Fran Sheehan Interview

MicroSoft Network * 1998
Former Boston Bassist
www.michaelhill1.com

Fran Sheehan is the former bassist and original member of the band from Boston called Boston. Fran and yours truly (as a member of the road crew) have known each other since the first Boston tour back in the 70s. This was during the time when the band sold out live venues from coast to coast and the radio was saturated with "Smokin", "More Than A Feeling" and other hits from the first Boston LP. Since then, the Boston band lineup has changed and Sheehan has gone on to other things. Recently, we spent some time talking about the good, the bad and the ugly facts of "life after".
 
Michael Hill: It’s nice to be able to talk with you again like this. Why don’t we start by giving us a little background? For instance, were you encouraged as a child to do the music thing?

Fran Sheehan: I was born and raised on the North Shore [Boston, MA area]. My father was in vaudeville. He was a song and dance man named Skip Sheehan. He started to teach me how to tap dance and sing when I was about five. I used to go to the shows with him and I’d sit on my mother’s lap. After I saw that, I got a little more serious about actually playing. I started playing trumpet in school when I was about nine for a couple of years. I sang in little trio we had in the fifth and sixth grade, which was fun. I sang in my local church choir. I used to win all these dance contests.

MH: No kidding?

FS: Yeah. So friends of mine who were in bands said that they were watching me because I had better rhythm than anybody else in the band and this guitar player said "you’d make a great bass player. It’s easy, you’d pick it up quick, you know music and you sing and stuff. I’ll show you some basics." So he started showing me some basics. This was when I was in the eight grade and I started playing a little bass then. By the time I got to high school I was playing in bands around town - Barry [Barry Goudreau – former original Boston guitarist] and I knew each other and Sibby [Sib Hashian – former original Boston drummer] and I knew each other then …

MH: Because you’re all from the same area …

FS: Yeah. There was a drummer in this area – who was teaching drums at a music store when he was 16 – and Barry and I and him would get dismissed from school to play assemblies in the other schools around the area. Which was a lot of fun. I went to North Shore community college and was a music major there and they hooked me up with the New England Conservatory.

MH: Excellent!

FS: Yeah. I started taking extension courses at the Conservatory, vocal lessons all that kind of stuff and my credits that I was getting at North Shore were being applied to the Conservatory. I got a big offer from a band called Spring Rain. I just started playing with them, the band was just about ready to roll, we had our own house and all that stuff.
[Fran said that he and Brad [Brad Delp – original vocalist for Boston, also from the area] had played together in a couple of bands in the early years that were not exactly appreciated by Delp. They parted company with the intent that if there ever were a reason to get together again, they would. However, at this point Delp was seeking studio work and Sheehan loved playing live. Back to Spring Rain - We had just talked about how Spring Rain had auditioned 90 bass players and Fran was the man the band wanted. Then he told me about a fight he had with the drunken drummer of the band shortly thereafter in which bones in his left hand were broken.]

MH: Spring Rain must have freaked.

FS: They couldn’t believe it. When they found out that I wouldn’t be able to play for at least a few months, the band broke up. So I went and started doing a lounge gig in a tuxedo.

MH: Oh no.

FS: I just sang for the band. I was doing my Tom Jones, Englebert Humperdink thing. And we were following the Dingaling Sisters and Soupy Sales around on this circuit.

MH: You’re killin’ me.

FS: It was a real good circuit. We made great money. And Sib was trying to get me back into rock and I finally got the cast off and I got Sib in the band for a little while, He goes "I’ll join you for a little while because you’re making so much money. We’ll make a bunch of cake, we’ll buy ourselves some great equipment and we’ll do a band." So we did that for awhile. Eventually, Sib went off to college and I formed another band. I was about 25.

MH: When did the Boston thing begin to gel?

FS: The first times that Boston ever played together was when Brad was working on some tapes. Barry had put an ad in the paper for a keyboard player and Tom [Tom Scholz – original Boston member] answered the ad.

MH: So that’s how that all happened?

FS: Yeah. Tom answered the ad and those guys started playing together a little bit then. And they started doing some tapes, I think they were called Mothers Milk then. I think Sib did a short stint with them.

MH: Through Brad?

FS: Brad had known Barry through me. So Barry hooked Brad up with Tom and himself and they were working on some tapes. And whenever I was off the road from playing, they would bring me some of the tapes and I’d sit in and sing backup on them because Brad and I were going to try to keep in touch.

