“From the time I left Joan Jett and the Blackhearts around 1991, I was really trying to see what I sounded like on my own,” says Byrd. “I knew who my influences were—I grew up on everything from the Raspberries to the Who to the Stones to the Yardbirds to Otis Redding. If you just mix that all in a stew, I guess it comes out Ricky Byrd. But I had all these false starts. I got caught up in what I thought the music business wanted, and I learned pretty fast that the biggest mistake you can make is try to write for the charts. Like, if you tried to write a Cher song—well, she wouldn’t be doing a ‘Cher song.’ No matter what you did, they were doing something else. So I learned a great lesson—which was to just try to write a great song. If the artist is smart enough, they’ll hear how they could make that great song their own.
“So as far as finding my style as a guitar player and a songwriter, I just figured I’d let my influences reign, find my voice through that stuff, and not give a sh*t. I mean, there’s no one telling me that I have to try this or try that on my own album. I’m writing the check! So that freed me up to do the most important thing you can do as an artist: Lead with the truth. I decided to do a record that had the same heart and soul as the music that thrilled me when I was 14 years old. Period. I didn’t really care what everybody thought about it. I wasn’t asking for opinions, and I didn’t edit anything if a song started to sound too much like a song I loved back in the day. After all, you can’t get stuck on whether something sounds dated or too close to your influences. Justin Timberlake’s new thing is basically being the Temptations, but I’d say 75 percent of his fans don’t know who the Temptations are, so, to them, it sounds like he is doing something original. There’s nothing new under the sun, so just go for something that excites you, be honest, and your style will be heard.”
After many years backing up Joan Jett (it’s his power chords on “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll”), Ian Hunter, Roger Daltrey, and others, Ricky Byrd recently released his debut solo album, Lifer [Kayos]. He recorded a ton of the guitar parts with various Gibsons and either a ’65 blackface Fender Deluxe or an early-’70s Fender Champ perched atop his toilet and miked up in the bathroom. “You can’t lose with Gibson guitars and Fender amps,” he says.