Flippin off the Fucking New Yawk Byrd
February 7, 2003
I got the chance to pick the brain of the former Blackheart from the Bronx, Ricky Byrd. He has ideas about everything and anything. That fucking kicks ass in a person. I met the man behind the guitar. Read on!
MusicIncider: What is your birth date?
Ricky: October 20 (We will be inducting him into the Libra Association soon.)
MusicIncider: Do you believe in psychics? Why or why not?
Ricky: I believe anything is possible in this world, but I don’t necessarily believe in TV psychics. You know, the ones for 3.99 a minute, but I am sure there are certain people that have the gift of knowing more than the rest of us.
MusicIncider: Have you ever inhaled?
Ricky: Yeah, I have. Enough for many people, but that was a long time ago. Only my hair is chemically dependent now.
MusicIncider: Who are your musical influences and why?
Ricky: It goes from one end to the other. Al Green, because I love his voice. I have this real simple way to see if the music is moving me. If the hair goes up on my arms and I get this chill-than it moves me. The music either does or doesn’t. So Al Green does it. Otis Redding does it. Early Rod Stewart does it, and the Stones go to the top of the list. Sam Cooke, same thing, he had this great voice and this great phrasing. Sam Cooke had this sense of melody that nobody has had before or since. He possibly got it from the gospel that he grew up on. Stones, Faces, the Who-just because of their teen angst when I was a kid. Humble Pie I grew up on-Steve Marriott was one of my favorite vocalists…and he became a friend later on, early eighties. He had this powerful voice.
When I was a kid in New York, I moved from the Bronx to Queens. I hung with this little group of people, and believe it or not, every third person didn’t play guitar back then. There were like four people that played guitar in the whole school, so we hung in a clique. In this little clique that I grew up with, we loved English music. We used to buy Melody Maker all of the time. I dressed like that. When I was fourteen, I was wearing a velvet jacket and my hair was all spiked up. You know, scarves around my neck, and tight pants. And this was all from Melody Maker, where I saw The Faces, and The Kinks, and The Who. I was just in love with British rock. The American stuff that I liked was the soul music like the Temptations. The reason that I got to see that stuff was hearing it on radio, and seeing it on the Ed Sullivan Show. I could see The Kinks, Sam and Dave, Tom Jones…all in one show. Radio was the same thing. AM Radio played all that stuff on one station. I love Sinatra too. I heard all of that because in the old days, radio and TV played all of that stuff on the same station. It wasn’t so divided. A lot of people are missing out on some really cool music.
MusicIncider: Tell me the story of how a guitar first wound up in your hands.
Ricky: Well, it is the same as a lot of people my age say. It was the Ed Sullivan show. I was a quiet little shy kid. I grew up in the Bronx as an only child. I didn’t fit in with the smart kids. I didn’t fit in with the leather jacket greaser kids. I was right in that weird place in the middle. It was hard to find a little clique.- When I saw the Stones on the Ed Sullivan Show, I saw these skinny guys shaking around with large noses and girls screaming. I was like yeah, this works, I could do this.
After this, my mom came home with this little acoustic guitar which I still have. This little no name acoustic, between that and seeing the Stones on the Ed Sullivan Show, I just started to play. I picked it up really fast. When my parents divorced, we moved in with my grandparents. My grandfather came from this big family where each one of them played an instrument. My grandfather played this Hawaiian lap steel. He would sit with this guitar, which is from the twenties, and show me these songs. I still have this guitar today. He would help me learn them on the acoustic guitar. So it was like a couple of things meeting at the crossroads. I play bass a little, all kinds of guitars, and I play mandolin a little bit.
MusicIncider: Tell me about Ricky Byrd’s musical history.
Ricky: I started playing in bands at church dances, doing stuff like Humble Pie and Maggie May. I read an article in the paper that some band from Boston was looking for a guitar player. I was about seventeen. They were called Susan, and they were from Boston. I think they put out a single, or something like that. I answered the ad. I got the gig, and they moved to New York. We started playing the clubs in New York. I met Carol in 1977. She brought Tommy Mottola to one of our rehearsals. He signed us on the spot to a production deal. He signed us to RCA. We did one record. We toured the country opening for Graham Parker and the Rumor and a band called Squeeze. After that, we played here in New York at the Academy of Music which later turned into the Palladium. The Palladium is now gone and is a Circuit City.