MH: Is this Boston stuff you guys were working on? Or should I say, stuff that would become Boston stuff?

FS: Yeah. It would become Boston stuff.
[Fran goes on to tell about the band he put together with Sib that lasted for a little while. After that he went on to join a popular area horn band for a couple of years. Tom had been repeatedly asking Fran to play with his band. But because "Boston" at the time was a part time gig, and Sheehan was a working musician, he couldn’t take the job. But he did agree to work on tapes with the band. After the horn band, Fran joined a rock trio.]

MH: Getting back into a rock band must have been sweet. What did your friends say about it?

FS: Barry came to see the band and he was blown out. He said that "this is one of the greatest bands I’ve ever seen, and you’re in it." He said "I can’t believe it, you guys are so heavy". He was stunned.

MH: What’s been going on with you since you left Boston?
FS: Well. I did an All Star band for a while with Charlie Farren [singer – Farrenheit, Joe Perry Project], and Mark Riviera who plays sax with Billy Joel, Paul Simon, Peter Gabriel and Billy Ocean. The other sax player was Crispin Seal who played for the Uptown Horns and he played that long solo in James Brown’s "Living In America". Roger Earl, the original drummer from Foghat was in the band. And Eliot Randall – who’s resume is as long as your body and who plays with just everybody from Galway to Ashford and Simpson – he played lead guitar in that band. We did a bunch of gigs all around New England and then finally we did a live album in New York where Skunk Baxter [Steely Dan] played. For my set in that show, Stevie Winwood played keyboard. Azar Lawrence who played for Miles Davis and McCoy Tyner and Earth Wind and Fire was the other sax player. Actually Azar and I had done a bunch of benefit gigs for schools around that time as well. I had another band before that with a drummer from Chicago and with another guy who played keyboard for Mark Farner along with a great singer and guitar player.

MH: What’s the most recent thing that you’ve been doing.

FS: In 1988, I used to ride my bicycle twenty miles a day to stay in shape …

MH: Yeah, I do that myself. In your neck of the woods sometimes too.

FS: This guy cut me off in a truck and I crashed and I smashed my right wrist and arm. I broke it up so bad, I haven’t been able to play since.

MH: Noooooooooo!

FS: I broke it in three places. I broke it straight across, about two inches up from my wrist, and it split on the outside up my arm toward my elbow. And it split on the inside of my arm and a section broke off. And those bones, when I was crashing, crashed down into my wrist and crushed up all the little bones in my wrist.

MH: I can almost feel that. I get knocked off my bicycle a lot.

FS: This was dive and a half. Actually, when I was lying in the road, I was paralyzed for a while. Couldn’t move. A runner that had gone by me started waving cars by me as I was lying in the road.

MH: So you can’t play bass at all?

FS: No. They did one operation on me and took out all the chips and shaved a piece of bone that was hanging down in the wrist. They did a bunch of other tests and they said all the cartilage in the wrist is torn up. That’s why when I was playing, I was having a real hard time because it felt like my hand was getting pulled off my wrist. And the more I played the worse it hurt. So it was like diminishing returns. I’d practice four hours one night and the next night I would only be able to play for one or two, and by the end of the week, I couldn’t even move my wrist.

MH: So what do you do musically now?

FS: So now, I just sit in and sing with bands once in awhile.

MH: Are you still single?

FS: Yup

MH: Excellent, right?

FS: Oh yeah.

MH: Does Boston make you any money these days?

FS: We still sell records.

MH: Do you get money from that?

FS: Sure.

MH: Even though they didn’t really award you or reward you with a lot of songwriting credits?

FS: I got credit for "Cool The Engines".

MH: Do you keep in touch with the other members?

FS: I still see Barry and Sib all the time. You know, there’s another thing I wanted to answer to. Tom’s always saying that we were just club guys and we weren’t that good of players.

MH: Is that what Tom has been quoted as saying, after the fact?

