Formerly, and most famously, the guitarist and musical point-man of Joan Jett's band, the Blackhearts, Ricky Byrd has been called into the service of rock music royalty like the Who's Roger Daltrey, Ian Hunter, and Southside Johnny.
A product of the 1970s New York music scene, Byrd lived out his dreams, toured the world, and worked with his heroes. Unfortunately, those dreams came with the not uncommon side effect of addiction. Now celebrating over 25 years in recovery, Byrd has dedicated much of his time to awareness and fundraising efforts, working with the Rockers in Recovery All Star Band to help those still on their path to the other side.
Byrd also recently took on the role of frontman, and is currently riding the high of his his critically acclaimed debut solo release, Lifer.
We caught up with the New York-bred rocker in anticipation of the RIR band's performance this coming Friday at Fort Lauderdale's Revolution Live to discuss his new album, rock 'n' roll life while dealing with addiction, and how "pirate music" will always be "pirate music."
New Times: Why did it take you so long to put together a solo record?
Ricky Byrd: Uh... I'm lazy! No... That's not it! I left the Blackhearts so long ago, and then I did a couple of really cool things with Ian Hunter and Roger Daltrey and Southside Johnny. I tried to put together a couple of bands. To tell you the truth, I know who I am and I know what I do, but I wasn't quite sure what I wanted to sound like. And then you start trying to fit in, and it's like a process. I put together a couple of bands that were short lived, I did a really cool acoustic thing for a while with Simon Kirke from Free and Kasim Sultan from Utopia, and all of the eye on the ball.
And all of a sudden, a light went off, and I said, "just lead with the truth and do what you (want), and you will find the people that want to buy this." And that's what I did!
It would appear people have been pretty receptive thus far!
Not one bad review! I mean, being in the business a long time, I know that there's a stinker right around the corner! I kind of take them all with a grain of salt because the good ones are just opinions also, but it's a thrill that everyone that's heard it loves it. And not only proper reviewers, but I sold pre-orders on Facebook through my website and every time someone gets one, they write all this great stuff on Facebook, so I can't help but be excited about it!
As someone in recovery from drugs and alcohol, you still fly the flag of swagger-borne rock 'n' roll high and proud. However, someone like Eric Clapton appears to have lost that edge in his sobriety, and I'd say the same about Chris Robinson from the Black Crowes. Do you think that is a side effect of recovery?
I mean, Joe Walsh still has swagger and I know he's sober. I think Clapton just always was a very serious guy, and I think sobriety just made him even more serious. I don't hear any sense of humor in his music anymore, not that he really ever had it, but Derek and the Dominos and "Let it Rain" -- that kind of stuff -- there was an aloofness to it. He takes everything so seriously, he takes his blues so seriously, and blues was kind of joyous even though it could be about losing everything, and maybe that's just his personality. Maybe that's just the kind of guy he is.
I've always thought of myself being somewhere between Keith Richards and Jerry Lewis. I'm just that kind of personality. I can't see Ronnie Wood losing his stride just because he's sober.
I play drunken sailor music, so whether I'm sober or not, it's still the same music!
You and your family got hit pretty hard by Superstorm Sandy. Are you back in your home at this point?
We're back in it, and it's nice and cozy. We had to put in brand new floors, my basement and my studio are totally gutted and gone. but I'll put that stuff back -- maybe not as expensive because who knows who the fuck knows what's going to happen again. Little bits and pieces still need to be finished, but we're in our house, we're sleeping in our beds which is a lot more than a lot of people can say living out in the Rockaways.
It goes out of the news except if you live in New York, and every once in a while they show something from out there. I think it's important to let people know around the country that we're not back to normal. It's a tragic situation, no doubt. I know personally some people that are still living in hotels.
Can you explain what exactly the Rockers in Recovery Band is for those people not familiar with it?
It's Mark Stein from Vanilla Fudge, Liberty Devitto from Billy Joel's band, Christine Ohlman from the Saturday Night Live band, and Richie Supa -- a famous songwriter that played with Aerosmith. Usually we have Kasim Sultan on bass, but Muddy Shews will be filling in for Kas this time. That's the basis of the band.
What someone expect from a RIR Band performance that has not been to one before?
The music is just great, fun cover songs that we've always wanted to play out. So, we do stuff like "Wish it Would Rain," "All the Young Dudes," we do some Vanilla Fudge hits, we do some of Richie's big songs, but the rest of it is kind of a free for all. We do some Otis Redding songs. It's a great time in a safe environment that supports the recovery community.
Susan Israel and Rockers in Recovery Concert Fundraiser to benefit the Special Olympics and Sheriff's Foundation of Broward County. 7 p.m., March 22, at Revolution Live, 100 SW Third Ave., Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $25 or $100 for VIP. This is a sober event.