We did one tour. The band broke up.-
Tommy managed Hall and Oates. - Hall and Oates guitar player, G.E. Smith, became a friend of mine. He later became the guitar player on Saturday Night Live.-Tommy asked me to do a tour with him as his other guitar player. I did a tour with G.E. . When that was done, I didn’t know what to do next. At that point I met Steve Marriott from Humble Pie, and he wanted me to be part of the last version of Humble Pie.
At the same time John Waite left The Babys, a band in England, and came to New York. Somebody hooked us up and thought we would be great together. We met at a club and started writing. We were talking about putting together a band. At the same time , Carol worked at Leber Krebs. Joan Jett and Kenny Laguna used to sell records out of their car (The Bad Reputation Record), and they had this little office in the back of Leber Krebs. They told Carol they were looking for a guitar player. She mentioned me. I went down and auditioned for Joan. We played a couple of songs together. I had a choice to make. Humble Pie, one of my favorite bands from when I was a kid. John Waite, one of the great rock and roll voices of all time, or playing with Joan. I obviously took the Joan gig. We recorded the I Love Rock and Roll record. We went on the road. It became number one. The Blackhearts had about five or six years. We were doing really great-I Hate Myself for Loving You, Crimson and Clover-then it got a little Spinal Tappy, through a lot of different circumstances. Such as Neil Bogart dying, and switching record labels two or three times, etc. After a few albums, we hooked up with that writer (I can’t remember his name.) that co-wrote I Hate Myself with Joan. He was the guy that co-wrote Living On A Prayer and Living La Vida Loca. I co-wrote about fourteen songs with Joan over the course of the time that I was there. I played with her and the band from 1981 to 1993. I left the band and got a couple of publishing deals, one right after the other-I was with Sony for about four years. And then what happened was, I got a call from Roger Daltrey. I did a Roger Daltrey record, and then I did a radio tour with him. We did Regis & Kathy Lee. We did Letterman. That was cool. I got to play with a guy that I once stood on line for four hours to see when I was a kid. Roger is like the coolest guy in the universe. My birthday was at Abbey Road Studios in 1993, and he gave me one of Pete’s Les Paul guitars that he had hanging out in his basement, which was pretty damn cool. After that, I did a tour with Ian Hunter. It was right after Mick Ronson passed away. I can’t explain the feeling of playing the opening riff to All The Young Dudes, a song that I had been listening to since I was thirteen. Then I made a commitment to stay home and work on my own stuff. I tried putting together a couple of bands in New York, and I just couldn’t get the right combination. Carol suggested I just go out with my acoustic guitar and just play solo. It changed my life.
I went out and started playing and writing and just creating my own style. I couldn’t have done this if I had just played electric because I was so up to my neck in the style that I had for so many years. It started adding layers to what I already had, being the front man, playing on acoustic and having to write differently. Since then, I have just been working on my own stuff. I put a record out. It was a live record that I put out about four years ago. It started out as (the record) just a vehicle where we wanted to get more gigs. I got a great review with Billboard on that CD.
But we did this four track thing here at The Bitter End here in Manhattan. I had Simon Kirke, from Bad Company, on drums. I had Kasim Sulton (The Blackhearts, Meatloaf) on bass. We did this little live record that I sell at gigs and on my website. My website is rickybyrd.com. There are all these cool pictures from my career on there and other tidbits.
It came to the point were I was ready to do a studio record. I wanted to find a producer. There are a couple of people that I love now, Steve Earle and Lucinda Williams. I love that kind of stuff. The guy that co produced a lot of that music is named Ray Kennedy. He lives in Nashville. He is a real eccentric, crazy guy. I went to Nashville and chased him down. I said dude, I want you to produce my music. I had to wait. He was doing another Steve record. He was doing a Ron Sexsmith record. I had to bide my time. This was 97-98, and I am still not finished with the record. It took a while for him to get back to me. I finally went down there November of 2001, so right after September 11th I went down. We did about twelve songs. Ten of them are going to make it to the record probably. I am still not finished. Right now, he’s remixing the sampler that we are going to send out to move to square two. What kind of music is it?-It is a combination of everything that I grew up on. It’s got a lot of rock and roll in it. It has R&B soul in it-a little Al Green, A Little Otis. It is just the cool stuff that I grew up on, and it is what I have been waiting all my life to do. I have the Memphis Horns on it.
