An Interview with James Byrd of Byrd

1. What was about the blues that hooked you to the guitar?

JB That's an interesting question. When I think about it, I realise that it wasn't really the "The Blues" that attracted me to the blues, but rather, the idea of improvisation with a certain feeling behind the phrasing. The blues as an actual form was not important in other words. It was the creativity within that form, and only certain players resonated with me, chief among them of course being Hendrix.

2. Why Jimi Hendrix - was it his style ?

JB Yes. Hendrix had taken the feeling within the blues and morphed the outer form in a number of ways. He was a remarkably inconsistent guitarist actually, his performance varying widely. When he was "off", he could sound about as awful as imaginable. But when he was "on" -as an example to me- as he was when he played 'All along the Watchtower' or 'Wind Cries Mary' , he was and remains one of the most amazing musicians I've ever heard. He was a natural player. His sense of time was internal and incredible. You don't 'study' to gain a sense of time like that, you either have it or you don't. Very few musicians -including very well known and respected musicians- have a natural sense of time; they're 'stiff' sounding. Hendrix had a fluency and naturalness that was, and for me will always be, utterly compelling. That sense of time is literally in every note, being within the vibrato as well as the initiation of the notes. A part of what he did, I 'studied', but the most important part did not need study because it resonated within me and I absorbed it as naturally as a sponge absorbs water.

3. What made you decide to form bands early on - how did the early gigs go? Do you have any humourous stories you can recollect from these early days?

JB I formed my first band when I was only 13 and we played a middle school dance. The circumstance surrounding that were pretty hilarious in themselves. It was my older cousin who got me interested in Hendrix and music in general from a very early age. My Mother and Father rented a house from my Aunt and Uncle for a couple of years, and my cousin was a musician and band leader. He had a large band, I think about 10 pieces. They covered mostly Chicago and Blood Sweat and Tears, my cousin being a horn player. They were very good, and they used to rehearse in the garage where I lived. I must have been about 7 years old at the time, and I was in awe of the spectacle. My cousin also knew how to play rhythm guitar and bass, and he was responsible for about 5 or 6 of the only guitar lessons I ever had, showing me how to tune the guitar, and how to play bar chords. Well, going back to my first band about 5 years later, I had put together a band when I was 13, and we didn't have a bass player. We booked a gig anyway, and then I went to my cousin to borrow amps from his band and said, 'by the way, will you play bass for us at the gig?' God bless him, he did! So along with learning to play songs by Deep Purple and Jimi Hendrix at a very early age, I was also learning how to talk people into things! -very important later on!- .

4. Do you prefer working as a solo artist or do you much prefer it in a band situation?

JB I have only been in one 'Band' where everything was 'up for debate' and a vote, and I would never do it again. That was Fifth Angel. I'm not saying it can't work, it does sometimes, or for a time, and I marvel at bands who stay together for long periods of time and succeed because it's so difficult to do. But I don't think if one is intent on being an artist, that it's a wise path usually. You're hanging your path and chances on the whims and desires of others, and if you are not grounded on your own, it's a huge risk. I like the freedom of self-expression that going my own way allows me, and I'm willing to pay the price; being responsible for the outcome, and doing most of the work.

5. Which band have you most enjoyed playing with and why?

JB I would say it was my first original band in about 1980-1981. You've never heard of it, and later I formed Fifth Angel, but we were a 4 piece; guitar, bass, drums, and a vocalist. We used to throw these parties at the house we rehearsed in, and 400 people would show up. That was a blast. The 'audience' was 3 feet away, and we'd play a set, then party with them, then play another set. We had only about an hour and a half of original and cover material, but we'd play from 9 PM or so, until the police came, which they always did.

6. Do you recommend trying to get your band signed - or is it a rather hard business to succeed in?

JB Yes I think it's a hard business, but if one really has the goods -a professional recording-, getting a label to put it out is not impossible. But you're going to have to get used to hearing "No thanks" a lot, no matter how good you are. If we're talking about 'major labels' here, I say forget it in terms of your talent alone being the determining factor; You may as well buy lottery tickets if you're hopes are pinned on being a 'Pop-star'. But if you're a serious musician, and what you do is grounded in virtuosity and artistic expression, you can get your music picked up by a label and released. The quality factor is the most important thing in this case, but you're still going to hear 'no thanks' many times because in general, very few people on the business recognise talent, and even if they do, most of them have their 'finger in the wind' and are trying to be the next 'Big label'. You're also going to have endure the frustration of watching vastly inferior product get picked up ahead of you and promoted much of the time. The element of chaos still rules, but when you're committed as a serious musician, this factor can eventually be overcome. It took me almost two years to find a deal for 'flying beyond the 9' and I was almost at the point of giving up when I hooked up with Lion Music. I got some of the stupidest rejection you can possible imagine, and then of course, I'm pretty certain that some labels avoided me because they knew that if they screwed me, I would not be afraid to just say so. That's the other end of 'the business'; You will get screwed by someone at some point. I got screwed -financially speaking- for from day one -1983- , until I left Shrapnel Records in 1996. The business is filled with people who'll hurt you, and if you come to a point of not being willing to tolerate it any further, the pool of labels who'll be willing to strike a fair agreement with you shrinks even further. So I would say that in summation, even if you're a serious musician who really has their act together, the odds of getting a deal are not certain, and the odds of getting fair treatment are ver low.

