Billy Sherwood of YES: The Sentimental Value of Music and What It Means to People

Bassist, YES and Godson, Milton Berle

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Billy Sherwood is mostly known for his time as a member of progressive rock band YES. He is also a member of the band Asia. Sherwood's godfather was the television icon Milton Berle, and his father was a famous musician, who has worked with Frank Sinatra.

Hi, this is Billy Sherwood, bass player of Yes, solo artist and producer engineer. And some may say where did he come from? And the answer to that is Phyllis and Bobby Sherwood are my parents who were both entertainers in their own right. My dad was a big band leader in the '40s. And he made a lot of big band music along the lines of Tommy Dorsey, Count Basie, all that kind of stuff and he was very well known in that genre. He was on Capitol Records for many years back in the day. And his career evolved as the media then changed and became television. He was, at the time, very, very friendly with Milton Berle, Uncle Milty, who was one of the first television shows ever aired when TV was turned on. So he became pals with Milton and actually Milton is my godfather, oddly enough, by virtue of that relationship that they had, they were very close. Anyways, so my dad's making music, he's making television, he was in films, he made a movie with Frank Sinatra called Pal Joey, and he was having his career moving along nicely and he meets a chorus line dancer in New York City on Broadway, Phyllis, my mother, and they fell in love and they have a family. And as that family's starting, they happen to move to Las Vegas, which is becoming this booming entertainment town back in the day and they become a staple on the Las Vegas strip, Phyllis and Bobby Sherwood. It's very funny to see now these old postcards from the '70s with their name in the marquee under various other stars but they're all over that town. That was how I grew up, it was in this house of music. Watching my dad playing with so many different musicians and building different bands for different shows, 16 piece here, nine piece there, three piece there, and it started giving me the idea of when I write music, it's to be versatile and do a lot of things and kind of think outside the box could be cool. He played all instruments, which was really inspiring as well for me. So as my career started evolving, I had bands and I was always working on my own music, but I wanted to start producing to be with other musicians and other players and other opportunities to meet these guys to play. And so I was starting to produce records at that point in the early '90s and one of the records I made was Paul Rodgers Muddy Water Blues, which was a very cool blues record, it had Jeff Beck, Danny Gilmore, Slash, all these amazing guitar players on it. It was a tribute to Muddy Waters, a Grammy nominated record at the time, we lost to Buddy Guy, who Buddy had his own record out and was in the same category and so he took the award, we didn't. But still, cool record. And as a result of that sort of tribute style record that was made right there, I started getting calls to make other records like that. Can you do the same thing but build it around the music of Queen or do it around the music of Pink Floyd, so I started doing tribute records and which I have passion for music, I love working and working on music in the studio, so these were opportunities to reverse engineer these amazing records that I'd grown up on and try to get it right again, so to speak, sonically. And then I had the budgets at my fingertips to call in all these amazing musicians and bring them onboard so every record was filled with amazing people, dozens of people, and so it became a labor of love in that way, too, where a lot of those people returned for more because they liked the production and they felt comfortable in it and they trusted that I would handle their work with care. And it became more for them, so they would return. You find John Wetton on several of the tracks from different records including the Beatles stuff that I did with him and again, the Floyd things. So it's cool because you're also touching on this sentimental thing for people who are very attached to these records that you're tampering with, including the Wall, Roger Waters, there's a short story of Jim Ladd, who's a friend of mine, he's a DJ, he's friend of Roger Waters, and he's also on Roger Waters' radio Chaos, he's the DJ, Jim. Anyway, we're very good friends and I wanted him to be on the Wall remake that I did. He told me I'd love to do it but I got to make sure Roger's cool and I said oh man, I don't even want Roger to know I'm doing this. He said no, it'll be cool, let me have it. So I gave him a rough mix to take and I just held my breath and he came back and said Roger heard it, he was very impressed, and said yeah, that's cool, you should be on it, so I'm gonna be on your record. And I thought to myself, oh my God, I can breathe again, because that's the last thing you want is your heroes hating something you've done. It's a sentimental thing for a lot of people, even me as I'm making it, because I'm having to step on some sacred ground as I'm doing it, but as I do that, I try to do it with respect and bring the best quality to it and also the most interesting musicians I can gather at the time and to put their art into it and hopefully that record creates another sentimental value for someone else down the road when they start craving to hear Ian Anderson do the Thin Ice from the Wall remake. Or any one of those songs. You know, Chris, myself, and Alan doing Comfortably Numb. So that music's there to be discovered but it all plays into that idea of the sentimental value of how music touches people. Going back to my parents, they understood that as well and a lot of the classics that they used to play were because they touched them in their way. My dad used to play Gershwin and all these amazing composers from back in that day. It's because of the sentimental value of music and what it means to people.

Last Updated: September 10, 2021

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