I am just grooving like a big dog in space. Hoping we don’t go to war. I got a beautiful baby named Francesca Leigh and all is good in my world.
MusicIncider: Tell me your feeling and opinions about 9-11.
Ricky: I have a song called Turnstile that’s going to be on this record. It is about my feelings about New York. 9-11? Shock, Horror. We were just getting up that morning. We watched it on TV. I didn’t quite hear the plane, because you hear planes all of the time. I was watching the news. All of the sudden, the guy starts screaming on the radio. People went running past our apartment building covered in white, and covered in debris. Who knew what was going to happen next? We were evacuated the next night because we live near the Empire State Building and there were all those bomb threats. The armory where the families were going is like three blocks from our apartment so we spent a lot of time down there just trying to be helpful. I spent a couple of long nights down near the site volunteering at one of the feeding centers. You just felt like you had to do something.
MusicIncider: What kind of memorial would you pick for 9-11 victims?
I would make sure that the footprint of the place was a beautiful park where people could go, and then start from around that.
MusicIncider: Tell me what you think of two baseball teams. The two teams are the New York Yankees, and the Atlanta Braves.
Ricky: Well, I don’t give a fuck about the Atlanta Braves because we beat them (laughing). That was an amazing World Series. I was there. In fact, on my birthday in 96 I was at the game. Carol had Happy Birthday Ricky Byrd up on the board for me, which was really cool. It totally surprised me. My friend that knew what was going to happen took a picture of it, and I had an 11” X 17” print made. I have been having Yankees sign it. Carol calls me a stretched out twelve year old, but that’s me. I grew up in the Bronx, right up the block from Yankee stadium, and I have season tickets. That’s my peace now. That’s where I go back to be twelve years old. I go to about thirty games a year. Last year, we sucked and we didn’t deserve to go any further than we went. The year before that was the most emotional and incredible year. I went to all of the World Series games right here in New York. It was surreal. I was there the night Bush threw out the first ball-just the fear of going up there. In fact, there’s a book out that I was mentioned in by this fireman friend of mine named John McCole called The Second Tower’s Down. On the first or second night, I went over to the firehouse to get one of their memorial sweatshirts to wear to the game-it turns out one of my friends, Lieutenant Mickey Kross, was one of the guys they pulled out alive-and this fireman asked me if I would bring a banner and hang it. To make a long story short, they spray painted one of the sheets that they were using down at ground zero with the Engine Company 16 Ladder 7, and all the guys’ names. I brought it on the train-which if you remember, all Ted Koppel talked about was anthrax-all these people were saying fuck you, you can’t stop America and taking the trains. All I could think about was anthrax, but fuck that man it was the Yankees World Series!
I spent so much time at the firehouse that I had five minutes to stop at my apartment and get the tickets. I stuck my hand in the drawer and grabbed the wrong tickets. I grabbed the unused playoff tickets instead of the Series tickets-so I got up to the stadium and had the wrong tickets. Believe it or not, I found a young detective and somehow talked my way in to the World Series. I never even mentioned that I used to play with Joan Jett and the Blackhearts. I just said “I swear to you, I have season tickets.” I got to hang the banner, and the story wound up in this book.
MusicIncider: Tell me what you think about America going to war. Be sure to tell me who you think is more dangerous, North Korea or Iraq?
Ricky: My personal opinion is I don’t know who’s more dangerous. I want to know what’s up George Bush’s sleeve, and I want to know where Osama went and how come nobody talks about him. Do I want to see the nice men and women giving their best to their families on The Good Morning America show from Kuwait slaughtered? No. Do I think we have learned anything in all of these years since we have been around-No. We are still fucking fighting? What the fuck is going on? On top of everything, I feel that we have a freaking target here on our back in New York. So, the point being is, I fucking hate war and I wish they would find another way out. I hope that the reasons they are doing this are for what they say, and not for some asshole political reason that we don’t know about. If blood is going to be spilled for the wrong reason, god help these people that run this country.