FS: Yeah. He said the first album wasn’t that good. And I was really disappointed in that because I mean, you know yourself because you were touring with us, the things that we went through, how dedicated we were to that band. I’ve never been in a band – and I’ve been in tons of bands – where the guys are that dedicated to playing. I mean, we played Boston Garden the night Barry’s father died. And we did the gig. His relatives and his mother were back stage, waiting to bury him the next day. I mean, to go on in your hometown and play a gig like that. And Sibby’s grandfather died – and he was very tight with him – when we were on the road. Sibby and his grandfather were just as tight as you could be. He loved his grandfather, and he played right through that. I was really tight with my aunt, ‘cause my mother passed away when I was in high school and she died while we were on the road and I had to play right through that and I didn’t even get to go to the funeral. We just played. We couldn’t cancel the gigs you know?

MH: Was this before or after you threw your bass across the Wherehouse [Aerosmith’s rehearsal room that Boston used] floor that day? (laughter)

FS: That was around the same time. (laughter)

MH: Boiiiiinnnnnggg! Crash!! Huuuuuuuuummmmmmmmmm. It was a great noise, dude.

FS: Oh God! Were you there when he [Tom Scholz] tried to push his organ over?

MH: He did push his organ over. Right onto his "magic box" of effects.

FS: No, he was trying to and I was holding the other end. He was trying to tip it over onto his magic box and I wouldn’t let him.

MH: There was shit on the floor when I got there plus, your bass was still plugged in and feedbacking away.

FS: I know. I got so mad at myself, that’s when I threw my bass and left the room for awhile.

MH: I had to drive Tom home after that and it was the quietest and most stress filled ride I ever had.

FS: Oh, it was crazed.

MH: Is there tension between Tom and you or between Tom and the other former band members?

FS: There always was, we still don’t really talk with each other.

MH: Do you ever meet face to face in social situation?

FS: No. We met one time in court.

MH: Do you read about stuff that Tom says that doesn’t exactly square with the other former band members?

FS: He was trying to replace Brad all the time. Way back even before we even did the band.

MH: Jeez, Brad is so … synonymous with the Boston sound.

FS: I think he tried to have someone on line for every one of us. To replace every one of us.

MH: You know, It’s really not an unreasonable thing to contemplate if you’re Tom.

FS: Right.

MH: It’s gotta suck if you’re the other guys. But in Tom’s world …

FS: Yeah. And if he was gonna replace Brad, he was always looking for someone that could sing just like him. That’s what he was always looking for so that people wouldn’t be able to tell. Even when he got the replacements to take our places - when we finally left – he got Masdea [Jim Masdea – original drummer before Boston] back in the band and he used to wear glasses. And I heard that he made him get contacts and frizz his hair up so he’d look a little bit more like Sib.

MH: Is that right?

FS: Tom sued Barry because Cosmo [Boston singer Fran Cosmo] sang in Orion The Hunter [Barry Goudreau’s band after he left Boston]. They [Orion The Hunter] had borrowed one of my basses and Tom flipped out because they used that in a photo.

MH: How does the bass fall into all this?

FS: Tom was flippin’ out, and he was saying that because they took some pictures of Cosmo with the bass in front of him, he said that they were trying to make it look like – because Sib, Barry and Brad did some of that [Orion The Hunter] I think – he said they were trying to portray Cosmo as me, ‘cause they called him Fran, and they were using one of my basses, and they were trying to make him out to be me, so they could say all the four members of the group were in that band. And it wasn’t, ‘cause I didn’t do it.

MH: Paranoia.

FS: Whatever. MH: What do you think of the "new" Boston group?

FS: I haven’t really heard much of them. I never saw them play live. I heard they were dead on stage anyway. Where we used to run around and were kick-ass, they were just barely trying to play the songs. And they haven’t played on any of the subsequent albums either. They haven’t played anything as far as I know.

MH: Did you actually hear the album that was recorded by them?

FS: They didn’t record an album. Tom played all the stuff. At least when we did some stuff – the early songs – Barry played some of the guitars and leads on some of the songs. I got to play a little bass on some of the songs myself. When we started playing live, no one knew us from Adam …

MH: Well, people came to see "the band" …

FS: Exactly!

MH: You guys actually had enough musical chops between you to add your own nuance to what Tom was writing.

FS: Well, that was one of the things that worked out well. What a lot of people don’t realize is that a lot of the beats in the Boston stuff was kind of disco stuff. Because the songs were so intricate and had so many changes that it was tough to find guys that had enough chops and ability to groove to bring those songs to life playing them live. Because when Tom would do his tracks, he would record them 20 times for a thirty-second segment just to get it right himself. That’s why the albums took so long. ‘Cause he’d play them over and over and over again to try and get all those leads perfect.