7. How did you get signed up with Lion Music and what made you choose them?

JB They actually came to me. They found me through and asked me to play on the Jason Becker tribute "Warmth in the Wilderness". I already had 'flying beyond the 9' finished except for mixing, but at first, I didn't even mention it. I just said "of course I'll play on the tribute". A couple of weeks later, I emailed Lasse at Lion and said "By the way, I have a nearly finished new album that needs a home, do you want to hear it?"
They said " Yes, send it in". They jumped on the album right away, but as I said, I had had almost two years of nothing but rejection letters. In all honesty, I had no way of knowing that Lion Music would deal with me honestly, I took a chance. I'm really glad I did at this point because so far, they have kept every promise they made, and been the coolest people I've ever dealt with.

8. Are you in contact much with Malmsteen - since he really likes your style etc.?

JB I haven't talked with Yng in several months, I think he's out. Our hang-time -naturally- depends on his tour schedule mostly. Once in a while he'll ring me up from the road.

9. Are you planning to play in Britain - if so - who with, where and when?

JB I have no plans for a tour at this point.

10. What made you decide to form a guitar company?

JB Well, I'm not a "Guitar Company" in the sense of mass production -at this point-, I'm a guy who's designed and patented an instrument; the ByrdÔ Super Aviantiâ Balance Compensated Wingâ guitar, and I've personally built and sold a few instruments to players who could afford them. But the short story is, I wanted an instrument that no one made, and it turned into a full-scale effort.

11. How is the company?

JB Small! But the assets are considerable in terms of a research base and intellectual property. I hope to eventually strike a licensing agreement with a manufacturer, but that's been an uphill battle, not a lot different than trying to get signed. I'm working on it.

12. How do your guitar designs differ from others?

JB Firstly, I actually play guitar. Most if not all guitar designs, are not the products or vision of a guitarist, but of marketing departments. I also have a 20+ year back ground in automotive prototype fabrication that's come in handy. So they're designed from a player's personal experience; the controls are well placed, the switching is designed for maximum flexibility -7 sounds- and minimum complexity to enable the player to think about playing. They are ergonomically shaped to fit the player perfectly. The playing surface is free from burrs because the pickguard assemblies have been precision inlayed into the face of the instrument, as opposed to being screwed on top of the body. It's a bolt-on neck, but instead of 4 screws with a big ugly chrome plate, it's five recessed bolts and the neck-heel is blended right into the neck like a glued on neck. The head-stock is a hybrid between left and right handed guitars -also separately patented- to give the benefits of a left-handed tuner configuration on the top four strings, and eliminates the need for string trees. This means that the my guitars have a better balance of string tension, the tremelos work better, and they hold their tuning better. The pickups don't hum -like Fenderâ-, but they have a vintage single coil sound. Even the fret finishing is special. In short, everything I know about playing the guitar, and about engineering, has been incorporated into these instruments. Without too much modesty, they play, feel, and sound amazing. I also think they look pretty damn fine.

13. How is the new album doing - Flying beyond the 9? What's next?

JB I don't have a sales report, but the reviews have been absolutely stellar.

14. How did you come up with the incredible musical style? Influences etc?

JB It's all a big melting pot really. I just try to better myself with every album. I'm very self-critical.

15. Who have you toured with recently? Or like to in the future?

JB I haven't toured in many years.

16. Where does your material enjoyed mainly e.g Countries, types of gigs etc?

JB It's tough to say since so much of that depends on how much promotion and/or visibility one has in a given market. I have noticed though that I seem to have a lot of support in France and Germany.

[Notice: "Super Avianti" and "Balance Compensated Wing" are Nationally registered trademarks of The Byrd Ô Guitar Co. It is requested that the 'R' within the circle, be used whenever the marks are referenced in print to acknowledge and protect the legal rights to the mark holder and the registered claim status of the trademark/s. Thank you.]