August 30, 2013

Ricky Byrd: I Still Love Rock 'N' Roll

“I’ve been waiting to do this for years,” Ricky Byrd snarls before throwing his guitar into gear and careening it through “Rock 'N' Roll Boys,” the rabble-rousing opening track on Lifer (Kayos Records), his solo debut. It’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment, nothing more than an impulsive quip, but it nevertheless underscores the time and effort it’s taken Byrd, a veteran on the axe for more than 30 years, to reach this point. 

“I always wanted to do my own record,” Byrd insists, “but I wanted to do my own record right. People would say, ‘Why is it taking so long?’ And I’d say, ‘Yeah, I know, but my meter’s not running. I have nothing to do with anything that’s on the radio. So I might as well do the record I want to do.’”

As lead guitarist for Joan Jett and the Blackhearts for over a decade, beginning in 1981, his irascible riffs and licks bolstered such rambunctious anthems as “I Hate Myself For Loving You,” “Talkin’ Bout My Baby,” and, of course, “I Love Rock and Roll.” Byrd left the Blackhearts in 1993 with an itch for new opportunities, touring and recording with the likes of Roger Daltrey, Southside Johnny, and Ian Hunter, among others. Over time, though, he sought to make the sort of music that had inspired him to play rock ‘n’ roll in the first place. 

“People now have no clue how neat it was to be lying on the beach in the summer in New York and hearing AM radio,” Byrd reflects, harkening back to the mid-to-late Sixties during the height of his adolescence, “where in one 15-minute time-frame you would hear, like, the Kinks’ new record, and then you would hear the Dave Clark 5 and the Stones and then Dean Martin and then “(Sittin’ On The) Dock of the Bay” and then a Sinatra song and on and on. It was all on one station.” 

And it all had a profound effect on Byrd, sealing his fate and ultimately — with a guitar, plenty of practice, and no shortage of his native-Bronx swagger — forging his path each step of the way. “There was a process to getting someplace when you were a teenager at a certain age, in a certain era,” he recalls. “You learned how to work a room. You started out playing church dances or little dive bars, and that’s really where you made your bones.”

Such formative influences and experience no doubt inform Lifer, with moments of riff-thick rockers (“Dream Big,” “Let’s Get Gone”), Stax-like-soul stirrers (“Married Man,” “Ways of a Woman”) and barrelhouse rhythm & blues (“Harlem Rose”) boasting a good-time-is-had-by-all enthusiasm. 

“There’s a lot of cool stuff now,” Byrd concedes, “but it’s not like this stuff. It’s got a different feel to it, a different groove. The snare beat is on a different beat. All the stuff I love is below the waist. That’s the kind of feel that I like. Whether it’s Otis Redding doing ‘Shake!’ or the middle part of ‘Midnight Rambler’ when they start doing it slow and sexy, it’s all below-the-waist stuff.” 

While he’s most known as a guitarist Byrd has long honed his chops as a songwriter as well, whether on his own or in collaboration with other artists. “I love writing songs,” Byrd explains, adding that on the album, “I didn’t edit myself or put any restraints on how I was going to write. I didn’t try to write a Maroon 5 song; I just wrote the way I write. The only thing I did on purpose was [to] make it so it would be able to be played live — I could play this record top to bottom live with no problem — and I picked certain feels and grooves that I wanted on the record.”

All told Byrd has succeeded in his effort, establishing his own voice as an artist while honoring the many mentors who’ve shown him the way. “My record is like a tip of the hat to the stuff that I grew up on,” says Byrd, adding, “I just wanted to do a record that explained why I’m the way I am.”

For more information on Ricky Byrd, please visit his official website. Lifer is available now on Kayos Records.