From Joan Jett to the Jukes, and many places in between! That’s one way to describe the newest addition to the Asbury Jukes, guitarist Ricky Byrd. A true rock and roller to the bone, and an all around nice guy, Ricky Byrd has quite a history, not to mention some awfully big shoes to fill. For anyone who may still be confused, Byrd has been asked to fill in for Bobby Bandiera, while our beloved prankster goes off to tour with Bon Jovi on his “Have a Nice Day” tour.
But Byrd is by far no newcomer to the scene. His limited edition solo live CD, “Tough Room...This World” has gathered praise from Billboard Magazine and Music Insider alike. And with a new CD in the works, this man had plenty to talk about in a recent online interview.
Could you perhaps start off by explaining to the Jukes fans who may not know the situation, how you became a Juke?
What can I say….my reputation proceeds me…but in spite of that I still got the call from Southside! Actually it started January 2005, when I was asked to open for the band at B.B. Kings club here in NYC. That night I played a 45 minute solo acoustic set to a packed house of bloodthirsty Jukes fans. One would think that would be an intimidating situation… Nah! I just put on my glad rags, strapped on my Red Gibson J-200 and gave ‘em what for. If it weren’t for the one guy yelling “ Fever” after every song it would have been a wonderful night. Seriously, the crowd was great and I had a blast.
Before my set Johnny asked if I wanted to do a song together. We agreed on Sam Cooke’s “Soothe Me” and I told him I do it in the key of “A.” Sure enough, halfway through my set Johnny jumps up on stage and I start the tune. Everything’s peachy until he pulls out his harp and starts blowin’ on the break. Unfortunately it slipped my mind that I tune my guitar down a half step and I’m actually in A Flat. Oops!! Southside shoots me a look (a middle finger may also have been involved in the incident) which I’ve now become quite familiar with. We had a good laugh and eventually crawled from the wreckage to finish the song to “thunderous” applause. (O.K… so I tend to exaggerate)
The next day Bill, Southside’s manager, calls and says Johnny had fun last night and would I be interested in bein’ a part time Juke. He gave me the lowdown on Bobby’s future misadventures with Bon Jovi and how the Jukes will be short six strings.I quickly consulted with my consigliere (That would be my wife, Carol) and agreed to keep Bobby’s seat warm until he gets tossed ...I mean returns!
How has it been working with the band so far?
Both band and crew have been great! The first few shows I was just trying to get my footing and might have played one or two...well maybe three or four wrong chords. Nary a dirty look was thrown my way. It can be tough joining up with a gang that’s been together for as long as these mugs have but they’ve really made it easy for me. And I can honestly say that after doing a dozen or so shows with the Jukes they’ve truly become the brothers I’ve never wanted!
There’s quite a library of songs you had to learn....
You ain’t kidding sister! Right now I know my way around almost 40 songs, which is just the tip of the iceberg with this band. And learning the songs was only half the battle. The fun really starts once we hit the stage. The man has absolutely no respect for a set list. LOL. Oh sure...it starts off nice and orderly but about 3 or 4 songs in, Johnny gets that gleam in his eye and we’re off to the races.
The first show I did without Bobby to lean on, I said to Johnny backstage…”You know the old expression.. ‘If it ain’t on the page, it ain’t on the stage?’” He just looked at me and laughed! That night I realized I could either spend the entire show trying to connect the dots or just surrender to the fact that Johnny will inevitably call out songs that are:
A) Not on the list or
B) I’ve never heard before
ex.: An obscure Trini Lopez B side (I’m sure that’s comin’)
Well I decided to have a grand old time and not worry about a damn thing!
What is your favorite Jukes song to play at the moment?
‘Cadillac Jack’ because it’s got that drunken sailor feel that I love! Anything with swagger is OK by me. It don’t matter to me whether its Rock and Roll, Soul or Blues, slow, fast or mid tempo. As long as the feel is below the waist…I’m in.
It seems evident by watching you that you have adapted nicely to playing with the Jukes and are enjoying yourself onstage.
That’s good to hear because I’m having a great time. I‘ve never been a stand-in-one-spot kind of guitar player. I like to stroll over to the horns and get involved in some of that action or turn around and lock in with Joe on drums. When it’s a two guitar show I’ll visit Bobby’s side and try and get that “at the count of three, draw” thing going. Kazee is always wearing shades so I can’t tell if he’s looking at me or not. Sometimes I have to blow him a kiss just to see if I’ve got his attention.
