James Byrd is in the studio recording his new album
and follow up to "The Apocalypse Chime". James played me a couple
of tracks and I must say that is certainly leaves no doubt about his guitar
playing and direction of his music. Those of you familiar with his guitar
playing now what I mean when I say that he is one of the most electrifying
and brilliant guitarists to come blazing through the 90's. For those not
familiar with James Byrd I strongly recommend you to give him a listen.
Since leaving the band Fifth Angel, James Byrd has released 2 instrumental
and 2 vocal albums.
Q: James, tell me about the new album.
JB: Well it's a vocal album. It's a heavy album I would say it's the most
melodic and the most heavy album I have done. That sounds contradictory
but I don't think being melodic and being heavy are in conflict. I think
they kind of go together in a sense.
Q: Who is the vocalist on the new album?
JB: His name is Torey Kendall. He has got a pretty incredible range and
pretty incredible quality to his voice. There are elements of Ronnie Dio
and Ian Gillan, maybe even a little Bruce Dickinson in his voice.
Q: All the greats it seems, where did you find him?
JB: Down the street.
Q: What was he doing?
JB: He was recording in his garage. He has been a friend of some friends
of mine for a long time. He has played in some bands that no one has ever
heard of as a guitar player and has been singing his own stuff for years.
Apparently nobody really knew it. I had him come over to sing some scratch
vocals. When I first started writing this album I wasn't sure who I was
going to have sing on it. I was thinking about giving Robert Mason a call
[vocalist on The Apocalypse Chime, ex Lynch Mob / Cry Of Love]. But I
kind of went "wow, you're pretty good" and it really started
to sink in and I started to spend some time with him
we decided to
try producing a vocal track the way I produced it if I was working with
any other singer. I just went "Wow, you're the guy! Where have you
been?" and of course his answer was "About ten miles east of
Q: As far as writing for this new album, is that
mostly you or a combination of the two of you?
JB: I'm writing all of the music and we're collaborating in the lyrics.
Some of the lyrics are his and some are mine. I wrote the music and lyrics
for the two tracks I played you last night. There is another that he wrote
all the lyrics for that I wrote the music that's in a real sort of Hendrix
Band Of Gypsies sort of direction with some kind of fusion twist thrown
in but I write a lot.
Q: Is this material you had written before you hooked
up with Torey?
JB: No, No. I write for people with their qualities in mind. This guys
vocal quality is just a real hard ass rock singer. So it makes me write
a certain way.
Q: What type of things has he been doing on his
JB: His own stuff. Not dissimilar to what I do at all, but not quite as
hard. Maybe a bit more balladest, Pink Floyd influenced.
Q: As for you and Shrapnel Records you have parted
Q: How has that affected the new album?
JB: It's going to be the best album I made.
Q: With 'The Apocalypse Chime' it's your first album
going back with a vocalist after doing two instrumental albums. Why go
back to a vocalist?
JB: The way I look at it I didn't do those two instrumental albums until
in a sense it was considerably late. I kept having people say, "You're
such a good guitar player, why don't you do instrumental stuff?".
All those years I didn't feel I had anything to say. Well I finally got
to the point where I started to feel like I had something to say. So I
said, I suppose its like any good dinner party where you have a conversation
going on, you don't necessarily want to be on the same topic all night.
Going back to the singer on the last two records, I always have a really
strong sense of trying to say something with my music even when it's instrumental.
There were lyrics for 'Son Of Man' even though it is an instrumental album.
About half of them were written down and half were in my head but actually
most of the guitar lines were played to lyrics I was hearing in my head.
I feel the need to say something with lyrics and I feel the need to reach
a larger audience. Plus it's a whole different thing as far as being a
guitar player. When you got a singer it changes the dynamics in a sense
that it can be more intense. You can't play on eleven from one end to
the other on an instrumental album. Well, most people do but it drives
me crazy. So you have to carry the melody that the singer would carry.
When you have a singer when you play solos here and there in the songs
but you can step out on eleven and you can have it work that way there
is an intensity that gets maintained by the lyrics and by the singer and
that allows you to just all of a sudden step out and blaze. , And it's
a much more rock n roll sort of thing and it's a much more aggressive
thing. I have a lot of different sides to my musical personality so that
[instrumentals] is definitely one of them.
Q: As far as keyboard playing on this album is that
JB: Right now it is. I still haven't ruled out bringing in a guy to play
some of the parts. I had someone come in and do some parts on 'Son Of
Man'. But so far so good with the keyboards. I'm going to have to get
a keyboardist once the record is done because I'm going to want to go
out and play with this band.
Q: What type of keyboard training do you have?
JB: From the school of two finger typing.
Q: Just kind of feel your way through?
JB: Feeling my way through, yeah. I type a lot though. I type with two
fingers but I can still manage about 60 words per minute.
Q: That's pretty quick for two fingers.
JB: I use all of them on the guitar though.
Q: How about guitar training. What type of schooling have you had on that?
JB: Really none. Seeing Jimi Hendrix on the news on September 18th 1970.
That was playing Woodstock it was more desire than anything else. If you
got the desire then the whole world is your teacher, and that is how it
was for me. My guitar teachers were Hendrix, Frank Marino, Johnny Winter,
later on Al DiMeola and Uli Roth.
Q: Is that what made you pick up the guitar, Hendrix?
JB: Yup I had a guitar before then and my sister tuned it for me one time
when she was over because she knew two chords. She knew A major and E
major and she showed me E major. But prior to that it was something you
dragged out from under the bed once in a while and harassed the cat with.
But it wasn't the all-consuming passion that it became.
Q: So those then are your major influences then?
