- August 2002
1986 when I was just discovering more and more Metal bands through
rebellion and the dislike for dance and cheesy Top 40 radio play,
a few bands always tend to stick out in one's mind as an overall
influence to stick with the genre. Sure, everyone will most likely
say Priest, Sabbath,Zep or Maiden as main influences but I'm talking
about the other bands that made some impact within the Metal scene
like Loudness, Manowar, Virgin Steele and the many from Germany
that Noise Records carried let alone Metal Blade, New Renaissance
and other labels. Two bands from a major label status I discovered
within this time frame were Sanctuary and Fifth Angel; both very
different msically but both hailing out of Seattle before the Grunge
era pretty much smacked everything in the head. This next chat involves
one of the greatest lead guitarists from the 80's that in my opinion
was somewhat underrated and overlooked but is still a commodity
in today's world of Metal, Hard Rock and instrumental guitar music.
Quintessence: "Anthem" takes on
a Malmsteen meets Queen approach compared to "Flying Beyond
The 9"; is that quite accurate?
BYRD: "No, unless one is in a serious hurry to put me in a
"box" with a label. The album has a lot of background
vocals and the guitar playing could be called technical. Queen was
an influence in a very general way in that I really do like their
use of background vocals in an a classical style. As for Yngwie,
he's a friend of mine and has been since 1993 so I have to be careful
how I answer this question because I don't want my reply to be taken
the wrong way. So let me preface it here by saying that I think
he's a truly great guitarist and musician. But an actual influence
on what I do? No. Can you seriously compare the music on this album
to anything he's done? I really don't think so".
Quintessence: Alot of people and critics compare
you to Malmsteen and would be necessary to say he's an influence
even though he's close in age. Your material with Fifth Angel was
totally different than what you are playing now and even the soloing
was identifiably yours.
BYRD: "Really. No, not "Alot". Some "critics"
have said this and it's not accurate. I can't change the fact that
in terms of being a neo-classical household name, Yngwie became
one and I didn't in the early 1980's, but I can certainly set the
record straight to such a presumption. This is no different than
the common assumption that Marconi "invented" radio. He
didn't. Tesla did, but the "case" was not finally settled
until the late 1980's in court and it was in favor of Tesla. But
how many people, even high school history teachers -who should know
better- still go around saying otherwise? The only way to deal with
errant historical facts are to refute them with the correct facts
and unfortunately, this never manages to totally erase a myth with
"People who actually know guitar music well or who actually
play a certain style of guitar can clearly hear and understand that
when they hear Yngwie's own influences, they're hearing a lot of
Uli Roth's actual phrases and solos in Yngwie's early playing. Uli
was around many years before Yngwie was ever known but did he get
the credit he deserved as a true innovator from the press? Hardly.
Most people have still never heard of him outside of particular
guitar circles but that doesn't change the fact that he was an immense
influence on an entire generation of those "particular guitar
circles" and both Yngwie and I happened to be among them. To
me, Uli Roth is the "Tesla" and Blackmore can not be discounted
either here- of what's been termed "neo-classical" rock
guitar. Now there clearly are players who are influenced by Yngwie,
but like Yngwie himself, I am a "second generation" player
and not "third generation" player in this whole musical
evolution. Those who were influenced by Yngwie himself are a third
generation of players. Yngwie and I came into the recording industry
at about the same time, but he was far more visible, and even today,
he's more well known than I am. Let's face it, a lot of players
have in fact copied him and then gone on to deny it in interviews.
This doesn't make my job any easier. It seems that in your question
here you want to see if I actually fit this assumption by a few
critics? Yngwie certainly didn't seem to assume this about me though
did he. He's not exactly known for remaining quiet if he thinks
someone "ripped him off". I mean look at what he said
about Tony McAlpine!,who is a very fine player in my opinion-. No,
Yngwie himself heard my music and seemed to think it not only very
good, but in his words to me- that I "played from the heart".