When it’s a full band, me and Muddy are on the same side sharing a mic, so the poor guy spends a lot of time trying to untangle himself from my cable. He’s been incredibly helpful to me on stage, giving me cues and chords when I occasionally get hopelessly lost.
And then there’s Southside who prowls the stage like a little kid looking to get into trouble. I love it when he’s hunched over with harp and vintage mic in hand sounding like he’s trying to contact Junior Wells on the other side! He can definitely send the Jukes sound into some greasy territory which is where I’m the happiest. I like the guy because he wants it to be fun and he wants it to be real, warts and all. That feeling’s good to be around onstage. That’s rock and roll! Now if only the SOB would stop grabbing my ass!
Many people also remember you as an original member of Joan Jett and the Blackhearts. I know Joan and Johnny go way back, but did you ever play on the same bill as the Jukes when you were a Blackheart?
Not a clue! I played with Jett from 81-93 and sobered up in 87 so anything pre 12 step is a little fuzzy. We were on tour constantly and wound up on a lot of long tours with Aerosmith, ZZ top, The Police, Deep Purple, Cheap Trick etc.. Those I remember, but the one-offs were all over the place… a show with The Beach Boys here, Chuck Berry there, The Who, Journey, Foreigner, Jerry Lee Lewis, Queen, and on and on. In the summer we would do festivals with like 10 bands on the bill so….we must have played together but don’t ask me to swear to it. Maybe Johnny remembers because that wing of my brain has been closed for years (LOL)
I know Joan Jett’s music is quite different in style than that of the Asbury Jukes. But are there any similarities or differences you have noticed on stage as far as their approaches?
Well one thing is for sure, the whole time I was a Blackheart the set list basically remained the same. Slight changes when a new song was added or something was dropped, but essentially it was the same order for all those years.I’ve been playing with the Jukes for about 6 months and haven’t done the same set twice. The other thing I notice is the passion they both have onstage. When the show is over the tank reads empty! There’s nothing left to give. From where I stand, Johnny really cares about the music he’s playing. Whether it’s an old blues tune, a soul song, a pop hit or something out of left field he gives it that “Thang” The worst thing for me to watch is someone just going through the motions onstage. That really pisses me off! Don’t waste my time, I could be home hanging out with my beautiful 4-year-old daughter tonight! If we’re gonna do it lets give them their moneys worth. The business part of what we do is pretty much a pain in the ass. The “music” is all we got, so let’s shoot the works!
What were your musical influences growing up? I see you wearing Keith Richards shirts on stage on occasion...
Yeah… I got a thing for Keef! To me he plays the right stuff at just the right time. Even the wrong stuff is at the right time. Talk about drunken sailor music. There’s a great picture of Keith, my wife and I on my website. He’s in classic mode and I’m fresh out of the factory. Not a scratch on me. It didn’t take me long to catch on though..LOL
It’s pretty simple…A 10 yr. old Byrd watching The Stones on Ed Sullivan. I was like...wow! How long has this been going on? Screaming girls, I felt the twinge from the music and best of all, Ed looked horrified. I was sold! The great thing about a variety show like Sullivan was he had on all kinds of music. I saw Smokey Robinson, Al Green, Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson, Brother Ray, The Temps, Four Tops, Marvin Gaye etc. Even at that age, I was moved!
As far as Rock and Roll bands and my teenage years, I was raised on a steady diet of The Who, Rod and The Faces, Humble Pie (Steve Marriott became a good friend later on. His voice still raises the hair on my arms…I miss the little bastard.) Zep, Bowie, Mott The Hoople, Edgar Winter’s ‘White Trash and Free.’ I’m sure I’m leaving out something but these were my main obsessions.
Guitar influences, I would have to say Keith of course, Albert King, Paul Kossoff (Free), Albert Collins, Jeff Beck, Steve Cropper, Chuck Berry, Leslie West, Clapton (Bluesbreakers-Cream-Derek and the Dominos), Jimmy Page and Johnny Winter. By reading articles on these artists I learned about John Lee Hooker, Otis Redding, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Bobby Womack, T-Bone Walker, Etta James, Willie Dixon, Jimmy Reed, Elmore James. I could go on forever. Basically everyone that’s on my iPod.
Is there someone that you maybe have always idolized, that you’ve had the pleasure of playing with on stage?