MusicIncider: What do you think of George Bush?
Ricky: I watch TV. I watched him yesterday giving a rah-rah speech talking about the evil people, and it’s like trying to wrestle the car keys away from your drunk friend. You know he’s going to hit a tree and there’s nothing you can do about it, but he is our president.
MusicIncider: If you could be anybody on The Sopranos, who would it be?
Ricky: I would love to play Steven Van Zandt’s part. He runs the bar. He runs the strip club. He’s on there just enough that his acting ability works. I wouldn’t want to be Tony.
MusicIncider: Explain your New York DNA. Is it different than Yonkers DNA?
Ricky: I grew up in the Bronx. I have a way that I speak that I can’t help. Sometimes I put “but” at the end of a sentence, and Carol goes, what does that mean (ha ha)? Carol grew up in Brooklyn. I guess I am a little hard. I have a warped sense of humor. We’re New York ya know. We were freaking crazy before 9-11 happened . Not to take anything away from the rest of the country. I think we handled it better than a lot of other places would have. We did what we had to do. We stood up. We went to work every day. People don’t realize until they come here and see that fucking hole and how big it is about what really happened.
I went down to Nashville after it happened and they were crying just from me telling them about it. We’re an interesting bunch (New Yawkers) ya know. We got the biggest hearts in the world and we are the toughest people in the world.
MusicIncider: If you were stranded on a desert island, and you could have only one person, one book, and one cd with you; who would that person be and why? What would that book be, and why? What would that cd be, and why?
Ricky: Oh shit. Cd-s Exile On Main Street, Gasoline Alley, and some incredible Staxs Volt compilation. Book-I love autobiographies from people from the twenties and thirties. The book would be My Wicked Wicked Ways by Errol Flynn. The person(s) would be Carol and my daughter Francesca Leigh, and if there is room for one more person-Sandra Bullock.
MusicIncider: What do you consider to be your greatest achievement?
Ricky: My baby. She’s gorgeous. She’s funny as hell. She has the loudest cry. She’s just the greatest thing. I run home at the end of the day just to play with her. I can’t say enough. The whole article would be about her. She’s just got the greatest smile in the world. When she pounds on this little piano somebody got her, we call her Frankie Leigh Lewis.
MusicIncider: Describe yourself as a person.
Ricky: I am an adult who still has a lot of kid in me. I love baseball games. I play softball. I love playing with my kid and her toys. I love Play Station 2, but I am a responsible adult. My sense of humor is pretty left field. I see things kind of bizarre. I have a good time with life. I used up all my dance tickets. I have been on the other side now for about fifteen years, nice and clean. No regrets. I had a great time. I am having a better time now. I just look forward to great stuff musically. Hopefully the world will hold together. I like shit like the Catskills Comics. I like Woody Allen movies. I like Jerry Lewis-so maybe I am part French (funny!). I like Warner Brother’s cartoons. I love Italian food. I love brunettes. My favorite place to be?-Yankee Stadium on a hot August afternoon watching the Yankees kick Atlanta’s ass.
MusicIncider: Tell me about your latest project. When is it going to be released?
Ricky: Ah honey, I got to finish it first. Whether we find a record company to finish it, or I finish it myself-this baby is getting’ done! I know there’s a market out there, because everybody who loves the kind of music that I love didn’t just go away. They are out there somewhere. Build a field and they will come.
MusicIncider: What was your most memorable live show that you played and why?
Ricky: Shea Stadium wasn’t too shabby. We opened for the Police in 1983. I played Carnegie Hall with Roger Daltrey. That wasn’t bad.
MusicIncider: If you were not a musician, what would you be doing now?
Ricky: I would probably be a stand up comic in the Catskills or something. –If there were still a Catskills- When I was fourteen, I was playing in a rock band in the mountains chasing Catholic school girls on ski weekends.
