How MR. BIG Arrived Fully Formed on Their 1989 Self-Titled Debut

MR. BIG released their self-titled debut on June 20, 1989, but just how did the all-star band hit the ground running in such an accomplished manner?

By Richard Bolwell | min read | April 17, 2023

MR BIG. - Debut Album Artwork

MR. BIG is putting on their signature top hats and old shoes one last time for a worldwide tour, aptly titled “The BIG Finish.” Since the band’s original drummer and co-founder, Pat Torpey, lost his battle with Parkinson’s disease in 2018, the band now feels it’s time to mark the end of this chapter of their legacy.

The first leg will take the band to Japan and Southeast Asia in July and August, while shows in South America, Europe, and the U.S. will launch in early 2024 and will be announced soon.

In light of the announcement, we look at how the American rock band, formed in Los Angeles in 1988, hit the ground running and arrived on the scene with their 1989 eponymous debut album is such a prodigious manner.

MR. BIG

Even before officially adopting the name Mr. Big, the band was already carving out a unique sound that would define them as one of the standout hard rock bands of their era. According to guitarist Paul Gilbert, "The band sounded like Mr. Big immediately," as their chemistry was undeniable from the start. However, it took some time before they agreed on the name, which they eventually took from a Free song of the same title.

Once the name was settled, the band wasted no time in capitalizing on their instantaneous musical chemistry. Their self-titled debut album, released on June 20, 1989, was mostly written in just one week. Gilbert remarked, "I had never been in a band that could write songs so quickly - and have them be really good!" The album's fast-paced creation was a testament to the band's cohesive talent and drive to make a name for themselves.

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The formation of Mr. Big was a product of exceptional musical talent and chance encounters. Guitarist Paul Gilbert and bassist Billy Sheehan first crossed paths at the Musicians Institute, where their undeniable musical chemistry quickly became apparent despite their 13-year age gap. Sheehan, who had played with Talas and on David Lee Roth's early studio albums, expressed interest in working with Eric Martin, who at the time was leading his own self-titled band. Drummer Pat Torpey, who would later join Mr. Big, was a highly sought-after session and touring musician with an impressive range of experience.

With the lineup in place, the band wasted no time in showcasing their exceptional musical chops. The opening track of their self-titled debut album, "Addicted to That Rush," immediately set the tone for what was to come, with a powerful combination of Sheehan's two-finger bass tapping, Torpey's drumming, and Gilbert's fiery guitar work. The band's distinct sound was expertly layered together by producer Kevin Elson, who helped to create a complex and singular formula that set them apart from their peers.

Mr. Big's diversity of talent even surprised their management, who noted the impressive harmonizing among all four members as a standout feature of their sound. While the band subtly softened their sound, it was not with synthesizers or overly polished production but through the intricate harmonies that each member brought to the table. The band's vocal harmonies were a pleasant surprise to their manager and added a new dimension to their live shows, which included Beatles covers that became a staple of their repertoire. Gilbert remarked, "We all had a similar idea about what the band should be, and it was great that everybody could sing."

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Mr. Big's harmonies gained widespread popularity among radio listeners in 1991 with the release of "To Be With You," the final track on their sophomore album, "Lean Into It." However, the band made a conscious effort to avoid releasing ballads as singles two and a half years prior, knowing that a hit ballad could pigeonhole them as a band. Despite their debut album having two ballads, "Had Enough" and "Anything For You," neither were released as singles.

The band insisted on releasing "Addicted to That Rush" as their lead single, which was a heavy tune, instead of something more melodic like "Wind Me Up." Atlantic Records warned that this choice could lead to flat album sales, but Mr. Big stuck to their decision. "Addicted to That Rush" received significant airplay on rock radio, which allowed the band to establish themselves as steady sellers during the summer and Autumn of 1989.

Although the album did not have a Top 40 single, it eventually peaked at No. 46 and was certified gold, which were impressive feats in the pre-SoundScan era for a hard rock record. For Mr. Big guitarist, Paul Gilbert, chart and sales figures were secondary to making music that he enjoyed. He became a musician to play music and not to think about charts.

After the release of their 1996 album, "Hey Man," Gilbert left the band and was replaced by Richie Kotzen. The original quartet reunited for their 2011 album, "What If," and their 2014 album, "...The Stories We Could Tell." Sheehan and Kotzen later collaborated in the Winery Dogs, whose debut record went Top 10 in 2013.

Gilbert reflects fondly on the band's time together and believes that they still sound the same as they did on the first day of rehearsal. Their tastes and abilities may have expanded, but they remain the same people at the core. He finds it a unique combination, and they have spent some amazing times together.

MR BIG. - Debut Album Artwork

Tracklisting

1. Addicted To That Rush (4:46)
2. Wind Me Up (4:11)
3. Merciless (3:57)
4. Had Enough (4:57)
5. Blame It On My Youth (4:14)
6. Take A Walk (3:57)
7. Big Love (4:49)
8. How Can You Do What You Do (3:58)
9. Anything For You (4:37)
10. Rock & Roll Over (3:50)
11. 30 Days In The Hole (4:12)

Personnel

MR. BIG
Eric Martin – Lead vocals
Paul Gilbert – Guitar
Billy Sheehan – Bass guitar
Pat Torpey – Drums

Production
Kevin Elson - Producer, engineer, mixing
Tom Size, Wally Buck - Additional engineers
Bob Ludwig - Mastering at Masterdisk, New York

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