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Guitarist Ricky Byrd attributes his discovery of rock & roll to the Rolling Stones’ Ed Sullivan appearance. A self-described shy kid, he boldly stated that he recognized the transcendent power of music at a very early age.
“After seeing the Stones on Sullivan it made the hair on my arms stand up! Music was always present in my family growing up and I had bugged my mom for an acoustic guitar. I was able to pick out songs on the radio and play them very early on, not perfectly but I felt the music and knew that’s all I wanted to do. I believe everyone has a special, driving passion inside but life is filled with distractions, for a myriad of reasons and not everyone gets to live out that passion,” stated Byrd.
Recently signed to Little Steven’s Wicked Cool Records, Byrd has a new platform for his solo recordings, featuring passionate themes of hard-won sobriety supported by early rock’s wreckless abandonment, with a youthful energy that shows no signs of slowing down. With an impressive rock resume spanning over 40 years beginning with Joan Jett & The Blackhearts, Byrd has worked with Roger Daltrey, Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes, Ian Hunter, and several other impacting artists.
“I am happy to say I don’t feel anything is taken for granted. Even playing records I know so well and learned to play from, I’m still excited by them! Hell, even seeing lights from amps onstage with the stage lights dimmed excites me because growing up going to shows, you’d see the amp lights and you just knew something cool was about to happen,” laughed Byrd.
Rhapsody In Blues(One for Jeff) stands as Byrd’s poignant, new single and tribute to Jeff Beck, the renowned guitarist who still surprises him no matter how many times his records are spun.
“I feel no matter how much I listen to Beck I always find some detail that surprises me. I don’t have a band, I play events but told Little Steven to let me do some singles, like groups back in the ‘60s. When we lost Jeff Beck last year I felt music also experienced a tremendous loss. He stands on his own among so many players and he just kept evolving. I feel his playing is so out of this world and I was crushed when I heard the news,” shared Byrd.
He added, “I began playing music after I heard the news and I never wrote an instrumental before. People just think it’s music without lyrics but it’s deeper and this single was me thanking Beck. It came from my heart and I’m proud of how it turned out.”
Byrd has always been acutely aware of rock & roll’s power to unite, transform, destroy, and innovate. Hailing from the Bronx, he experienced the raucous Lower East Side rock that birthed punk, the city’s gritty art and poetry complimenting the subways and alleyways, and after taking refuge with all the records he continues cherishing, Byrd carved his own rock & roll path that ultimately earned Rock & Roll Hall of Fame accolades in 2015 for his tenure in Joan Jett & The Blackhearts. The crunchy tones of Byrd in I Love Rock ‘N Roll took him around the world, and coupled with his songwriting on Up Your Alley, the group earned well-deserved airplay, stadium tours, and chart-topping singles. He reflected on his Hall of Fame induction.
“I do consider it an honor. They have my Les Paul Deluxe from I Love Rock ‘N Roll and the first acoustic my mother got for me. Joan had wanted to play with her current band for the induction ceremony, which made perfect sense and I was going to make a speech as well and play in the finale with Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, and so many other players I respect. Not too shabby, eh? I have to admit, I was nervous during my speech and of course, the front table had McCartney and Ringo sitting right in front of me as I was talking. No pressure, right?” laughed Byrd.
Sobriety continues to be another driving force within Byrd, proudly stating he has earned healthier living for over three decades. His early solo records feature themes of redemption but clarified he does not judge, it’s simply that substances no longer have a role in his life. Byrd reflected on his early career and the beginning of his addictions.
“When I was younger I had been using for 18 years and I had considered it manageable. Playing out and going to clubs I was subjected to drugs and alcohol very early. Coke discovered me if you will, and that was a big, downward slide. The effects of it can be very short so you’re left chasing that next high. I had almost died while on tour with Joan because I was just so skinny from drugs and alcohol and I had a collapsed lung from smoking coke. I still used until 1987 despite being told I was just a heart attack away,” said Byrd.
Reaching out for support in ‘87 based on the blunt introspection of ‘I knew things would not end well for me’ Byrd took the first steps toward earning sobriety.
“I have been sober for 36 years but you have to not just want it, you have to be committed. Everyone has a very personal journey with sobriety and I had planned on no longer using when I turned 30. I thought I was staying on track beginning in ‘87 but my diaries said otherwise,” reflected Byrd.
Byrd’s early solo records stand as a testament to the power of songwriting and despite the consistent themes of sobriety, he feels the tracks still pack the same excitement he felt when he first discovered rock & roll.
“When I first did those solo records I never doubted the feelings about music would change after I became sober. I am so proud to share that my music has made a positive impact. I’d go to the recovery centers and play for the patients and everyone and pass out copies of the music. It’s such an awesome, powerful experience to hear from people who recovered and name a song or two I did. You cannot ask for anything more as a songwriter,” shared Byrd.
Byrd has earned credentials as a certified recovery coach and remains active in organizing and playing events dedicated to recovery and substance abuse awareness. Being signed to Wicked Cool Records has not only enabled him a newer outlet to share his songwriting, but it has also served to better inform longtime supporters and new fans about how our choices to access and share music impact today’s artists.
“If you want artists to keep recording then keep downloading. Streaming is good but it’s bogus for most musicians, it doesn’t help. Artists don’t see enough money from things like Apple or Spotify, the percentage is just so small. Downloading a copy helps because the money goes directly to the artist. I am grateful for all the support so at the very least, to keep supporting put another dime in the jukebox baby,” laughed Byrd.
Photo: Alphonse Telymonde Jr. Courtesy of Carol Kaye
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