MH: I remember.

FS: So it would go on and on and on and he would play them over and over and over again to make them perfect.

MH: Yup. That was his legacy.

FS: Yeah, and the funny thing was, when he joined the band he didn’t play guitar. He just played keyboards and he learned to play guitar through Barry. So when it finally came time to play live, the reason that they played such great double leads together was because Tom learned to play guitar from Barry.

MH: And they did play leads together excellent.

FS: Oh, incredible. They were playing those double leads, hammer work when other bands had one guy if they were lucky. And we were doing dual solos and hammer work…

MH: I was right there …

FS: And Barry would put his two hands over the top of the guitar.

MH: Eddie Van Halen was doing that type of stuff.

FS: He might have started doing it around then too.

MH: Speaking of Van Halen, what do you think about the Sammy Hagar situation? [Sammy Hagar and his band used to open a lot of Boston shows back in the day. Circa the "Red" period.]

FS: That was just a mess.

MH: It was.

FS: Sad because I consider Sammy to be one of the great rock singers out there. There’s’ a few really great rock singers Sammy’s one, Michael McDonald’s another, Paul Rodgers is another, Stevie Winwood is another, the guy from Foreigner …

MH: Lou Gramm

FS: Lou Gramm, what an incredible voice. Actually, I had been offered a gig with Foreigner.

MH: That could be a cool thing.

FS: I talked with the guitar player a couple of times and he was like "boy, I really wish you were in this band".

MH: You know what I find to be somewhat remarkable is that the guys that were in the new Boston band were guys from Sammy’s old band that was on tour with us. And that Sammy is no longer in Van Halen and Gary [Gary Cherone – Van Halen’s new singer] is.

FS: Right. The funny thing was is like, Sammy opened for Boston all those years, and I got to know Sammy real well ‘cause we used to drink a lot of wine together. Were both wine connoisseurs. And Gary, was from Extreme, and I had brought them into the studio and helped them write some of their early songs. I showed them who to write choruses and stuff.

MH: Amazing. I never knew that. Me and Gary are friends from my days at The BEAT magazine in Boston.

FS: And I took them into a studio and we did four demo songs.

MH: That you think that the Sammy Hagar situation is deplorable, and I agree, what do you think of the Gary Cherone situation?

FS: Gary is a great front man. And Sammy is a great front man too, very energetic, ran around all the time, so did David Lee Roth. People don’t realize that David Lee Roth and I grew up together on the North Shore. He lived right around the corner from me and we went to school together.

MH: Diamond Dave. We met that time in Anaheim when Van Halen played with us. You know, he’s burnt lately. Have you seen him on TV? He’s got that dumb-ass smile on his face and he looks like a hand puppet walking around.

FS: Oh, God.

MH: Really wild. Did you see that whole MTV thing with him and Van Halen.

FS: Yeah I did.

MH: What the hell was going on there? He needs to start smoking something real quick.

FS: You know the thing that bothers me the most is that Tom keeps going out touring and saying it’s all original members. People send me pictures from around the country that says on the Marquee "Boston – All Original Members". I was in Florida and a bunch of friends called me and said "you better turn on this radio station" and lo and behold, I hear "Boston playing such-and-such in Orlando, all original members. Fran Sheehan, Barry Goudreau, Sib Hashian." I heard my name being used in the ads and we had left the band years before that. And at Tower records in Boston, Boston [the band] was given one of those "hands in the pavement" things, and I heard people telling me that they were saying it was all original members that were gonna come and sign the autographs …

MH: (laughter) How did you look?

FS: I got so upset about it, I called over there. I pretended I was a fan and I said "Hey, I heard you have all the original members of Boston there signing autographs and stuff." The guy goes "yup, come on down, all the original members are here signing autographs." I said "you mean Fran Sheehan and Barry Goudreau and Sib Hashian are there?" He goes "Yup, come on down, get your autograph", I was like "What?" I got so mad at the guy I said "Listen, I am Fran Sheehan and I’m not there. And I don’t want you telling people that I’m gonna be there and signing autographs when I’m not. And that’s not the original band." And the guy kind of laughed and he hung up.

MH: Oh yeah?

FS: Oh that really pissed me off.

MH: He probably thought you were jackin’ him.

FS: I know. I don’t know whether he knew, that he didn’t have the original band there. It bothered the heck out of me because I know a lot of people were going there.

