Volume 1 Issue 3
Joan Jett and the Blackhearts
Ricky Byrd Interview
When did you start playing guitar?
RB: I started playing when I was 13. My mother and I lived with my grandparents and my grandfather played Hawaiian steel guitar. He used to have it set up and always play it. I was influenced by him and watching Ed Sullivan. "The Ed Sullivan Show" must have inspired a million guitar players because you'd see everybody on his show. I saw The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, The Dave Clark Five and so on. Seeing those bands plus Cream and Eric Clapton on the Johnny Cash Show had a serious influence. I got a cheap acoustic guitar from somebody and my grandfather showed me a couple of chords. We used to play these old Hawaiian standards. It took off from there.
What inspired you to play the guitar over other instruments?
RB: I think it had something to do with seeing these guys on TV. The first amplifier I had was called a Guild Thurnderstar bass amp. The reason I got that was because I couldn't decide if I wanted to play bass or six string lead. Maybe I was a little confused in the beginning, but it's definitely the guitar now. Drummers are a breed all their own. I was quiet as a kid. I've since changed, but drummers are usually animals from the time they're three. Usually they're breaking things and pounding on stuff. It depends on what you believe in, but I think these things are already decided for you. I think the guitar was the instrument that interested me when I saw people play and when I heard those sweet sounds of my grandfather playing the steel guitar.
What instruments do you play besides the guitar?
RB: When you've been playing a long time, you can pick up a little bit of different instruments. I don't play anything major, but I play piano and a little drums. I wouldn't want to stand in front of anyone and play anything but the guitar. When I do demos, I can put a little piano down and stuff like that.
What type of guitars do you use?
RB: Basically I go for the real thing like Gibson's and Fender's. I'm not against using anything else, but I don't go for anything real space aged. I like real rock & roll kinds of guitars: Les Paul, Les Paul Juniors, Epiphone, Gretsch's, Strats and Telecasters. I go for stuff that's real rock & roll. I don't use a wammy bar. It doesn't have to be an old or new guitar for me to like it. I just like guitars that are rock & roll. It's funny with the guitar, because you can pick it up and play one note and know if it's rock & roll or not.
Do you use them both in concert and in the studio?
RB: There's a black Les Paul that I use all the time. I also have a blue one that people see in all the videos. I've had those two guitars for a long time. The black one was my first Les Paul and I've had that one since 1977. I used that on everything. It's got a distinctive sound. That's the "I Love Rock N' Roll" guitar that I used on that song. The blue Les Paul sounds great. It really depends on what I'm doing in the studio. Some things call for a Fender sound, others for an acoustic guitar. I love playing acoustic guitar on records. At home, all I play is acoustic guitar.
Do you use any type of effects?
RB: I use a little delay here and there. I may use a bit of phasing but nothing major. I'm not really a big fan on that stuff. I use some stuff live, but in the studio, I record everything dry. When we're mixing we may add bits to different things. On stage I use a couple of stomp boxes. I used to have all that stuff, but little by little, I did away with it all. Some guitar players love it and with others their whole sound revolves around it. I'm not that kind of player.
What type of set up do you use on stage?
RB: I'm your basic mister guitar. I have two Marshalls. They're 100 watt Marshalls, but I take two tubes out of each one and they're like 50's. I use two bottoms, I have it set up on stage with four, but I only use the two on the bottom for the sake of my hearing. I also have a few stomp boxes, but I play straight into the guitar.
Which do you prefer, touring or recording in the studio?
RB: I like recording new music because it gets boring playing the same material over and over again. Touring is great. We just did the shows with Aerosmith and that was phenomenal. Playing in front of all those people and with those guys was amazing. I'm a live player but I love playing in the studio. It's a little bit of both. I couldn't just be a session guy because I'd go nuts! Every session guy I know, no matter if he makes a million dollars a year or not, looks at me and says they envy me because I get to play live and play all different kinds of rock and roll stuff. I like throwing myself into doing sessions too. I just played on the Cycle Sluts From Hell album. I like playing on that plus I play on a lot of different things. I'm not opposed to playing on anything if I get the call because it's a new challenge to me. I enjoy doing different kinds of music, obviously I couldn't play on a jazz album because I'm not that kind of player.