So it should not have escaped notice that when he finally granted
a public and uncompensated endorsement to my record label of me
as an artist who'd been overlooked too long by the guitar community,
he did NOT claim me to be "the best Yngwie influenced guitarist"
he'd heard, but rather, he said I was "the most exciting, European
sounding guitarist I've heard in years". This actually didn't
escape notice by most legitimate critics like "Guitar"
magazine- and that should have put an end to a myth, but I suppose
there are always going to be a few people who just don't know or
"You say that my playing today is not the same as it was in
1983? Good because it shouldn't be if one's goal is to grow. If
you have good ears you won't listen to"Marching Out" and
tell me Yngwie's guitar playing sounds anything remotely the same
like it does on his recent albums. When I finally did hear "Marching
Out", I heard entire extended solo sections which were the
same as those on Uli Roth's early albums. Anyone who plays guitar
well who listens will tell you this. Yngwie took that original influence
and built it into what he does now. No one develops in a vacuum,
we all learn from others and evolve. Both Yngwie and I play a lot
faster today than we did in 1983 but we never have actually played
the same things or even had the same sound, at least not to anyone
with more than a nominal understanding of the actual musical content.
The truth is that the only Yngwie record I have ever owned that
he didn't personally send to me after we met in 1993, was "Trilogy",
and this was given to me in 1989 by my drummer Ken Mary when I was
in Fifth Angel. I actually heard "Marching Out" for the
first time in 1996 when my engineer played it for me in the studio
after I noticed it sitting on a shelf. Do we have things in common?
Sure, quite a few. We both play very fast, we both use scalloped
necks and single coil pickups (Ritchie Blackmore is the source for
this in both of our cases) . We both like a lot of the same guitarists
from the 1970's and are influenced by classical music. But this
is hardly an earth shattering coincidence is it. Only a superficial
or uninformed listener would not hear the innumerable differences
in what we actually play, but unfortunately, some people are unable
to discern the difference between technique and the actual musical
content it's used to support".
"So in conclusion here, there is not a lot I do about this
assertion other than to either blow off the statement as utterly
inane, or give the very long answer to incorrect assumption. You
got the very long answer to your question/statement here".
Quintessence: Why did Atlantis Rising fall
as well as the phenomenal Fifth Angel?
BYRD: "Well, if you look at the first Atlantis Rising album
you'll notice that it's actually called "James Byrd's Atlantis
Rising" and that it wasn't a "band", but that it
was my first solo album. So I don't think "fall" is really
an appropriate word because it was an album by an individual artist--
me- and as far as I know, I'm still standing. Neither did it "break
up" really, it was just a question of what I felt I needed
to do after I made the album in light of artistic desires and business
considerations with regard to the feasibility of continuing in the
midst of a nasty business dispute with the label "Shrapnel"-.
They got into a dispute with their distributor and I'm the one who
got the shaft with an album that sat in cartons for a year while
advertisements for it ran anyway. What could I do? Nothing. I owed
them another album, my U.S. sales were destroyed, and Varney held
my fucking feet to the fire to take far less money for the next
one because of what he actually did. Is this then a "fall"
or band "break up"? Not in my book it's not, it was a
raw deal and I did what I had to do to continue being a recording
artist who would hopefully emerge free from a truly horrible contract.
Even that wasn't honored. The album was a remarkable success in
Japan and Europe actually. The answer to that statement is simply
that I make the albums I want to make when I want to make them.
I've done what I've had to do to keep going without selling-out
artistic control and it has not been an easy path to take".
"As for Fifth Angel, they made one more album after I departed
and I don't know why they didn't chose to keep going. I mean I have
some opinions about it in terms of why, but even though the circumstances
under which I was fired from the band I formed were extremely duplicitous
and personally painful for me, I'm not going to go too far out of
my way here to sling mud and speculate on why they failed to continue.
It's not like I haven't given extended interviews on the whole sorted
mess of Fifth Angel, but there does come a time when one is completely
sick of discussing an "Ugly divorce". After 13 years,
it's a subject that while apparently- interesting "tabloid"
type fodder in certain heavy metal circles, I'm anything but interested
in living in the past, especially when I've felt so artistically
happy beyond that chapter. "Bands" don't last forever
and some burn brightly for only a short time. That's the short answer
on the subject of Fifth Angel".
Quintessence: What are Ken Mary and Ted Pilot
doing nowadays..still stay in touch?
BYRD: "I stay in touch with Ken. He's a good friend and decent
guy and although he lives in Arizona and I live in Seattle, we talk
on the phone. I've not spoken with nor heard from Ted Pilot. The
last time I saw him I was at "our" attorney's office unknowingly
signing away my existing rights to him under the influence of a
lie and plan known only to Ted, Ed, and the attorney who violated
any and all ethics in what he did. I'm owed a lot of money still,
I've never gotten a dime of the advance due me as a writer/co-producer
of Fifth Angel. Would you want to stay in touch with him if you
Quintessence: Since I like reminiscing the Fifth Angel days, how
did the band get "Midnight Love" on the Howard Stern TV
BYRD: "I was not in the band when that happened, I didn't play
on the album in question, so I don?t know".
