Who: Gary Shea, an iconic bassist
Bands: Alcatrazz, New England, Warrior
For over forty years music has been a most wonderful adventure for me. My journey through the world of playing bass has been a plethora of ups and downs and truly rewarding experiences.
I have had the opportunity to travel the world performing in a myriad of well known venues and playing with some of the Rock World’s greatest musicians.
If there is anything else in my career I would hope to achieve it would be to influence others to pick up an instrument and say, “That’s what I want to do!”. That would really give me supreme satisfaction.
No Bass…. No Party
– Gary Shea
Heavy Profile has the great honour to interview a legend among the rock bassists, Gary Shea. Gary is known for his time in the band New England in the 70’s and Alcatrazz in the 80’s. Alcatrazz’s leading vocalist at the time was the one and only, Graham Bonnet.
1. Hello Gary! You are best remembered as the bassist of the bands New England and Alcatrazz. Your career has been a long one with many twist and turns.
Why did you decide to start playing the bass in the first place? Did you consider other options? Who are your biggest influencers?
I began playing bass at 15 after starting on the guitar. I had just bought a brand new Fender Stratocaster in 1965 and one day picked a used 1964 Fender Precision bass off a wall in an electronics shop. It felt amazing like a big aircraft carrier. I loved how powerful it sounded and looked. The bass makes the thunder that everyone grooves to. I was immediately hooked.
At first my influences were the usual names from the 60`s. One big influence is David Brown who played on the first two Santanna LPs. I saw him live at Woodstock. Four drummers going wild, a screaming guitarist, a heavy organ and David just playing a simple samba bass line, driving and holding the whole band together with a few simple notes. Genius in simplicity. Also another favorite is Greg Ridley from Spooky Tooth/Humble Pie for similar reasons. I alway admired Dee Murray of Elton John`s band for his melodic lines.
2. Alcatrazz had the opportunity to break big in the 80’s, but the breakthrough didn’t happen. What do you think was the cause of this? Did you start too early or stop too late?
Alcatrazz had an extraordinary chemistry. We were ahead of the curve and not part of the hair scene. Unfortunately for us we were on a small label to get things going but they couldn’t promote us properly. Management started off great and got side tracked, also not in our favor.
3. You have had the honour to share the stage and studio with Yngwie Malmsteen, Steve Vai and Graham Bonnet. How is it like to work with these gentlemen? What memories do you have from that time?
I have great memories of playing with all the members of Alcatrazz. Graham is a unique singer and Yngwie and Steve are tremendous guitarists. Being right there and playing, driving the whole thing on bass, has been very rewarding.
For us it was about the music, not the fame and we fought hard for those convictions. I have great memories of hearing our work become records and then playing live for people. We had some cool times together and rewarding moments.
4. You are also remembered from your time with New England. The band’s legendary keyboardist Jimmy Waldo is still playing with Graham Bonnet Band. Where did the name of the band originally come from? Are you still in touch with Waldo?
I have been working with Jimmy Waldo for over 40 years in the group New England, which recently played Japan and is releasing a 40th anniversary box set this year. We also played together in Warrior with Vinnie Vincent prior to Kiss. Alcatrazz has just released a DVD CD box set Live in Japan 2017. Jimmy is a monster keyboardist and we are constantly in contact.
The name Alcatrazz was my concept as to having a name that started with the letter A. You know with that name that the music is definitely heavy rock.
5. Bassists are known to love good drummers. What kind of drummer fits the best with your style of playing?
I’ve been lucky to play with some world class drummers over the years. I prefer drummers who are not overly busy, who have a steady heavy beat and who can also throw in some flash in the right places. Over the years I have played with some great drummers like Jon Hyde of Detective, Hirsh Gardner of New England, Jan Uvena of Alcatrazz and Herman Rarebell of Scorpions.
6. What kind of gear do you like to use?
I’ve primarily used Amp and Randall amplifiers over the years. I am currently using Ampeg SVTs and PH 500 heads with various cabinets. I’ve had many basses over time and my favorite is still my 1965 Fender Jazz bass that I brought in 1970 and Dudacus basses made in Boston by friend Steve Baxter.
7. What are the best songs, that you have been involved with in Alcatrazz and New England?
I have many favorites from both bands. Alcatrazz songs would be General Hospital, Mercy and Desert Diamond. New England songs would be Shall I Run Away and Honey Money.
8. It would be nice to see Alcatrazz and New England touring in Finland, as rock and metal music scene is doing well here. Would this be possible? Graham Bonnet’s tours in Finland have at least been selling well.
I hope it is possible that both bands could play in Finland soon. I was very fortunate last year to play at the Kiss Army convention in Helsinki. I got to play with Bruce Kulick and Bobby Rock, great fun!
9. Do you have any goals considering your career that you’d still like to achieve?
I hope to tell as many young people as possible that their goals can be achieved with direction, persistence and hard work. I have achieved many of my goals and feel very fortunate and lucky.
10. Free word.
I also record with ace guitarist David Cooper in London. We’ve done a CD with our friends Peter French of Cactus and Herman Rarebell. The CD is under The Cooper Shea Band called Partners In Time and is available digitally.
Thank you for the interview!
Interview: Pekka Montin
Edited: Aili Viitanen