Ricky Byrd is a solo artist who has had a lengthy career as a member of Joan Jett and the Blackhearts.
Ricky takes out some time to chat about his early years as a musician, recording and touring with singer Roger Daltery (of the Who), his years spent with Joan Jett and the making of classic songs, “I love rock and Roll”, his most recent solo record ‘Lifer”, his guitars of choice and much more.
August 5, 2013
Guitarhoo!: Hello Ricky. welcome to the site. Lets start with your roots as a musician. When did you first get into music and pick up an instrument?
Ricky Byrd: Music was always being played in my house. Sinatra, Dino, Swing, you name it! I first caught the bug by watching the Ed Sullivan show in the 60’s. At that point the only way to see bands you heard on your transistor radio was to catch them on a variety show.I saw the Stones one night and I was sold… girls were screaming and Mr. Sullivan looked horrified… Perfect!!!
G!: Did you take lessons at all or learn by ear?
RB: One day my mother brought home a cheap acoustic guitar for me given to her by her boss at the time. I think it was a birthday present for me. I started picking up little things off singles and music on the radio. It came pretty easy to me. I took a handful of lessons at about the age of 13. Didn’t work… lol
G!: What was the first album you bought?
RB: 2 records. 1st Monkee’s LP and Jimi Hendrix. Are you Experienced.
G!: What was the first song you learned to play?
RB: Good question. Probably something simple like Hang on Sloopy. But I did play Happy Together (by a band called the Turtles) in front of my class at P.S 73 in Da Bronx.
G!: What were some of your first bands like starting out? What style of music did you play, what kind of gigs etc.?
RB: At first it was local party bands I played with. Playing covers at Church dances, Schools etc. like every other musician at the beginning of the 70’s. Covering Mitch Ryder, Stones, Kinks, Tommy James etc. Then I met some guys that turned me on to other bands like The Who… next thing ya know I’m in a garage learning Tommy from Top to Bottom… lol
G!: Did you play in Roger Daltrey (of the Who) band? If so, how did that opportunity come about?
RB: I did an album with Roger, “Rocks in The Head” on Atlantic Records. I played, co-wrote some tunes and even co-produced one tune. My pal Gerard McMahon was working with Rog and he thought I would be the perfect guitar player for the job. We did half the CD here in NY and the other half at Abbey Road. Then we did an Acoustic radio tour, a TV tour including Letterman, and a few benefit concerts. It was an amazing experience and me and Roger are still pals to this day.
G!: You’ve played in Joan Jett and the Blackhearts band for a number of years, how did you meet and what led you to being in the band?
RB: I Played with Jett for about 11 years, the good years I might add… lol. My wife Carol was a publicist at Leber and Krebs who managed many of the top acts; Aerosmith, Nugent… ah google it! Anyway Kenny Laguna (Joan’s manager) and Jett were selling the Bad Reputation at that point and had a little closet up there to base out of. I guess Laguna had heard that I was a guitar player, I was playing with a band called Susan. We had 1 record on RCA and we were managed by Tommy Mottola. After Susan’s first LP and tour things kinda fell apart and I wound up hanging and writing with one of my R’n’R heroes Steve Marriott. One day I went to a studio to jam around a bit with Jett and everything clicked. We went in and cut the I Love Rock and Roll record and as they say, Blah blah blah blah!!!
G!: I guess its safe to say the song “I Love Rock and Roll” is one of your highlights in rock and roll. Such a classic anthem. Did you write the song with Joan, how did the song come together?
RB: That song was a cover by a band called the Arrows. Jett had cut a demo of it in England I believe with Steve Jones from the Sex Pistols, but ours is the one you heard on the radio every ten minutes.
Joan Jett and The Blackhearts – I Love Rock and Roll Official Video. Featuring Ricky Byrd on Guitar
G!: Could you imagine at the time of recording the song, it would become a classic with staying power the way it has?
RB: Well the saying goes.. keep it simple: 3 power chords and a smile. So many variables involved; timing, what else is on the radio at the time, what kind of push it gets from the industry. It could’ve come out a year later and bombed. It just hit at the right time. No guarantee’s in this music biz.
G!: What are some of your most memorable moments being with the Blackhearts, what did you learn the most from the experience?
RB: Just playing to all those thousands of kids around the world was pretty sweet. Playing Shea Stadium in my hometown. Tthere are just too many highlights to mention. But like I say in my song “Rock ‘n’ Roll Boys”, “I got most of what I wished for but nothing comes free”.
G!: Your latest album “Lifer”, released earlier this year, has got as cool down to earth blues and rock vibe to it. What was your main goal with the album?
RB: Just wanted to write a love letter to the music I listened to when i was a teenager, that simple!
“Dream Big” and “Harlem Rose” from Ricky Byrds album “Lifer”
G!: When writing and recording an album whats the most satisfying aspect and whats the most challenging aspect for you?
RB: Satisfying is that 6 months later after finishing the CD I wouldn’t change a thing, very rare. Challenging was not second guessing myself at every turn… stick to the plan.
G!: If someone had to choose one cut off the album to get their feet wet, which song would you recommend to get a good feel for what the album is all about?
RB: Well “Rock ‘n’ Roll Boys” is pretty much my story. “Wide Open” is how I’ve matured as a writer without losing the grease. I love “Harlem Rose” because it pulls from the beginnings of Rock and Roll, Mr. Berry. I don’t know… just throw a dart at the cd and see where it lands 😉
G!: Which guitars and gear do you prefer to record and play live with?
RB: Gibson guitars and Fender amps period. Although now that I have a three piece called Ricky Byrd and the Skeleton Crew I’ve been trying to make my sound a bit wider so I will also use a Vox Ac15 live. I was also just given a real cool guitar by DiPinto which I will have out with me.
G!: How has the tour been going and will you have many more dates lined up this year?
RB: Just started last week… lol Playing sporadic dates until we are rock solid live.
Ricky Byrd Live
G!: If you could jam with any musician, alive or dead, from any genre or era, that you haven’t with already, who would it be?
RB: I would love to play Maggie May with Rod just once.
G!: Do you have any advice you’d like to pass onto to aspiring musicians?
RB: Yeah, There Ain’t No Rock… Without Da Roll!
G!: Ricky thanks for taking out the time for this! Keep rock alive!
RB: Pleasure Pally!!
Interview © 2013 Guitarhoo!