Quintessence: Reading your bio I see nothing
was mentioned of any type of guitar lessons or schooling..are you
BYRD: "I had a cousin who was a great musician and band leader
when I was a little kid. He had a 10 or 12 piece band that toured
the west coast playing covers of "Chicago" and "Three
Dog Night" songs. For a couple of years my parents rented a
house from his parents and his band practiced in the multi-car garage
next to the house. He played trumpet, piano, guitar, and bass, but
he played horn in his own band. He wasn't a guitar virtuoso or even
a lead guitarist by any means, but he knew chords. He taught me
how to tune the guitar and how to play chords. I'd say he gave me
maybe 7 or 8 lessons in this. I took maybe 5 or 6 lessons from actual
guitar teachers as a kid but never more than one or two from the
same guy. All that was really available then where I lived were
guys who taught country music -which I hated-. So I'm self-taught
apart from a few really basic lessons in playing chords and tuning
the guitar. I learned from playing along with records; Al DiMeola,
Hendrix, Mahogany Rush, Deep Purple, D'Jango Reinhardt, U.F.O.,
Scorpians, a long list of bands and artists that I still consider
Quintessence: Flatters....isn't he Takara's
new singer? How did you meet up with him and Hutchison for the Byrd
BYRD: "Michael sang with me on "Flying Beyond the 9"
before he ever sang with Takara. He's still singing for me on "Anthem".
He sings in a bunch of projects actually "Blue Mud" is
another one-. There does exist a reality apart from fan's perceptions
that bands somehow constitute some kind of "blood-oath brotherhood".
Some may, but artists often engage in a variety of creative efforts
if they're able to and I don't personally believe in trying to hold
people under "exclusive" contracts or control. "If
you love something set it free" you know the rest right?".
"I met Michael through a vocalist named Steve Benito who used
to sing for a Seattle band called "Heir Apparent". I thought
he -Benito- was a very good singer. I called him about doing the
album and he said he was involved in theatre and acting and not
really into doing an album, but he highly recommended Michael to
me and gave me his phone number. Michael turned out to have been
a big Fifth Angel fan and to have a really good voice. We played
each other some current stuff over the phone and that was it, he
wanted to do the album. Michael has been a complete joy to work
Quintessence: Touring at all or soon?
BYRD: "Probably not, it's extremely expensive and the market
for this kind of music is mostly overseas and pretty limited in
terms of generating enough income to pay for a tour. I'm not in
debt and I want to keep it that way".
Quintessence: If you had a one-time chance
as the guitarist of an all-star band to record one CD, whom would
you like to jam with living or dead from any genre (name the whole
band in parts-- keyboard player, drummer, bass, another guitarist,
BYRD: "Cozy Powell on drums, Ronnie Dio on vocals, Roger Glover
on bass, and John Lord on keyboard. The premature loss of Cozy was
very, very sad".
Quintessence: Will Byrd stay around for awhile
or is this just another project until you get bored or delve into
another interest musically?
BYRD: "As a solo recording artist who's invested almost 20
years into making the albums I make because they're what I like,
I do what I want to, when I want to. I haven't gotten rich doing
this, I do it to express myself as an artist honestly as possible.
Should I apologize for this or allow what I do to be determined
by the opinions of some critics who would never agree with each
other anyway? I don't think so".
Quintessence: Your equipment (guitars,strings,peddles,amps,effects)...any
vintage guitars you own?
BYRD: "I play patented Byrd Super Avianti ( R) guitars these
days. I've never had any "vintage" guitars other than
the one's which became "vintage" while I owned them --that
was a joke but I'm afraid it's true-. I have some "vintage"
flying V's from 1970 and 1973. I don't play them though. I use a
stock Marshall 50 watt plexi amp, and a rare 1966 Marshall 8X10
speaker cabinet which is the only really ancient gear in my arsenal".
Quintessence: Final comments, recommended
BYRD: "Thanks for your interest. For readers here who want
to find out what my music is really all about, my home page has
links to full mp3's and sound clips for the new album at http://www.jamesbyrd.com