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Ricky Byrd sings about sobering times, 5 Things to Know

By Gary Graff
ggraff@medianewsgroup.com, @GraffonMusic on Twitte

Posted: Friday, April 30, 2021

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Ricky Byrd may be a spokesman for recovery, but rock 'n' roll remains an addiction he's happy to maintain.

The guitarist and songwriter started young, growing up in the Bronx and -- after seeing the Beatles and Rolling Stones play on "The Ed Sullivan Show" -- starting his own band Susan. Byrd (nee Bird) was part of Joan Jett's Blackhearts from 1981-91, inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with the band in 2015. It was also during that time, in 1987, that he got sober.

Byrd's other credits include recording and touring with the Who's Roger Daltrey, Paul McCartney, Ian Hunter, Alice Cooper and many others. He's also active in the recovery field as a coach and counselor, and his latest solo albums -- 2017's "Clean Getaway" and last year's "Sobering Times" -- continue that work in song, using Byrd's experiences to inform the music...

• Byrd, 64, says by phone that "Sobering Times" was largely finished before the Covid-19 pandemic. "We got right to the finish line right when everything shut down," he notes. But it's nonetheless "frustrating" to have an album out and, at least to date, nowhere to really play it. "Obviously a lot of gigs I would be doing this year and last have been canceled, and I can't really go out and promote this, live for the foreseeable future. So I'm catching upon every Netflix show ever made. And now it's baseball season, so I can watch every Yankees game I can."

• While he describes "Clean Getaway" and "Sobering Times" as "Ricky Byrd rock 'n' roll," Byrd does feel a calling to incorporate aspects of recovery into his music now. "It's the reaction I get from people that are either struggling with all kinds of addictions or people that are already in recovery, where they're identifying with the lyrics. I get reactions from people around the world, saying 'Oh, you told my story. I identified with the lyrics. It sounds like me.' That gave me the enthusiasm to move word and find a way to combine rock 'n' roll and recovery and make it helpful. We already know that music heals. ('Sobering Times') is hopefully another healing took for people who are struggling."

• Even before "Clean Getaway" Byrd was playing music at benefit shows and in treatment facilities in New Jersey, which he says taught him a great deal about how to craft the songs. "I had to learn how to do it -- what to say, what not to say. I didn't want to trigger anybody, right? I kept getting reaction from the clients, whether they were singing along or laughing or crying. They would come over afterwards and say, 'Where can I get this music?' I procrastinated with that for a good, long while. I wasn't looking to write 'recovery songs,' but that's where my head's at, so I kept going and it's turned into these (albums)."

•Though his "tank was empty" after "Sobering Times," Byrd has rekindled his inspiration and has crafted six new song ideas during the past four months, two with lyrics. "I'm still trying to figure out what I want to do next. Should I do another record? Should I just do singles and put 'em up on Bandcamp or something? There's so many options now, so in a way I'm not even thinking about it yet. We'll see if everybody's lovin' this (album) and go from there."

• 2021 marks 40 years since Byrd joined Jett and the Blackhearts, where he recorded seven albums and hits such as "I Love Rock 'n' Roll," "Crimson and Clover" and "I Hate Myself For Loving You." "It was a significant part of my career. I love Joan. I'm in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame because of Joan Jett and the Blackhearts. We were a fabulous rock 'n' roll band, as is her band now. We had amazing times. We created a little bit of rock 'n' roll history. You go into a Target or something and 'I Love Rock 'n' Roll' comes on the loudspeakers and people sing along. And then after I left that band I did some pretty cool things, too. I've had a wonderful career up to now and I'm looking forward to what's next."

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