Interview By ~ Mo
We know Billy Sherwood as one-time lead vocalist and bassist for the legendary band YES. Billy has worked with a multitude of artists as Producer, Mixer and Engineer for the likes of Paul Rodgers, Dangerous Toys and Motorhead - just to name a few and has produced tribute albums honoring Led Zeppelin, Queen, AC/DC, Jeff Beck, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Pink Floyd & others. Now, Billy has joined forces with Bobby Kimball - the voice of Toto and Tony Kaye of YES to form super-group YOSO.
FMR: Billy - thank you for taking time out to talk with Full Metal Rock!
BS: My pleasure, thank you for taking the time to ask me.
FMR: OK Billy...from the beginning - you grew up in Las Vegas - part of a musical family - tell us about your family's background in music.
BS: My dad Bobby Sherwood started his career early in his life. At 20 he was a staff guitar player for MGM and at 22 became Bing Crosby's guitar player and from there went on to form and lead his own big band "The Bobby Sherwood Orchestra" as it was called. He made records in the 40s, a few of the more famous recordings were "Sherwood's Forrest" and "The Elks Parade". These songs lifted his career further to where he became a personality on TV which is why he was given a star on the famous Hollywood walk of fame at Hollywood and Vine, and Film. The film "Pal Joey" starring Frank Sinatra was one of the hallmark movies he was involved with. He played the band leader for Joey (Frank) at "Ches Joey". He was on the 1st TV shows aired ever, one being the "Milton Berle Show" and one being "Howdy Doody". Eventually he met his wife Phylis, a chorus girl on Broadway at the same time working in shows like "Bells Are Ringing", "Can Can" and a host of other shows of the day, singing and dancing. They met and fell in love and had kids, and that's where I came in. At that point my parents turned their love for each other and love of music into what became known as "Bobby and Phylis Sherwood" and with that they played endlessly in Las Vegas, where I was born in 1965. This was when Vegas was very much in full "rat pack" mode and as my family were friends and knew all the stars of that era, Vegas was the place to be for the working musician, so that's where he rooted the Sherwood family. I have vivid memories of playing with my toys underneath my fathers white grand piano while he and my mother and their band rehearsed. I was 5 years old and indoctrinated by proxy into music from that moment on. My mother played and still does great drums... she taught me to play, my dad taught me to play a bit of guitar, bass, keys. My brother Michael took to piano and is a skilled player and amazing talent in his own right. So we had music flowing through our lives since before I can remember. My father's dad and mom were in Vaudeville, "Bobby and Gail Sherwood", so the bloodline for music reaches back farther than one can fathom as we sit in 2010, I dare say 100 years worth of Sherwood music in action and many genres as a result.
FMR: You also have a very famous godfather...tell us a bit about him.
BS: As I explained with my dad being on The Milton Berle Show, they were very close, so close that Milton was asked to be my godfather and accepted the challenge. lol. I miss him, he was a very sweet and loving man, although he was much closer to my parents - whenever I saw him he treated me like son, it was a special thing to have him in that role.
FMR: When did you first start playing bass/music?
BS: I began as a drummer at 10 or 12 - can't recall it's too long ago now - lol. I used to play along with various records, YES, Gentle Giant, Genesis, ELP etc... I cut my teeth learning from the best by trying to follow along. Drums were my 1st and still remain a strong passion. I switched to bass much by accident and in very large part due to my friend Jimmy Haun. At 16 I was living in a band house with "Lodgic", what became my first band. They were in a state of transition with their bass player and I suggested a guy to replace him - that guy worked out well but the band was not totally on board with him. At that point I was still playing drums, in the garage and driving everyone nuts with the banging - as i was told often - lol. I complained to Jim - who lived in the band house - saying "I can't practice because no one lets me play" lol. He said "sell the drums, buy a bass and go into headphones - no one can bother you". On Jim's advice I did and bought my 1st bass and started digging into learning from the best, as I had with drums. Playing along with YES, Weather Report, Jean Luc Ponty, Genesis etc... I started getting my skills together, enough so that Jim said to me one day... "Why aren't you the bass player in Lodgic" ? One thing leads to another and I replace the bass player... the rest is history. From bass I jumped to guitar as a means to write music mostly, but like anything with time, dedication and practice you can get better at anything. I never considered myself a master of any one instrument, but rather a jack of all trades. That translated into production and audio engineering and the rest that make up what it is I have been so blessed to be able to do over all these many years now.