MH: Well, it’s not truth in advertising that’s for sure. It’s fraudulent kind of.

FS: Yeah it is kind of.

MH: If Tom had anything to do with it, it’s not exactly the high road that he’s been known to aspire to.

FS: And what the promoters ended up telling me when I started calling them about this was that Tom said that when they asked him if this was the old band, Tom said yes meaning the second old band and everyone kind of construed it with the original band.

MH: Oh, there’s the wiggle room.

FS: Yeah, I know.

MH: He’s a wiggler.

FS: It kind of bothered me, ‘cause we grew up playing in and around the city of Boston. All of the people that knew us, were kind of deceived by the whole thing. And Tom was the one guy that didn’t grow up in the area. Tom grew up in Toledo.

MH: Holy Toledo!

FS: Barry, Sib, Brad and I grew up playing in this area. And if we were so lousy, why does he have to keep pretending it’s us.

MH: (big laughter) I see a quote. That’s great.

FS: (big laughter) You know … ?

MH: I love it. That’s too funny. I recently told Sibby a story about when I ran The BEAT magazine [a New England rock music publication] some years ago, I was trying to get a hold of Tom for an interview. And Tom’s head slave at the time was Jeff who used to do road work for Sammy. Remember him?

FS: Yeah.

MH: I couldn’t get through the previous regimes to talk with Tom. They just wouldn’t pass on the message or, Tom just decided that I wasn’t worth the time especially when I was the only person ever to quit the Boston gig. So when I finally found out that Jeff was the new guy, I called him and tried to talk with him to get this interview started. He wouldn’t return my calls. I would leave messages that it was me from the old days on the road with Boston, reminding him how we sweated together in the trenches, how we ate nails together, and so on. He never called me back. I left three or four of these messages and not a one was returned. It really pissed me off. So one day I called back and I left a message with the secretary and said "This is Michael from The BEAT magazine, please tell Jeff that I have a picture of Tom Scholz eating a cheeseburger and I’m gonna publish it if he doesn’t call me back." At this point in time, Tom was a strict vegetarian. Jeff called me back the next day and the interview went ahead finally. By the way, there is no photo of Tom with beef in his yap. It never existed.

FS: (laughter) Incredible.

MH: Actually, I heard there was a falling out between Jeff and Tom.

FS: I’ve heard, and I don’t know if it’s true or not, but I heard there was another lawsuit going on with the new guys in the band. That the drummer and the bass player might have something going with a lawsuit.

MH: There was a rumor that you and the rest of the original members had filed a lawsuit against Tom to get songwriting credits. Is this true?

FS: No. But Tom was flippin’ out himself. He got hurt one night when we were playing, remember when he fell? We played without him. We played a couple of encores without him. And people were going "jeez, the band sounded great without Tom" and he got all wigged out and he made us sign a piece of paper the next day on the plane saying that we would never play out without him and call ourselves Boston. We all went "we’d never do that anyway. We’re the biggest band in the world right now. We’re not gonna play without you." It didn’t enter our minds that we would ever do it. He was afraid we were gonna go out and play without him.

MH: I’m surprised that didn’t happen. Because you could probably get Brad to do it.

FS: Oh, I know.

MH: That would really be a stick in the ass for Tom if you went with that option.

FS: Some people wanted us to do it after things were really falling apart but …

MH: The band was excellent and that’s why the first tour was so much fun.

FS: Jeff Beck said that we sounded just like the record.

MH: I remember the band always being consistent in the intensity and execution.

FS: Oh yeah. Stanley Clarke said that he loved the band when I finally met him hung out with him for awhile. The band took care of things more than just about anybody else. The managers were …

MH: Lost in a fog.

FS: The road manages were half toasted …

MH: Half? (laughter)

FS: (laughter) Exactly, it was up to the band to keep the whole thing going. And we did. That was another thing, not only were the guys good players, but they had their shit together mentally. We never did lot of drugs. We never pushed anything too hard.

MH: The crew did that for ya. (laughter)
FS: Exactly! The crew held it together.

MH: Now that you can’t play an instrument because of your injury, who would you like to hook up with to record or write with? Anybody out there that you would like to produce? Or is there any bands that you would like to work through the music business maze?

FS: To be honest, I kind of pulled away from the whole music scene ‘cause it got to be such a cutthroat mess.

- Michael Hill
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