Ricky Byrd tries hard to not be a selfish artist. The former lead guitarist for Joan Jett and The Blackhearts was happy to have some of the material on his 2013 album, Lifer written by accomplished singer-songwriters besides himself. Byrd's first full-length solo album is "a melting pot of classic rock and roll" according to guest reviewer/interviewer Jim Smith.
Review and interview by Jim Smith
Just as New York City has often been called a melting pot of cultures and nationalities, Lifer, the first full length solo album by former Joan Jett Blackheart guitarist Ricky Byrd is a melting pot of classic rock and roll, the kind that many of us Baby Boomers born in the '50s cut our teeth on. One quickly realizes that the Bronx-born Byrd is ALL New York, all the time. From the album’s liner notes to the introduction on “One Less Love” -- “I’m gonna need a zepole for this one” -- and at virtually all points in between, Byrd wears his New York on his sleeve like a badge of honor. (Editor’s note: for those unfamiliar with the term “zepole” - think funnel cake prepared like a funky tennis ball and commonly sold by Italians at street fairs.) New York area influences permeate this effort. Co-writers Southside Johnny Lyon and Long Island born, longtime Aerosmith collaborator Richie Supa ("Chip Away," "Amazing," Pink and more) lend their lyrical contributions. From the players to the backup singers to the dude playing vibraslap, the New York Metro area influencers come to life on Lifer. The album is a testimony and bears witness to all that is seminal New York rock and roll.
Note to self, be an unselfish artist
Speaking with Ricky recently, I inquired about his approach to collaboration. “The music and the arrangements are all mine, and I wrote the lyrics on a number of the tracks myself. But, I’m an unselfish artist and it’s great to surround yourself with guys who tell it like it is. The last thing you need is someone telling you how great your stuff is while they’re really thinking, 'Man that totally sucks.' I’ve known Richie forever and played with Johnny. Those two are as real as it gets!” After a few listenings, I have to say I couldn’t find anything on this album that sucked. To the contrary, Lifer is solid, cover-to-cover homage to the music of a generation. And, with sensibilities no doubt influenced by playing Catskill Mountain Resorts as a teen Byrd remarked, “I grew into my throat like I grew into my nose." While a far cry from a classic crooner, Byrd’s vocals are real and often compelling as his New York stories unfold.
The album kicks off with Ricky’s own version of “My Back Pages” -- a cut entitled “Rock ‘N’ Roll Boys.” It sets the tone for a journey that invokes artists ranging from Mott The Hoople to Faces, the Stones and I even heard some Al Green undertones on “Ways of a Woman.” That particular cut winds down with some amazingly harmonic guitar licks. Listen to "Rock 'n' Roll Boys" “Let’s Get Gone,” “Dream Big,” “Harlem Rose," “Things To Learn” and “Married Man” compliment "Rock 'n' Roll Boys" as straight to your gut rock shots. “Foolish Kind” is Byrd embracing Rod (the Mod) Stewart and owning the outcome. “One Less Love” “and "Ways of a Woman” are Juke-like (always a good thing) while "Wide Open" is as close to emotionally raw as one dares to venture. The album’s closer “Turnstile 01” is a post 9/11 New York street life serenade. When asked about some of the most etched memories of his career, Ricky said, “You know I got to see the world, I’ve played everywhere. I’ve toured with Roger Daltry, Graham Parker, Ian Hunter and Southside. I’ve performed with many of my favorite players. I watched the Blackhearts go from a van to a Winnebago to a tour bus to two tour busses to three." When pressed, he reflects, “We had a five night gig at Broadway’s Lund Fontaine Theater. For God’s sake, John Barrymore played that house! One night, early in the set, I happened to look up at the private boxes that overhang the orchestra section. Damned if David Bowie wasn’t sitting in the one closest to the stage. Bowie was watching me. Now THAT was a trip!”
What's now, what's next
We circle back to the new album and the changed business realities confronting artists today. When I think of indie artists I immediately think of new bands and solo artists just venturing into the realm of the industry. Not so says Byrd. Lifer was recorded and produced in two locations -- Nashville and New York -- by Ray Kennedy (five-time Grammy winner) and Bob Stander, who does double duty on bass. “The economic realities of recording allowed me the luxury of getting the process rolling in Nashville but the album got finished in my home studio," Byrd explains. Byrd has assembled a new band, The Skeleton Crew, and they have embarked on their first round of gigs. Scarlet Rowe and Shawn Murray have joined forces with Byrd and, based on reports from early shows, these guys are rockin' the house. Byrd is also active and deeply committed to using the power of music to reach those in desperate straits. He is frequently seen with Richie Supa at treatment centers, performing acoustic, for those in the earliest stages of addiction recovery. “The message is you don’t need booze or drugs to party like a rock star. You just need the rock,” says Byrd, after 26 years of sobriety himself. The full blown Rockers in Recovery Band includes Byrd, Supa, Kasim Sultan, Liberty DeVitto, Mark Stein and Christine Olhman. Ricky Byrd is a real rock 'n' roll lifer. Yea for him and yea for us. Lifer is available on CD and MP3. Whattya waiting for? Get it already! Review and interview by Jim Smith