JB: Yeah, that and Deep Purple. Really one album by DP, I really didn't
have a lot of records when I was a kid but they were really good ones.
To this day "Machine Head" [DP] is in my opinion the greatest
rock record ever made. I mean it's just a monster. I don't think they
ever equalled it, they certainly never bettered it. Only recently have
I heard the stuff they did before "Machine Head". I went is
this the same band!? Is that the same Ritchie Blackmore? I couldn't believe
how much of a leap that record was. I mean there were other bands around
that played heavy music but Led Zeppelin for example was all blues based.
They were the first band to bring the bass and drums up in the mix. And
of course Hendrix was everything but he had a jazz drummer and the whole
balance of the thing wasn't metal. Then you had Cream, but you didn't
have any bands with classical influences. You didn't have any bands with
the drums up front and
you didn't have the harmonic sophistication
in the guitar playing. It was the basic blues scale, and there is nothing
wrong with the blues scale but it gets old after a while. Ritchie Blackmore,
I just went "Wow, now there is something". I think I am more
influenced by him than I actually thought I was until recently. Because
I realised that I listened to the same people he listened to. It's kind
of the same thing with Yngwie [Malmsteen]. I am actually older than Yngwie
but we have an amazing set of coincidences in terms of who we listen to
and who we think is good. It's quite similar.
Q: He thinks very highly of you.
JB: Yeah, and I think very highly of him as well. We became good friends
after he heard my stuff I can't speak for other people that know him but
he has always been really quite a gentleman to me.
Q: What type of guitars are you playing now?
JB: I'm playing a Strat.
Q: What about the rest of your equipment, what do you use?
JB: Ok, I'm using a 1966 Marshall 8x10" cab, the big tall thing.
A 1968 50watt Plexi Head [Marshall], an Ibanez Tube Screamer and a wah
wah pedal. The Strat is a custom shop model with a 62-scalloped neck with
Dunlop 6150 frets, it's a rosewood board and it's a really rude metallic
gold. I use single coil pickups but they are not actually single coils,
there made by DiMarzio, they are called the HS series, I use the HS-3,
the same as Yngwie uses. I've used them since 1983. It's just a totally
straightforward thing. Guitar, Tubescreamer, wah pedal and Marshall, nothing
else. No rack, no bullshit, very pure.
Q: Where do your inspirations come from?
JB: That's a good question. The Universe, the cosmos, some unseen thing
that gives me this music I think my music is inspired by God. The think
everything good is.
Q: Out of Seattle, that's been looked at to produce
some of today's bands. How did you come out of that same mix?
JB: Well, I was never part of the Seattle scene. I just happen to live
here I was born here. I've been in the Pacific Northwest all my life except
for one year when I lived in Hollywood. I just don't have much to do with
it. I don't go to the clubs to see these local bands. I haven't probably
bought an album in any significant quality since about '75 or '78, somewhere
in there. I'm really kind of a product musically of the late 60's early
70's. But as far as being a guitar player is concerned, you're surrounded
by the state of the art whatever it is. It's always moving ahead as far
s what people are doing on the instrument. From the time I was about fourteen
years old I would go into a music store and play some obscure Hendrix
thing note for note and I would have a crowd of people standing around
going nuts. I mean I was a prodigy. But it's been a long struggle. So,
I don't think I've gotten so much better as a guitar player as I've found
some kind of maturity. It's all melded together something that's becoming
identifiable as me.
Q: Where do you see the music scene heading?
JB: I don't know
I only know where my music is heading. There aren't
even any words to tell except what I hear in my mind what I hear and that
is where I want to go. I feel its kind of ironic that so many of these
bands like Pearl Jam or what not claim to be 70's influenced bands. If
that's is the 70's that I am familiar with, then it's certainly the worst
of the 70's. Because that band I am sorry to say sounds like a bad version
of Molly Hatchet with a guy up front with laryngitis. I think there was
some absolutely brilliant music in the 70's and I consider myself to be
a product of that music. But there is not much around, to be truthful
Q: Are there any bands out there that at all that you have seen that would
JB: I think that Kings X are brilliant, I really like them. And of course
Yng is carrying the torch. He is carrying it high. I think that just that
alone shows an incredible amount of integrity. Because ten years ago when
he said " I'm playing what I'm playing because I mean it and this
is me and not to cash in, not to be this and not to be that. Because this
is who I am and this is what I'll believe, I'll never change". Well
he's bloody well proved that hasn't he.
Q: On 'The Apocalypse Chime' you covered Hendrix's
'Dolly Dagger'. Any plans to cover anything else?
JB: By Hendrix?
Q: Or anybody else?
JB: Well you know, I love covering Hendrix's stuff; I mean I really do
as far as sheer fun and enjoyment out of playing. That comes about as
close to being the most fun that I could think of. I don't have a Hendrix
cover on this album. He is always in this music spiritually. But I do
have a cover from the musical 'Jesus Christ Superstar' its called 'Heaven
On Their Minds'
man there was just some incredible stuff written
back in the 70's.
Q: I understand you are working on something similar
to what Uli [Uli Jon Roth] is doing?
JB: No it's not similar actually. Uli's 'Sky Of Avalon Soldiers Of Grace'
is an opera. I'm not working on an opera. I'm working on a set of concerto's
for electric guitar and orchestra.
Q: How is that coming along?
JB: It is temporarily back burned. I have 15 minutes recorded and 5 minutes
of it mixed and ready to the point to be mastered. I have another 10 minutes
that is not mixed and the rest is written but not recorded. It's in my
Side Note: The complete 5 minutes of the concerto in question above has
been released on the mp3.com version of 'Crimes Of Virtuosity', this proceeds
Yngwie's 'Concerto' by two years.