FMR: So Billy...tell me about your primary influences, and how that affects your music today.
BS: I am a child of progressive music - I missed the 60s...too young...so 70s music became my world and I dove into YES, Gentle Giant, ELP, Weather Report, Return To Forever and all the great music that was produced by people really just playing and singing their hearts out - that's where my influences are, and remain. I listen to all the stuff mentioned above and often. I am influenced by production, song writing, vocal styles, arrangements, mixing techniques and all the rest that comes from that genre. For me it's real music played by real people. Of course we live in a world now where tracks are created with machines and sequencers...and that has it's place don't get me wrong - music is music...but for me I look to what I consider the gold standard of professionalism and performance and musicianship...to me most of that lies within progressive rock music.
FMR: You produced an incredible record by one of my personal favorite rock singers of all time!...Paul Rodgers Muddy Waters Blues: A Tribute to Muddy Waters CD. Please share that experience and the amazing musicians you worked with on that record.
BS: It was an honor to be asked to work on that record. I came on board as a sort of ghost producer, in part because I had no track record to date of producing big budget projects like that, and there was rightfully so concern - who could blame anyone. Phil Carson, a friend and ally hired me on. I met Paul (Rodgers) and we began recording. After the process of making the actual record was near its completion I had to gather the production credits for Paul to sign off on. I recall mixing in studio with my friend and engineer Tom Flecther who worked with me on it and taking a moment because Paul wanted a word with me alone. I was a bit "uh oh...what did I do"? lol. Paul said "you see here in the credits you prepared where it says Produced by Paul Rodgers" I replied "Yes" He said I want you to add your name to it...so it reads "Produced by Paul Rodgers and Billy Sherwood". I was so taken back and honored I didn't know what to say except for "Are you serious Paul"? he said "Yes, please make it so". With that I changed the credits and handed them back to Paul for final review. A few moments later Paul opens the studio door and says "Billy they are still wrong". I said "What part?? " He said "the producer credit". I replied "but you said we were to share the credit right"? He responded with a smile and a gleam in his eye..."Take my name off completely - you Produced this record not me...I am the artist". I was stunned and honored and all the rest...To me the best part of the story is this...I said to Paul "No man, I'm thrilled to share credit I was not expecting to get - please stay on there with me". He refused and kept saying "no take me off". After my 4th rebuttal of "No man stay stay..." I final gave in - lol... So I have Paul to thank for giving me the proper credit due and also for the great honor of really launching my career as a producer and by proxy being catapulted by Paul himself. I will never forget the gesture, or that day in studio because it was such a real, special moment and coming from a man who is such an amazing talent and a genuine good soul, it's just something I won't ever forget...thanks Paul!!
FMR: Alright then...of the many projects you have worked on...do you happen to have a favorite, and if so what is it that stands out?
BS: I'm always on the move and looking for what's next - when in a band it's always "what's next for that band". When producing you start a record, meet people, have fun and mix and it's over. Constant change and that's how I like it. That said I'd have to say the "Paul Rodgers Muddy Water Blues" record stands out - due to as I mentioned previously - just how important a step that was for me, and how amazing it was to get a helping hand from such an amazing artist as Paul. That record changed my trajectory as a producer/engineer/mixer.
FMR: About your long-standing relationship with Chris Squire and YES...what has been the most rewarding aspect of those years?