What do you like most about being on tour?
RB: The best part is the amount of time you spend on stage. The rest of it you can take - the traveling, airports, hotels and buses. People who are just starting out and hear that say, 'You're jaded.' Maybe I am a little jaded. The buses are great and they're beautiful but when you spend six months on a bus in close quarters with everybody, you're ready to slit your wrists. It doesn't matter how much you like each other. Playing is the part you wait for. You spend an hour playing and the other 23 hours are just basically jerking off.
What was your best experience or memory on tour?
RB: I don't have just one. We opened for The Who and that was pretty serious. The thing we did on Broadway was incredible. Being from New York and playing on Broadway is very serious business. Playing at Shea Stadium was exciting. I went to Flushing High School which is five minutes from Shea Stadium. No doubt some of the kids who used to pick on me in school for being the guy wearing pointed Beatle boots were at the show. It was a great experience. The place was packed and my family was there. It was like coming back home triumphant. That was amazing. We did a show in Philadelphia with the Beach Boys on July 4th, and I wound up jamming with Jimmy Page. We were sharing an amp and he was standing right next to me. We were playing "Fun, Fun, Fun" with the Beach Boys and a whole cast of people on stage. When I was a child, I used to listen to Jimmy Page and that was a great experience for me.
What do you like best about your work?
RB: Making people happy and seeing the fans smile when we're on stage is great. You have to be a performer to know what that's like. It's pretty powerful changing people's emotions with the songs: making them sad, happy, and excited with the different stuff that we play. It's great turning on MTV and seeing yourself there. This is what I want to do; I want to be a musician. I believe that everybody is given a talent. Some people can take a car apart and put it together, some play guitar and others are computer wizards. I think you're born with these talents. When I was a kid I used to watch all these different performers on TV and now I'm on TV and that's very cool. This is a great way to make a living. There's a lot of rejection, ups and downs, hard times, excitement, tragedy and emotion that goes along with being a musician. I don't know what else would be better for me.
How did you meet Joan?
RB: My wife, Carol Kaye, was a publicist at the management firm Leber/Krebs. Which was the office that Joan and Kenny worked out of when they were doing the Bad Reputation album. I had just gotten off tour playing with G.E. Smith and I was trying to figure out what my next move was. Carol told me that Joan was looking for a new guitar player. To tell the truth, I wasn't that familiar with the music, but I went down to the audition and everything worked out.
Many players have come and gone over the years in The Blackhearts, what has made you stay?
RB: We're thinking of starting a farm team; have people work out in Florida until it's time for them to come up into the majors. Joan and I have been together for 10 years and I love playing this music. We get along real good. I'm satisfied and I see no reason to do anything else. That's not saying that at some point I won't do some other band or project, that' just a natural progression in the music business. I do other things now like write songs for other people. I try a lot of different things.
How would you describe your role in the band?
RB: Obviously, it's Joan's band. She's a part of The Blackhearts, but it's her name, voice, face and the whole bit. Musically the sound of the band is her and my guitars. We've had many people come and go, but the guitar sound of this band is Joan and Ricky. That's the sound that you hear on the records. It's not all Joan and it's not all Ricky, but the combination makes that sound like "I Hate Myself For Loving You" and "I Love Rock 'n' Roll"." Musically I think that's where I fit in. Rock and roll wise, Joan and I work together as sidekicks. I take some of the pressure off of her on stage by talking and chatting with the crowd while she's taking a drink of water. I'm basically Joan's sidekick.
What do you enjoy most about being a member of The Blackhearts?
