Jerry Byrd: Aloha Hawaii and Polynesian Picking

5th July 2017

Title: Byrd’s Expedition

Label: Richard Weize Archives

Byrd was a lap steel guitarist – as opposed to a pedal steel guitarist. The man was also a legend in guitar circles. So much so that Grateful Dead man, Jerry Garcia, actually flew out to Honolulu (Byrd loved the music of Hawaii and would later retire from the country scene to concentre his studies on the island and musical culture), with the hope that Byrd would take him on as a student. So did blues player Jimmie Vaughan. So did his brother, a certain Stevie Ray.

Jerry Byrd [centre] with Hank Garland and Anita Kerr at a recording session in RCA Studio B, Nashville
As the label says itself, most of the Byrd  compilations that you will see on the shelf present an older and contented Byrd gently doing his thing but a CD representing his creative height at the Mercury label is the treasured goal of Byrd fans and this is it.

Featuring 30 tracks and support from Chet Atkins and Zeke Turner, songs include his signature Steelin’ the Blues (his first 78 release) with a support vocal from Rex Allen. The earliest sides feature Byrd’s Cincinnati-based band that defined the classic honky tonk country sound of the late 40s and early 50s. That would include Turner on electric lead guitar but also Louis Innis on rhythm guitar and Tommy Jackson on fiddle. Later on the CD, you’ll hear Byrd’s early Nashville years.


Jerry Byrd [left] and Curly Chalker, pedal steel guitarist
The mastering for this edition reveals a rather veiled midrange that adds a retro, period warmth that gives the sound a slightly sepia hue. For music such as this, this effect is not a bad thing. In fact, the warmth adds an attractive tone to the Byrd guitar with the fiddle elements provide a textured yet softened presentation and the vocal delivery is tempered and positively cuddly. The effect is one of ease and relaxation.