Billy Sherwood Talks Past, And Future

Yes bassist speaks about Chris Squire, new projects

By David Sands
August 5, 2015

Chris Squire’s electrifying bass playing and singing have been so fundamental to Yes over the years that it’s hard to imagine the band playing without him there, jamming on stage with one of his trademark Rickenbackers.

Even before his untimely death from cancer, though, the beloved prog rock band had been slated to tour with a replacement this summer; Squire’s good friend Billy Sherwood had agreed to take over his bass and vocal duties while he focused on recovery. Now with Squire’s passing, that decision has taken on a deeper significance.

If anyone is qualified to step into the legendary bassist’s role, though, it’s Sherwood. Not only is he a former Yes member who’s engineered album tracks for the group, but he’s also a longtime Squire collaborator who played with him on side projects like Conspiracy.

Skilled on drums, keyboards and electric guitar as well as bass, Sherwood has had an impressive musical career on his own too. His start came in the early 1980s, playing bass in Lodgic, a prog group, with his brother Michael. He’s also rocked out on bass for World Trade and CIRCA, collaborated with former Supertramp guitarist Marty Walsh and helped assemble The Prog Collective, a progressive rock supergroup.

As if that’s not enough, his talents have also allowed him to rub shoulders with some incredible artists. His rock resume includes making music with groups like Asia, Pink Floyd and Air Supply and doing production and engineering work for Motörhead, Quiet Riot and Paul Rodgers.

Needless to say, when FBPO’s Jon Liebman got a chance to speak with Sherwood recently, he took it. The resulting conversation was a lively one, covering Sherwood’s reflections on Squire, Yes’ summer tour with Toto, and a slew of other musical projects.

They kicked things off talking about Squire, who was a big inspiration to Sherwood growing up.

“I became the lead singer/bass player in my band,” he says. “I would compose these crazy bass lines that all the band members were always asking to simplify. And I’d say: ‘Well, Chris doesn’t do that,’ which used to drive them nuts.”

As luck would have it, Sherwood got to know Squire and eventually they became friends and collaborators.

“We had this symbiotic relationship, he and I, where we tended to like the same music, and we’d laugh about the same stuff,” he says. “He was just a great guy. I loved him like a brother, and I will have him with me everywhere I go, especially playing Yes music.”

Sherwood adds that their last conversations touched on the topic of keeping the band together, with Squire asking him to “keep Yes going as much as possible into the future.”

“At the time I thought he was talking about just standing in,” Sherwood tells FBPO, “but I think he knew and was a little more accepting of his fate then I was.”

Yes begins their summer tour with Toto on Aug. 7 in Mashantucket, Conn. Though Sherwood jokes that their perennial crowd pleaser “Roundabout” will probably be played, he wouldn’t share any other spoilers.

While playing Yes songs is “familiar territory” for Sherwood, he admits performing onstage without Squire in the group could be a little unnerving for him.

“I’m confident that all the bass playing is going to be there and the notes are going to be there, but part of it is just emotionally being able to get through it,” he says. “I’m hoping that I can do what I can do to the best of my ability and bring that spirit of Chris and what he was looking for onto the stage and do him proud.”

Although Sherwood has developed his own style over the years, he says his sound should be very familiar to fans, as it follows the same bass technique Squire pioneered.

One thing they won’t be seeing is a Rickenbacker bass on stage. Sherwood has never been into Squire’s iconic brand, telling FBPO they don’t play right with his body type. He prefers Spectors.

”I’ve got a great arsenal of basses: four, five and eight, different four-strings and fretlesses,” he says. “And I love the company. I’ve been with them for a long, long time. They built my eight-string back in 1986.”

As for his other gear, Sherwood is a fan of Carvin amps and equipment.

“I’ve just got some brand new amp heads from them,” says the bassist, “They’re just punchy and clean and nice and clear. They just sound great.”

He uses IK Multimedia for sound effects and loves the sound he gets from the company’s plug-ins.

Although the upcoming tour will be bittersweet for Sherwood, he is excited to be reunited with his good friends from Toto.

Keyboardists Steve Porcaro and David Paich produced his first album in the 1980s. Drummer Jeff Porcaro actually discovered Sherwood’s first band Lodgic, when he saw them rehearsing and gave them early support and encouragement. Mike Porcaro, Toto’s former bassist, who passed away earlier this year, used to lend extra basses to Sherwood during the leaner years of his youth.

“The Porcaros have a very special place in my heart in terms of kickstarting my career,” he says. “It’s a great family of love and musicianship and music. My parents were entertainers, so I have sort of a kinship with them in that regards.”

Sherwood’s mother played drums and his father was a jazz bandleader, whose penchant for playing multiple instruments seemed to rub off on his son.

After Yes wraps up their summer tour in September, they’ll be embarking from Florida on a musical sea journey called “Cruise to the Edge,” which takes place Nov. 15-19. Having played a similar cruise with CIRCA, Sherwood says he’s really looking forward to the excursion.

“Five days at sea. Great food. Great people. Great atmosphere. I mean what else do you want?” he says. “I’m bringing my family on the cruise too, so they can enjoy the vacation.”

While he’s now focused on practicing for his upcoming Yes shows, the energetic Sherwood also has a few other things up his sleeve right now.

For one, his new solo album, Archived, is about to come out. A true solo effort, it will feature him playing all the instruments himself, and will be available to fans later this month on his website and at venues on Yes’ summer tour.

In addition, he just wrapped up a recording session with none other than Star Trek captain William Shatner. The two are contributing a cover of the Cramp’s “Garbage Man” for an upcoming Dr. Demento tribute album. Previously they collaborated on the album, Ponder the Mystery, which strikes a more serious tone than most of Shatner’s work.

On top of that, Sherwood is in the process of putting out a concept album called Citizen, produced by a band of the same name, that will tell the story of a lost soul wandering through time. It’ll feature the talents of John Wetton, Rick Wakeman and Tony Kaye, among others. Frontiers Records is scheduled to release the album this fall.

While all this will no doubt keep the frenetic Sherwood busy for some time, he’s the kind of guy who can’t help but think bold. Asked if he has any other musical pursuits, he admits he’s still eager to collaborate with three of his favorite artists.

“I’ve worked with so many amazing people and most of them are my heroes,” he says.

“That said, I still haven’t worked with Sting, Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush,” he says. “I don’t know how that’s going to happen or when, but I’m going to try and make that happen.”

 

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