RB: I think it's the pride that we're an original rock and roll band. We're not this disgusting music we hear today on MTV. I grew up on The Rolling Stones, Rod Stewart and The Faces and Humble Pie. That's the kind of music that I like and The Blackhearts are that kind of band. I don't want to say I like three chord rock and roll because I have nothing against four or five chord rock and roll as long as it's simple. That's the way it's suppose to be. I think we play very honest rock and roll. We're more traditional. I guess we're carrying on the flame of the kind of music that you don't basically hear anymore. I love The London Quireboys, the new Iggy Pop record, and The Black Crowes. Ninety percent of the music out there is so corporate. There's always that kind of music and my kind of music. Unfortunately there's more of that kind of music being played on the radio than my kind of music. There's hardly any kind of rock and roll on the radio. I'm proud to be in a band that can play that kind of rock and roll. You can be sure that no matter what I do in the future, it's going to be straight ahead rock and roll. That's what I like and I don't really care about what pleases record companies. You do what you do, you do what you like and you just do it or otherwise you might as well be a plumber. I like a certain kind of music that just gives me chills when I listen to it and I'm not going to play any other kind of music. I like a lot of different kinds of music, I love blues, so all my rock and roll has blues in it. Maybe not so much with Joan, because that's not the kind of rock and roll The Blackhearts play. The kind of stuff I listen to has that blues in it. It's very hard to find that kind of rock and roll. There's a lot of rock music today, but not a lot of rock and roll. They're both a whole different thing as far as I'm concerned.
What is the band doing currently?
RB: Right now we're gathering our thoughts about the next record. We're putting together the riffs we were throwing around on the road. During soundcheck we screw around with little things and some of them become songs and other turn into wrapping paper.
Have you been writing any new material with Joan lately?
RB: We're slowing ascending into that mindset. We're just starting that procedure.
What can Jettheads expect from the new album?
RB: More good songs. We're not going to put out a Bee Gees record like Staying Alive IV. We're going to do the same thing that we do and it's going to sound bigger and better than the last one. All we could hope for is more good songs. We don't change with the trends, we just play rock and roll. The songs change, but the style stays the same.
What's in the future for Joan Jett & The Blackhearts?
RB: Hopefully hit records and more touring. What we do is record albums and play live. I'm into this 90's thing too, it's a new time and you don't want to hear old music, but you don't want to lose the original feeling of rock and roll. That was a sexual and foot stomping kind of sound that started out in the blues shacks. It then became rock and roll with Chuck Berry then The Rolling Stones took that and brought it someplace else. The initial sound was still there. I think I would like to hear more bands like us just to show the fans that there's another side to rock and roll. I just heard the new AC/DC song, "Thunderstruck," and that's rock and roll. That's the stuff right there! The Black Crowes have the right idea as well. I would like to think that we helped bands like that get on the radio because that's the kind of music we play. It may have a little bit of this or a little bit of that, but it's still straight ahead rock and roll.
What kind of advice would you give to someone who wants to make a career out of playing music?
RB: There's no shortcuts. You have to do the same thing everyone did. You have to get yourself a guitar or whatever instrument you chose to play, put a band together and play your little local dives. You do that until enough people tell you the stuff you're playing is turning them on and then you make a tape. The you take it around. Obviously it's a lot harder than I'm making it sound. The thing is you have to start from scratch and keep playing until you get better. You've got to be ready for a lot of rejection and people saying your stuff sucks and to forget about it. They may be right, but there is a slim chance for every ten people out there that play and stink, there's going to be one person who's going to change rock and roll. You've got to follow your instincts and go for it. If it's in your heart, you're going to do it no matter what. I think it's predestined that we're all supposed to do what we're supposed to do. Some people don't find out what they're supposed to do until they're in their fifties. If you have a love for music then you have to start playing and stick with it.
Do you have a message for the fans?
RB: Be happy, healthy, stay clean and strong and just rock and roll! Don't hurt yourself and follow your instincts.
Is there anything else you'd like the fans to know?
RB: I think that Joan Jett and The Blackhearts will be around for a long time. Obviously, we've been around for a long time already. A lot of bands come and go and a lot of them may have even had more success than we have, but we have a career. We've been around for a long time. There's a lot of bands who come out and have one big record and you never hear from them again. We've built an on going process. We'll always be in your town playing rock and roll for the fans. If you're just starting out, you should shoot for a long term career. Don't look at what the scene is, that's a passing thing. You've got to find out what's going to make it for you in the long run and it's not fashion or trends, it's what is in your heart.
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