Mike Portnoy: 'Billy Sheehan Pioneered the Bass the Same Way Hendrix Pioneered the Guitar'

The former Dream Theater drummer was listing his favorite bass players when he called Sheehan the bass equivalent of guitarists Jimi Hendrix and Eddie Van Halen.

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Mike Portnoy has described musician Bill Sheehan as one of the best bass players of all time, comparing him to guitarists Jimi Hendrix and Eddie Van Halen for pioneering the bass.

Portnoy was describing his all-time favorite bass players for Music Radar when he talked up Sheehan who plays bass with him in two bands: the Winery Dogs and PSMS.

"Billy is probably my favorite bass player of all time," says Portnoy. "I used to sneak into clubs when I was a teenager in the early '80s to see him play with Talas. He pioneered the bass in the same way that Hendrix and Van Halen pioneered the guitar. He and I first played together on the Rush tribute album Working Man in 1995 and then again in my Who tribute band Amazing Journey in 2006."

Other bassists listed by Portnoy as his favorite rhythm partners ever include Pete Trewevas from Transatlantic ("One of the most underrated bass players in the world") and Flying Colors' Dave LaRue ("Possibly the most consistent and reliable bass player I've ever worked with").

Portnoy is particularly enamoured with prog legend Tony Levin. "Tony is another pioneer of the instrument and a bass legend. Who else can claim to have played with King Crimson, Peter Gabriel, John Lennon, Pink Floyd and Yes?" said Portnoy, who adds that Levin is constantly "walking the incredible balance between being a tight, pocket player and being a cutting-edge, experimental improvisational player he can do it all!"

Who would you list in your dream rhythm section? Let us know about your favorite prog bassists in the comments.

38 comments sorted by best / new / date

    If any bassists had the same kind of impact on bass that Hendrix had on guitar, they would probably be Jaco Pastorius, John Entwistle or maybe Geddy Lee. They had a similar impact to Hendrix in terms of expanding the potential of the bass and it was way before Sheehan did.
    Absolutely! I came here to say just that. Stanley Clarke as well. NO disrespect to Billy Sheehan though, he is phenomenal.
    Marcus Miller anyone?
    Marcus and Victor Wooten are both mind blowing bassists but they themselves are disciples of Jaco and Stanley Clarke.
    Sammy Mantis
    Sheehan is an amazing bassist, but anyone who really knows what they're talking about in regards to bass would tell you that Jaco Pastorius and Stanley Clarke are the true pioneers of the instrument. The way the instrument is played today would not be what it is without these two.
    reliable master
    Les Claypool is one of my personal favourites. Might not be the fastest, but i definitely think he's got a really eccentric playing style!
    Chris Squire? Les Claypool? Victor Wooten? Jaco Pastorius? Hell, even Paul McCartney. Not that I disagree with Portnoy, Sheehan is an incredibly talented man, but I'd say these fine bass players did just as much of a service to bass players everywhere as Sheehan. Edit: HOW could I forget Tony Levin and John Wetton!?
    Bootsy Collins is the Hendrix of Bass. They both had this unbelievable feel for the music that cannot be duplicated. You can play as fast as you want or hit as many notes as you can, but Hendrix was all about the emotion and conveying the emotion through his guitar which was his portal to another musical dimension. Bootsy has that same emotion.
    What? How did he "pioneer" the bass? I like Sheehan, but Cliff Burton was doing the same type of playing (with fuzz, wah, fast solos) around the same time and before him bassists like John Entwistle, Jaco Pastorious, Paul McCartney, Bootsy Collins, Mike Rutherford, Charles Mingus were doing incredible and groundbreaking things. Portnoy just talking from his ass as usual. I like Sheehan, but "pioneered"? "Like HENDRIX?!" That's a bit much.
    John Myung is as good as Sheehan, I guess.
    They're two very different bassists; Myung is happy to sit deep in the mix and not really get heard unless he is told to play a solo. Billy's style is much more flamboyant. Myung's fingers might move just as fast (or faster) but he's not as attention grabbing as Sheehan. Not that that means Sheehan is better or anything. All the name's Portnoy mentioned are incredible bassists, especially Tony Levin. Stu Hamm definately deserves a mention too, for his playing with Satch and Vai. I don't really know much else that he's done though.
    This article is incorrect... Portnoy's list was actually his favorite bassists that he's worked with, not of all time. He's never played with Stu Hamm, that's why he's not on the list.
    Out of all these names that Portnoy mentioned, Tony Levin is the best in my opinion. That guy's the complete package: feeling, groove, technicality, speed, fantastic musician!
    Dream rhythm section Drums: Danny Carey Rhythm Guitar: James Hetfield Bass: Geezer Butler
    Killer rhythm section. However, for some reason, I'd like to see Stanton Moore on drums instead of Danny Carey. He's got more of a loose feel that would fit Geezer's playing. Still, it'd be a freaking dream to watch those 3 throw it down!!
    if any bassists had to be compared to jimi hendrix it'd be paul mccartney or james jamerson imo.
    I don't really know about paul mccartney...
    like or hate him, the man popularised melodic bass playing to rock/pop music and has been an inspiration to so many greats.
    It's easy to forget exactly how awesome he is at bass, since he's fine with doing whatever a song needs.
    Paul McCartney's stuff may not sound that exciting until you remember that he was pretty much the first person to play the bass like he does. I think its safe to say that every great bassist in the past forty years has been influenced by McCartney.
    I would say John Paul Jones, John Entwistle and John Deacon. Coincidence that their names all start with John lol
    I don't know if anyone has even heard of this guy, but Guthrie Govan's brother Seth Govan is the best bassist I've ever heard. Please, all you bass aficionados, listen to the album Erotic Cakes, specifically the songs Eric and Uncle Skunk.
    It should be noted that this article is taken a little out of context. The actual article is about Mike's favorite bassists THAT HE'S WORKED WITH, not of all time. This is why guys like Geddy Lee and Stu Hamm aren't on the list. Still, calling Billy Sheehan the "Jimi Hendrix of bass guitar" is a little much...
    I dont think it's comparing Sheehan as a bass player to Hendrix as a guitar player that is the issue, it is probable the word pioneer that is causing the furore. There is no doubt that Sheehan is held in the same state of prestige as a bass player, as Hendrix is as a guitarist.