, and give the record its due.
Are Talas reissues possible?
Funny you should mention it, because I’ve been pushing to reissue the stuff for ages. Fans come up and say, “I can’t buy your stuff on Spotify or Apple Music!” and I say, “I’m trying!” Finally, we had a breakthrough the other day and they’re doing all the business behind that. Relatively soon, we’re going to have everything available. And I’ve got a huge audio archive with demos, alternate takes, and all kinds of stuff. I’m going throw all that in as well.
Sink Your Teeth Into That, the master is ours. The very first album (Talas) belonged to our producer, Larry Swist, who passed away. His wife is a dear friend of mine. I think we can license it without difficulty. To be honest, I don’t think reissues are a money venture at all these days. I just want to do it because I’d like to have it out there, and a lot of fans have talked to me about it.
Which bass did you play on 1985?
My Yamaha Attitude 3. It’s stock, with the (DiMarzio) Relentless pickups. They’re marvelous. They sound really good. Every time I get a spare day, I’ll retro-fit a set of Relentless onto some of my older basses. Eventually, they’ll all have them!
This article originally appeared in VG’s November 2022 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.