Ricky Byrd is New York City. If you didn’t know that before, then one listen to his first solo album, Lifer, will make that abundantly clear. Yet when talking to the Bronx native, that wasn’t the idea behind the 11 track collection, just a happy accident.
“I started thinking about my childhood, about being 13-14, and being in that little room in your parents’ apartment with your big giant speakers and the cheap receiver,” said Byrd of the origin of Lifer. “It was AM radio, and all of a sudden this new thing called FM radio came out and you were listening to album sides and so much of that had to do with what I turned out as. So I said I’m just gonna write a record that’s like a love letter to the music that I grew up on. Because the worst thing you can do is fake it. I can’t try to write hit radio songs. As a songwriter to write for other people I can sit down and write anything I want and I’m capable of writing anything. But for the stuff that I want to go out and play, there’s a certain beat that gets me off on stage, and all of these beats that I grew up on are kinda below the waist. (Laughs) Did I have the Yes Fragile album? Yes, I had it because everybody bought it. But was that the thing that made me want to have sex all day? Nah. Let It Bleed did. Every Picture Tells A Story did, and ten other bands did. I just grew up on a certain kind of music. I wasn’t into prog. All my music either stems from Chuck Berry, Smokey Robinson, or Otis Redding. That’s where I fall and that’s who I am.”
As the longtime guitarist for Joan Jett and The Blackhearts, as well as Roger Daltrey, Ian Hunter, and Southside Johnny, among others, Byrd’s axe work combines all those influences into a sound all his own, yet even more impressive are his vocal stylings on his first foray into the solo recording world, leaving the question, what took so long for it to come out?
“I don’t even have a good answer for that,” he laughs. “It was just such a long process and there were just a whole bunch of variables that dragged this whole thing out. I played with the Blackhearts for 11 years. I come out of that, I go straight into the Roger Daltrey thing, I go straight into the Ian Hunter tour, and then I’m trying to figure it out. I know what I sound like, I know who I am, I know what my influences are, so I tried to put together a rock and roll band and start doing solo stuff. And it was just like, yeah, it sounds a little bit like the Stones, or this sounds like that, and then time just keeps going on and you’re still trying to make a living, so you get sidetracked and do these other projects. And then when it came time to do this, so many things happened at the same time and the music business just crashed. So I said, this is the guy I am and I figured out that since I wasn’t trying to prove anything to anybody and I was paying for it myself, that I would eat what I wanted to eat off the buffet table.”
Lifer is the result, and as mentioned earlier, this is a New York album, something any native of the city will attest to. From the post-9/11 “Turnstile ‘01” to “Rock ‘N’ Roll Boys” and his remark “If I’m gonna sing this I’m gonna need a zeppole, man” before “One Less Love,” this one feels like home, and while it wasn’t intentional, when recording was over, Byrd knew what he had in his hands.
“‘Turnstile’ was written right after September 11th and that’s my way of expressing myself over that tragedy,” he said. “If you remember, everybody was writing a patriotic song and I just wasn’t that good to write that. It could have come out very clichéd, so I just wrote a song about my town and a girl, and jumping on the train to meet the girl in my town. ‘Rock and Roll Boys’ is about Max’s Kansas City and that was the last song I wrote. And after I listened to the whole record, it is a very New York record.”
It’s fitting, considering that Byrd spent his formative years not just in his bedroom listening to the radio, but in the Big Apple hitting some of the city’s legendary clubs.
“I earned my bones in being a rock and roll guy there,” he said. “I would go down there (Max’s Kansas City) three times a week and on the weekends with my friends. We were 15, 16, had phony proof, and the thing about Max’s is, if Zeppelin was playing at the Garden, an hour after the show they’d show up at Max’s. I’m so stupid New York it’s ridiculous. I can’t even say water. (Laughs)”
Yet while the New York influences and references are clear, Lifer is an album even non-residents will enjoy, and with his band The Skeleton Crew (Scarlet Rowe and Shawn Murray), he’s hoping to be showing up at a venue nearby sometime soon.
“I want to build a following, go out, play gigs, and have people come and see me play,” he said. “By hook or by crook I’ll be playing at an acoustic club, a small joint, a shed, a big theater, or whatever. And no matter what, I’ll still have a big ass grin on my face.”
Why? Because it’s only rock and roll, and Ricky Byrd doesn’t just like it, he loves it.
“Chances are I will never have the success of ‘I Love Rock N Roll’ again, but how grateful am I that I had it?” he said. “I wanted to be this guy when I was a kid and I got to be him. And now I’m a well-respected guitar player, I put this record out, and hopefully people will go ‘hey, what’s that? That’s a cool, sexy beat.’ And I’ll catch some younger listeners; not to sell records, although that would be nice, but to turn them on and say this is rock and roll.”
Ricky Byrd’s Lifer is available now and may be purchased by clicking here