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The Enthusiast's Guide: Mr. Big


Mr Big

Shrugging off their initial “supergroup” tag, Mr. Big became an enduring band whose consistently excellent material is rivalled only by their prolific live work. James Gaden guides you through their catalogue.


Formed in 1988, Mr. Big was the amalgamation of former Talas and David Lee Roth bassist Billy Sheehan, ex-Racer X guitarist Paul Gilbert, vocalist Eric Martin and drummer Pat Torpey. Martin had already issued three records as an artist and Torpey had backed a number of noteworthy artists such as Belinda Carlisle, Roger Daltrey and Jeff Paris.

The group’s self-titled debut album landed in 1989, showing the band to have not only superb musicianship but a strong sense of melody, all topped with harmony vocals. While the first album was a strong statement, their follow up ‘Lean Into It’ powered them into platinum selling status in America and Canada, thanks in no small part to three hit singles. The most notable however was ‘To Be With You’, which hit number one in eleven different countries.

When the polished third album ‘Bump Ahead’ came along, the group notched up another hit with a cover of the Cat Stevens tune ‘Wild World’. By the time ‘Hey Man’ came along, the band’s sound had mellowed with incredible craft going into the material, but Hard Rock was in short supply. After the tour to promote it, Gilbert decided to quit the band.

Mr. Big went on a brief hiatus before moving forward with new guitarist Richie Kotzen, whose guitar playing was without question. He also possessed a superb singing voice which not only kept the harmonies intact, but also allowed him to chip in with some lead vocals too. ‘Get Over It’ was Kotzen’s first chance to put his mark down and he helped write over half of the material.

When the follow up ‘Actual Size’ came in 2001, things were getting a little fractious. Even though the material on the record was excellent, a look at the writers showed the unity on the previous record had gone out of the window. Martin contributed his songs with his frequent writing partner Andre Pessis, Torpey penned music with his mates Lanny Cordola and Chuck Wright from House Of Lords, Kozten wrote with producer Richie Zito and Sheehan only weighed in with one four way co-write. His dissatisfaction with the way things had turned out was obvious in the video for the band’s single ‘Shine’. Penned by Kotzen, Sheehan hardly features in it at all and when he does, it would be hard to imagine him looking more disinterested in proceedings.


As a result, Martin and Torpey discussed firing Sheehan but Kotzen decided to play peacemaker as playing alongside Sheehan was a deciding factor in him joining. When Sheehan learned he was almost ousted from a band he created, the writing was on the wall and the group announced their farewell tour in 2001.


After a Paul Gilbert show at the House Of Blues in 2008, where the guitarist brought Sheehan, Torpey and Kotzen up for an encore, talk of a reunion was sparked due to the reaction and fun the musicians had. Martin was contacted and next thing you know the original line up of Martin, Sheehan, Gilbert and Torpey announced a reunion in time for the 20th anniversary of their debut record.


They returned with a ‘Greatest Hits’ package and tour before issuing their first new album in a decade, the Kevin Shirley produced ‘What If...’ It proved the band still had it and saw every track written by all four members.


2014’s ‘...The Stories We Could Tell’ saw Mr. Big battle adversity as Torpey had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, forcing him and producer Pat Regan to programme most of the percussion (in incredibly authentic fashion). Matt Starr was brought in to help take the load for the subsequent tour with Torpey being used sparingly. 2017 saw a rushed effort, ‘Defying Gravity’, released, written and recorded in just six days. The tour would again use Starr as the main drummer with Torpey more in a guest role and tragically a year later, he passed away.


As things stand, Martin has mentioned he would like to do one last Mr. Big album with guest drummers as a swansong. Time will tell if that appears, but in the meantime, they left a pretty impressive collection to be getting on with.

 

STUDIO ALBUMS

Mr. Big Scorching
Mr Big Sizzling
Mr Big Toasty
Mr Big Tepid

THE LIVE ALBUMS

Other than perhaps Deep Purple, you’d do well to name a band who have issued as many live albums as they have studio ones, but Mr. Big certainly qualify. Overleaf you will find a guide to the ones that have been issued around the world – believe it or not, there are several more which are only available in Japan (their strongest market). However, the ten listed here should be more than enough for anyone except the most rabid completist.

Mr Big Live Scorching
Mr Big Sizzling
Mr Big Toasty
Mr Big Tepid
 

This article appeared in Fireworks Rock & Metal Magazine Issue #96

 

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