BS: Chris and I became very close friends and musical companions for many many years - he always said "it's because we are both Pieces and our music is "Watery" lol...I never understood the logic but it sounded good. Chris has a great sense of humor and we laughed a lot about the crazy things going on. We made 2 records as "Conspiracy" with the 1st being the self titled CD and 2nd being "The Unknown" as well as a live DVD. I look back fondly on that time together and I think all the music we produced together still holds water - pardon the pun. lol. That said the most rewarding aspects of YES and my relationship with it and subsequently within it was being able to help reshape it for what became a solid good long run of recording and touring with "Open Your Eyes", "The Ladder" and "The House Of Yes Live" DVD. I am a die hard YES fan and to be able to have a heavy hand in pushing the band farther and rejuvenate it in it's time of need was for me the best reward possible...just to simply keep the YES flame burning. A lot of people don't really know the real story behind my entrance as a band member - they assume I pushed my way in. Not the case. After mixing Keys 2 in my studio Rick left the band and YES was no more and once again in a state of flux. I could not stand idle by and watch my favorite band disintegrate before my eyes so I jumped in to give it much needed CPR. The writing process began with the idea "let me help get some material going so there can be a YES". After the record was near completed is when I was asked to join as a full member. From there YES moved forward and fast and furiously so. With that as the context, my favorite aspect of being in YES was simply to keep it alive and kicking and for as long as I could take it. lol...and for that I am proud "despite the naysayers and the forecasters dismay", I was motivated by my emotions - all the rest that follows was political - YES politics are DEEP - and silly band stuff. For me the heart of the matter is this - I served YES and with honor and pride and to the best of my abilities for the cause of YES, the band I loved. My relationship with YES was unique... it's not often a 12 year old kid says to his parents, "I am joining this band one day" - Never forget my dad looking at me and laughing...saying "OK Billy, you do that". I still love YES, always will, although I am passed being in the band and moving forward ever since I left with many many productions and creations, CIRCA: www.circahq.com, my solo works www.billysherwoodhq.com, Jim Ladd Headsets www.jimladdheadsets.com and now of course the reason we are doing this interview today...YOSO www.yosohq.com
FMR: YOSO - Yourself along with Tony Kaye (YES, CIRCA:), Jimmy Haun (CIRCA:) and Toto vocalist Bobby Kimball recently formed super group YOSO...tell us more about that.
BS: YOSO is the new band...with a history it seems along the lines of YES in the way that it's already had it's fair share of members. lol. When we began it was Bobby and as you mentioned CIRCA:. That soon changed and became a different line up which began a different one after that and now has finally arrived home where we are now. That being myself, TK, Bobby and Johnny Bruhns on guitar and Scott Connor on drums. The record itself was made in a unique manner. I said to Bobby one day after a session we had done for a tribute of mine, "lets write new music and see where it leads". The result was 1/2 a record near done in no time and a clear course set for the future as YOSO. I play drums, bass, guitar and sing a few lead vocals as well as the backing vocals along with Bobby. TK did all the keys. At the core of Yoso - previously and up to now - is TK, Bobby and me. With the addition of the 2 new guys who are amazing players - we have arrived at "the line up". We are YOSO!!
FMR: There is much excitement about the forthcoming YOSO record. When will it be released?
BS: It's out already in Europe and I think it's available at itunes. So far all indications are people dig it. I find an interesting common theme in interviews and comments here and there and that is, "I was skeptical when I heard the concept of guys from YES/TOTO merging but after hearing it, I love it". I love a good challenge and starting a new band and one like this in 2010 is just that - a challenge. To see the vibe is positive for it and forward moving in all directions is a great reward to the hard work of creation.
FMR: Will there be a tour?
BS: Yes we are touring back east starting in 10 days or so thru August and then Europe in September and more being booked as we speak - so make sure to have a look here for concert dates and locations... www.yosohq.com
FMR: You mentioned Jim Ladd Headsets - I am a great fan of the legend himself, Los Angeles DJ Jim Ladd. You and he are friends and you co-produced 2 records inspired by Jim's long running radio program Headsets. How did that collaboration come about and tell us about that process. If so, what are the distinct differences between the two records?
BS: I met Jim 1st at YES live at a Jim Ladd's Living Room. He was a very kind person and treated me with great respect as he does everyone - the guy is just cool. I hired Jim to be a part of a record I made called "Back Against The Wall", a Pink Floyd tribute. Jim did a few narrations on there for me and we hit it off in a big way. We knew we wanted to do something together again, the problem was, as I said to him "You are a DJ and I'm a musician, what do we do" ? lol. After a bit of time and thinking the light went off for both of us - create a series of Jim Ladd Headsets Volume 1, 2 etc... The premise based on Jim's long running...25 years now...live on air show where he mixes and merges music, poetry, sound fx, all within a common theme for that evenings performance on air. That said we created "Headsets Chapter 1: Alone Out Here" which is a story of a astronaut who's ship is disabled on a routine resupply mission to the outer colony's in the galaxy and his inner journey, soul searching, denial, acceptance etc.. and it's all told by Jim, with me doing most of the music. Billy Bob Thornton is a guest on the record as well as a few others... it was a great time indeed. One of the highlights for Jim especially, being a massive "Doors" fan was to have the honor of John Densmore appearing on the record. He played a great drum solo and overdubbed amazing percussion which leads the poem being done in spoken word by Jim's lovely wife Helene. Truly one of those things where you start with a blank slate and end up with a very interesting progressive type piece of music.
