On his first solo album Lifer guitarist/songwriter Ricky Byrd wears his musical heart on his sleeve. An unabashed student of rock and roll Byrd mines 60’s AM and 70’s FM radio gems for his outcomes and offers up a personal take on his favorite facets. That’s a good thing when you have his impeccable taste and the chops to back it up.
Put Another Dime in the Jukebox…
As a member of Joan Jett’s Blackhearts Ricky got to live the rock and roll lifestyle touring the world in support of the 1980’s mega-hit “I Love Rock and Roll.” In the ensuing years he’s played behind many of his favorite artists including Roger Daltrey and Ian Hunter. I remember seeing him on stage at The Bottom Line covering The Yardbirds during a 60’s tribute show. The Hit Squad is his high-end cover band in cahoots with other top NYC session players like vocalist Christine Ohlman and drummer Liberty DeVito.
What It Is…
Lifer opens with the sound of foot falls on stair-steps and a guitar cable engaging an amplifier input. It sets the stage for “Rock N Roll Boys” a rollicking reminiscence of Max’s Kansas City. Dressed in the sonic glitter of Mott the Hoople the tune spins out Byrd’s teenage autobiography, crowned with the chorus “the girls all wanted rock n roll boys,” a truism that enticed so many of us to strap on a guitar and learn-those-chords.
If you’re a rock n roll “lifer” as well, part of the album’s charm will be catching where Ricky slyly slips in a familiar aside (“I’ve been wanting to do this for years”) or guitar lick. I hear Don Covay via The Rolling Stones on “Wide Open” and the white-boy garage R&B of The Young Rascals through J. Geils Band on “Things To Learn.”
There’s a Stax style horn arrangement on “Ways of A Woman” and it might be Bowie mimicking The Yardbirds mimicking Muddy Waters on “Let’s Get Gone.” Along the way both “Small” and “Ooh La La” era Faces are referenced, while the subtle and touching 9/11 rumination “Turnstile ’01” is the kind of tune you wish Bruce Springsteen would write again.
It’s His Life…
To his credit Byrd puts his own stamp on this mountain of musical homage with a solid set of personal lyrics and unaffected vocal style. This unpretentious crop of tunes makes for a really enjoyable listen that is bound for repeat on your playlist. Though stylistically diverse Lifer makes sense the same way AM radio made sense in the 1960’s. That is, you can play any kind music right next to any other kind music as long as it was created with honesty and heart. Check out any Billboard Top 40 chart from 1965-67 to see what I mean.
Whether those opening footsteps are taking you upstairs to Max’s Kansas City 40 years ago or downstairs to The Bowery Electric 40 minutes ago the message is the same; the mighty long way to rock and roll is never ending. Guided by loving aficionados like Ricky Byrd it’s a sweet journey.