Success of ballad 'To Be With You' especially sweet for Mr. Big

March 13, 1992|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,Pop Music Critic

Six months ago, the members of Mr. Big were beginning to wonder if they weren't becoming Mr. Forgotten. Sure, the band's second release, "Lean Into It" was an even better piece of work than its first; the trouble was, nobody but the band and a smattering of its fans even knew the album was out there.

"It got discouraging," recalls Mr. Big bassist Billy Sheehan over the phone from a tour stop in Detroit. "We were afraid we would lose the game without ever having gotten to bat, so to speak."

Then, out of the blue, one song off the album -- an acoustic ballad called "To Be With You" -- started getting radio play. "We never intended to release 'To Be With You,'" Sheehan admits. "We had another single. But some guy in Lincoln, Neb., just started playing the song, and the record started selling like crazy. It spread to Omaha and went all over the country."

"To Be With You" continued to pick up momentum, eventually selling well enough to knock Right Said Fred's "I'm Too Sexy" out of the top spot and spend three straight weeks at No. 1.

"It took off all on its own," says Sheehan. "That was the cool thing about it, it was all from requests and all natural -- we had no promotion budget. There was no huge ad in Billboard, there was no giant advertising campaign.

"Even our video was done way-super-ultra-cheap. When we tell people how much we spent on the video, they can't believe it. We got this video together dirt cheap. To see it beating up Michael Jackson's million-dollar extravaganza on MTV is pretty amazing."

That Mr. Big made its mark with a song as understated and melodic as "To Be With You" was an especially sweet victory for the band. After all, both Sheehan and guitarist Paul Gilbert initially earned their reputations for fleet-fingered virtuosity, which lead some reviewers to dismiss the band as merely a platform for hotshot soloists.

"We tried to convince them otherwise by doing a record that had songs on it," Sheehan says. "The first album, for me personally that was a breakthrough album, the most cohesive song-to-song record that I had ever done. Yet I saw reviews that said, 'All this album is like a million solos' and everything. I was, like, 'Wait a minute. Did you listen to the record?' "

Now, of course, everyone's listening, and Mr. Big is a Big Deal -- at least in theory. But life on the road, says Sheehan, goes on pretty much as before.

"Nothing's changed at all," he laughs. "We still don't get a hotel that nice, so we have to sleep while the bus is traveling. It can get grueling."

In fact, the only real difference the guys have noticed is in the way others look at them. "It's like that Joe Walsh song, 'Life's Been Good,'" Sheehan says. "You know: 'Everybody's so different, I haven't changed.' It's so true. We're the same four saps that we've always been, but we can actually see a difference in the way people look at us.

"I mean, we're no different than anybody else walking down the fTC street in New York City, but when we were on the Letterman show, we walked into the lobby at NBC and the people in line to get in were all rushing toward us for photos and everything. It's really funny to see that pandemonium."

Mr. Big

When: Tonight at 9.

Where: Hammerjacks, 1102 S. Howard St.

Tickets: $7.50

Call: (410) 659-7625 for information, (410) 481-7238 for tickets

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