They made their name on the back of a chart-busting acoustic ballad before one of the ugliest splits in the history of rock. Now Mr Big want to be with you – and each other – again. SIMON RUSHWORTH reports.
ROCK music’s colourful history is littered with spurious tales of ferocious in-fighting and band-defining bust-ups but many of the industry’s biggest scraps remain under wraps.
Not so in the case of chart-topping Los Angeles quartet Mr Big who, famously, aired their dirty linen in public and found their very future thrown into doubt as a result.
Not content with forcing virtuoso guitarist Paul Gilbert from the fold due to their constant arguments, volatile singer Eric Martin and bass player Billy Sheehan ultimately reached a personal and professional stalemate which caused the band to implode in 2002.
And for seven years it appeared as if that was that for Mr Big – the act that had topped the charts in America with To Be With You and guaranteed global success as a result.
“Looking back I like to think Billy and I were just two perfectionists butting heads,” reflected Martin.
“Every time we’d argue or throw chairs at each other we’d always end up coming to the conclusion that we wanted the same thing.
“It was just a total communication breakdown in the end. There wasn’t even any talking. Everyone in bands fights with each other but for too long me and Billy held it in and then it all just exploded.
“It was definitely me and Billy at the heart of the situation and that’s probably why Paul left in the end.
“Paul has always gone where the work is and he’s always been focused. All the stupid fights me and Billy had or the wall of silence that followed took its toll.
“Silence becomes a deafening roar. I don’t think Paul could take it any more and I don’t blame him.”
Yet seven years after Mr Big called time on a 14-year career, they stunned the rock world with a series of reunion shows in 2009. Those gigs proved to be the first tentative steps towards a full reunion, a new album paying homage to their British blues rock heroes and a triumphant set at this summer’s Download festival.
So what changed?
“There was a bittersweet syrup that we all had in our mouths a few years ago,” added Martin. “But after five years or more you kind of lost that taste. You lose the taste of hate.
“I feel like I’ve totally wasted years of my life, both professionally and personally, through stubbornness and by not picking up the phone to an old friend.
“If I’m honest I was always a bit afraid to call Billy. I wanted to but I just didn’t have the courage for so many years. But I eventually emailed him and it was kind of no big deal. I kind of felt that I should have made the call a long time ago.”
Once Martin and Sheehan were reconciled, an initially reluctant Paul Gilbert followed and earlier this year the trio, plus drummer Pat Torpey, released the sensational comeback album What If ...
Using the production skills of Kevin Shirley (Iron Maiden, Joe Bonamassa, Black Country Communion) the erstwhile hair metal favourites returned with a bluesy album more akin to Deep Purple, Free or Humble Pie.
“Those bands always influenced us but the late 80s and early 90s were a time when over-production ruled,” explained Martin. “There was so much money swilling around the music business that bands felt like they needed to get everything right down to the finest detail and no stone was left unturned.
“We’re proud of the music we made back then but it lost its initial feel and passion. Kevin was able to unlock that in us as a band again and we made the Mr Big record we always wanted to make.”
Mr Big play Newcastle O2 Academy on Tuesday. What If ... is available now on Frontiers Records