Playing “Behind Blue Eyes” with Roger Daltrey at Carnegie Hall. I worked on his last solo CD. Played guitar, co wrote some of the songs and even co produced a track.Then we did a radio and TV tour where we went to stations all over the country with acoustic guitars doing interviews and playing a few “Who” tunes live. We also wound up doing a few charity shows, one of which was Carnegie Hall. It was pretty damn cool!
I also got to tour with Ian Hunter. I gotta tell you that when I played the opening riff to “All The Young Dudes” on stage in London I got a little choked up. Imagine…I’d sit in my room as a kid listening to that song over and over with these big ass head phones I had that came with my “Lafayette Stereo System” and here I was, 20 years or so later, standing next to the man playing Mick Ronson’s guitar bits. Not bad for a kid from the Bronx!
I’ve played “Mississippi Queen” with my friend Leslie West, shared a Marshall amp with Jimmy Page in front of almost a million people and even got to play “Walkin’the Dog” with Rufus Thomas. I’ve got a hundred moments like that. I would love to play “Maggie May” with Rod the Mod. That was a big song for me as a kid. Rod are you listening?
Believe me, it ain’t too shabby playing “I Don’t Want To Go Home “ with you know who!
It’s obvious that you are well qualified for the job, but how do you feel about the big shoes you have been given to fill with the Jukes? Bobby Bandiera has long been amongst the fans’ favorites.
And he should be. He’s a great guitar player. I also think he has a monster voice. But enough about him, lets talk about me! LOL! What I’m doing is learning the key Bobby licks. The ones the fans are used to hearing. He’s been nice enough to coach me at soundcheck, and I’ve been picking them off the CD’s. The rest is going to be strictly Byrd guitar. Love me or leave me, That’s what you get. As far as the Bobby fans go, I’m cuter, funnier and a better dresser! You be the judge. LOL
How does it feel to be a part of a band that has been around almost 30 years?
Johnny should get an award for just stickin’ around this long. But he is a stubborn bastard! People come and go in this business in the blink of an eye, but here he is 30 years later, still making people happy with his Rock and Roll Soul music. They put on a great show (hopefully I’ll bring something to the party) and nobody gets cheated. What more can you ask for? It’s a pleasure to be part of it.
What other bands are you involved in?
As I mentioned at the beginning of this novel, I have my solo acoustic shows, which I affectionately call my “No Band, No headaches Tour.” That’s all original material. I did have a five-piece original band for awhile but I found out after the fact that you should get players coming out of the Betty Ford clinic… not going in!
Then I have this cool band with Liberty Devitto (Billy Joel’s drummer) called NYC Hit Squad. Besides me and Lib there is a revolving cast of pirates like Joe Lynn Turner (Deep Purple), Hugh McDonald (Bon Jovi) or Will Lee (Letterman Band), Christine Ohlman (Saturday Night Live Band), Richie Cannata (Billy Joel sax player), even Mr. Kazee makes an occasional appearance. This band is strictly for fun and we only cover cool Rock and Roll and Soul songs. (See my influences above)
You have a CD of your own out at the moment, right?
Yeah, there is a live CD of an acoustic show at “The Bitter End” in NYC. It’s called ”Tough Room…This World.” Actually I’m on acoustic but I have Simon Kirke (Bad Co.) on drums and Kasim Sulton (Utopia) on bass. It was recorded pretty raw…No fixin’ and little mixin’.
I’ve also been working on my first solo studio CD for about 3 years now. I have 6 tracks totally finished. I’m doing it with Steve Earle produce,r Ray Kennedy. It’s Rock and Roll with a big helping of soul mixed in. Strong melodies and cool guitars. I even have Wayne Jackson from the Memphis Horns on a track. I love what it sounds like so far and I’m achin’ to finish, but between my schedule and Rays it’s been tough. The studio is in Nashville; I’m in NYC. By hook or by crook this baby will be completed. My meter’s not running. It will be done when it’s supposed to be done! I’m just hoping by the time I’m finished, this kind of music will be popular again. LOL Mean time I’ll be putting out an EP of the 6 songs called “Long Story Short.” I’m working on the cover as we speak. You will be able to buy it on my site www.rickybyrd.com as well as at any live shows I’m involved in. I believe you’ll also be able to get it on Southside’s site if he’s still talking to me after this interview. My site also has a pretty cool photo gallery of my checkered past and my questionable present. As you can see I do like to talk, so I’m always babbling on there about one thing or another. WelI, I can see out of the corner of my eye that the Yankee game is about to start.for more info on Ricky Byrd go to or www.rickybyrd.com
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