MusicIncider: Where do you find the inspiration for your songwriting and lyrics?
Ricky: Well, it’s all different. Turnstile came from September 11th. It is not about September 11th, it is a love letter to my city. I just start playing guitar and a line will come out. I’ll just mumble something and it will be a really cool line. That’s what happens-it’s all different.
MusicIncider: Do you believe in reincarnation, why or why not?
Ricky: Oh yeah man! I am from the twenties, definitely. I still say overcoat.
MusicIncider: If you believe in reincarnation, in all of history who would
you want to be and why?
Ricky: Somebody from show business during the time period that I love, which is the thirties and forties-maybe someone like Milton Berle. He was rumored to have a V-E-R-Y big instrument. He was known to be a ladies man and he was funny as shit-what more could you ask for.
MusicIncider: How do you feel the music industry has changed over the years?
How have you been affected? How do you think the music has changed?
Ricky: First of all, I don’t think I have been affected because I just do what I do. How do I feel the music industry has changed? I think there are some great people out there. I watch American Idol-which I watch because I think Paula Abdul is cute. I watch and I wonder-where are the little Stevie Wonder’s? Where’s Sam Cooke? Where’s a sixteen year old Judy Garland? The bar has been lowered. There are a couple of really cool people in this batch this year that have great voices. To me, the good news is that they aren’t necessarily the cookie cutter looking teen pop idols that we see on MTV.
MTV added this whole other dimension. Rock and roll lost its mystique. Everybody knows what everybody’s life is all about. You see them constantly.
Every once and a while you have somebody amazing that changes the music. Kurt Cobain changed the face of music. As far as soul stuff goes, I think Macy Gray is great. Usher is cool. There’s some cool stuff out there. To me the bar has been lowered. A lot of people see people artists on MTV and think that is what it takes to get somewhere when maybe they are not ready, or maybe they just don’t have it. Once again, I just want to know where the little Stevie Wonder’s are.
MusicIncider: Who do you think the greatest musician of all time is and why?
Ricky: Elvis wasn’t too shabby those first couple of years, although I do Burning Love in my show from which comes from his later music. The greatest musician-I am sure it has nothing to do with rock and roll. We are talking about Mozart, Bach and stuff like that.
Rock and roll? Well now you are talking about something different. There are people who are amazing technically, people who raise the hair on your arms, and people that do both. If you ask me, Keith Richards’s guitar playing gives me a freaking woody, but is he the greatest guitar player ever? I don’t think so. There are people like Charlie Christian, and Django Reinhardt. They played jazz. It is like apples and oranges. Can you compare Keith Richards to Eddie Van Halen? Eddie is an amazing musician. Does he do the same thing to me as Keith Richards? No. That’s just me.
MusicIncider: Where do see yourself and your music five years from now?
Ricky: Well, hopefully I will be playing the music that I want to play-traveling the world playing my stuff and just being happy at it. I want to have a nice life-life is too short.
MusicIncider: What is your favorite song of all time and why?
Ricky: There’s just too many. I like different songs for different reasons.
MusicIncider: What advice would you give to somebody trying to make it in the
Ricky: Have no expectations. Make sure you have fun. When somebody hears your band and wants to sign them and says we are like a family here-trust me, turn and run the other way. You don’t need another family.
MusicIncider: If you were King of the World, how would you change it?
Ricky: I would make All Green relevant in music again (Ricky laughs). I would make some scary motherfucker come down from another planet, like in the movie The Day The Earth Stood Still and say-if you people don’t get your shit together; you are done, and watch how fast everybody becomes one.
MusicIncider: Give me your favorite quote of all time.
Ricky: You live, you die, and every once in a while you get a good sandwich.
MusicIncider: If you could be any superhero in the world, who would it be?
Ricky: I am not sure who he would be, but one thing I know for sure is I would have the power to stop those planes from running into those buildings.
I would like to thank The Queen Scorpio of Kayos Productions for the opportunity to speak with her amazing husband. Ricky Byrd is truly a multi-faceted individual.
MusicIncider is a copyrighted and wholly owned subsidiary of Barbara Ann Fara Productions, Inc. 2003