"Headsets 2: Sides" is the follow up in the series although not at all related in the story. Rather it is a unique perspective on how human nature works. In the simplest terms, and as Jim says on the record, "there are always 2 sides to everything". Partisanship in politics, sides taken in divorce and family matters, contradictions within the ideologies of our leaders etc... Jim sets the stage for each track with a bit of a story line that defines where the track is leading you. I am very proud of it and so is Jim too. We had the pleasure of playing the entire record live at "Laserium" in Hollywood CA. and it was amazing to bring it to life on a stage with the lasers rocking and Jim doing live reads as well as CIRCA: which was the band for the evening. A very memorable event that only a select few got to witness. Perhaps we can do it again sometime, somewhere else.
FMR: I was at one of those Laserium shows Billy - it was fantastic hearing the music played by CIRCA: LIVE along with Jim's spoken word - it would be fantastic to see something like that again! I have to ask...from a performance standpoint...what is the wildest thing that ever happened to you onstage?...and were you able to keep a straight face?
BS: BB KING'S with CIRCA: Since we had limited budget we had to use what they call "back line" meaning rented gear, not often GREAT gear. lol... So there we are mid way through what CIRCA: played then called the "Chronological Journey" - a non stop 40 min YES medley built upon bits from every YES record ever and played in chronological order from 1967-2000 - and right around close to the edge my "back line gear" abandoned me. lol. No amplifier, playing a crazy Squire bass line meant to be raging out of speakers and just pure silence... finally one of the sound guys figured out to send it to my vocal monitor so I could hear something and we played on to the end. That had to be the most odd moment live, and no, I could not keep a straight face.
FMR: Billy - what advice would you give to young musicians who have discovered your music and are just getting started playing?
BS: Thanks for listening and spread the word to those of your generation so we can keep the flame of "hand played/made" music alive and moving forward with us all into the future. As far as if you just started playing, put down the Wii or Nintendo and go practice your craft...then you can join me afterwards on line in a multi-player for some PC gaming, if you dare. lol.
FMR: Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?
BS: My last solo CD "Oneirology" is a conceptual record based on my dreams which are frequent and recurring. I decided to put the thoughts into art and musical form and as a result it's an interesting progressive experience. You can find that through my www.billysherwoodhq.com link. Besides a shameless plug for my most recent solo works - I'd just like to say to the readers... I am honored to have the chance to share stories with them and greatly appreciate anyone who takes the time out of their day to read what goes on in my crazy life and follow along for the ride. I'm just a musician trying to make his way through the galaxy - thank you all for the support!!
FMR: We are very excited about talking with you Billy! How can we keep updated and find out more about you and YOSO?
BS: We have many social sites for the various projects we spoke of here - I think I linked them already to the relevant sites so...simply point and click and I'm around. I admin most - not all - of the sites and I answer letters as best I can. I love people and enjoy interaction so...come say hello anytime. I have created musical relationships by virtue of those sites. Producing/session work etc. for people I otherwise would never have met and vice versa. If anyone out there is working on their music and needs an all around guy to help move it along - contact me - I own my own studio so I can make deals for people on budgets that may otherwise make it impossible to record. I am a producer - contact me and perhaps there is a working relationship there as well as a friendship. I do online sessions all the time these days and most have been born of a simple letter sent in "hey can you tell me what you think of this music etc...". I believe you must go for your dreams and for me music is the dream. It's always my goal and my hope to inspire others to go for their dreams too.
FMR: Thanks for the music Billy and for talking with Full Metal Rock!
BS: Thanks for the interview and the exposure - greatly appreciated! Cheers.