James Byrd is without doubt one player that should be more renowned than he is. His reputation by those that are familiar with his work is right up at the upper echelon of the guitar genre and he has the honour of being the only guitarist Yngwie Malmsteen has given an uncompensated endorsement to, calling Byrd, "One of the best European sounding guitarists I have heard in years, he definitely has 'the vision' and aims for each note and makes it count". Guitar For The Practising Magazine (now known as Guitar One) listed Byrd in their one-off feature "The 10 best guitarists you have never heard".
James Byrd has one of the purest tones you will hear and his work screams quality. His guitar work showcases what the instrument is capable of in the right hands with his immense note choice, clean speed picking, superb vibrato and original phrasing - Byrd is "a players player".
Byrd's roots extend back to when he was 9 years old, he had a guitar but was not serious about the instrument until the day Jimi Hendrix died. His first early influences were mostly blues players and within 5 years he was playing like an "old soul" wow-ing much older audiences around the Washington State area. After this Byrd began listening to players like Ritchie Blackmore, Uli Jon Roth (Scorpions era), Al DiMeola, Neal Schon and Michael Schenker amongst others. Byrd uses these players styles as a springboard to his own sound and began honing his playing and song writing skills further still.
Aged 18 Byrd went on the road with a heavy metal cover band, performing albums such as UFO's Strangers In The Night and Scorpion's Tokyo Tapes note for note. This band won the "Northwest Battle Of The Bands" and free studio recording time. As the band did not have a single original song, they went in and just played covers live. Byrd decided after a year in this band, he wanted out, but they tried to get him to stay, so the soundman (who also wanted to go) and Byrd took-off in the middle of the night.
In 1980, Byrd put together his first original band with original songs. In late 1981 he moved to L.A. and spent a year there playing with various bands at the usual places (Troubador, Perkins Palace etc.). In late 1982, Byrd had had enough of L.A. and wanted to move back to Seattle to work with two musicians he'd heard before he'd gone to L.A. One was drummer Ken Mary, the other was vocalist Ted Pilot. This was to become Fifth Angel.
The band concentrated solely on writing, rehearsing and producing an album, and then looked for a recording contract. By late 1983, Fifth Angel was in Steve Lawson Productions with Terry Date recording "Fade to Flames", "Fifth Angel", "In the Fallout", and "Wings of Destiny". With this four song demo, about a hundred tapes went out to record companies on a list. Shrapnel Records was on the list, and Byrd felt that if nothing else, they'd sign him. Mike Varney was on the phone after one listen to sign the project. They got a pittance of an advance, but finished the album by cutting five more tracks. The reviews were stellar, and Byrd began getting endorsement offers and interviews. In 1987, Fifth Angel's reputation as an act got them management with 'Concrete Marketing and Management', and a seven-album deal on Epic/CBS who re-released "Fifth Angel" in late 1987/early 1988. The seeds of destruction for Fifth Angel were sown as soon as large sums of money looked likely. Byrd was out of the band he'd created very shortly after the CBS agreement was signed.
In 1988/89, Byrd returned to Shrapnel Records under his own name and recorded "James Byrd's Atlantis Rising". A lawsuit between Shrapnel and their distributors left the album in a warehouse for an entire year with no distribution, but still was advertised in major press by Shrapnel. The album did extremely well in Japan and Europe, but by the lawsuit severely affected sales in the US. Musically the album is an extension of the sound showed on the debut Fifth Angel album, with strong vocal melodies and guitar solos from Byrd that are a near perfect mix of fretboard finesse and melodic content. Metal Hammer in Europe gave the album a 5 star review.
In 1993, Byrd recorded his first instrumental album "Octoglomerate". It was this album that brought Yngwie Malmsteen's introduction. Mike Varney played Malmsteen some of the tracks over the phone, and Malmsteen asked for the album. It was sent, and Mike Varney introduced the two guitarists. 1993 also saw an introduction for Byrd to a long-time hero and influence Frank Marino, a close friendship developed between the pair. Frank's comments of praise about Byrd can be found in numerous interviews by Marino.
1995 brought the recording and release of another instrumental album: "Son of Man". Yngwie Malmsteen granted his only uncompensated endorsement of another guitarists work for "Son of Man". Several mentions in major guitar magazines by Malmsteen of Byrd as "A great guitarist" created additional press, culminating in inclusion of a feature article in Guitar (GFTPM) Magazine in 1996; "The Ten Best Guitarists You've Never Heard Of". The album was a huge critical success with many publications calling it one of the finest instrumental releases in the history of guitar music. Any self respecting neo-classical fan should track down a copy of this album.
1996 brought the release of "The James Byrd Group - The Apocalypse Chime" with vocalist Robert Mason [Lynch Mob / Cry Of Love]. This was to be Byrd's fulfilment of his last contract to Shrapnel Records and possessed a strong collection of tracks marred slightly by a weak mix (Byrd states that Shrapnel gave him $1000 to do the album).
In 1997, Byrd returned to the Atlantis Rising name with a new label -JVC Japan, Mascot Europe-and line up. The new album "James Byrd's Atlantis Rising - Crimes of Virtuosity" was released in 1998 in Japan and Europe. The album gained extremely strong reviews but sadly label promotion was lacking for this superb album. Many high profile magazine articles did follow e.g. Young Guitar, Burn etc.
From here Byrd hooked up Lion Music initially for a solo on the Jason Becker tribute album "Warmth In The Wilderness". Byrd's solo is one of the most unique on the entire double CD with his tone and style being instantly recognisable.
May 29th 2001 saw the release of "Byrd - Flying Beyond The 9" on Lion Music. The album set new standard for Byrd's career in song writing, production and guitar work. Press reviews were the nothing short of stunning and was Byrd's strongest band based effort to date/.
Summer 2002 saw the release of Byrd's strongest release to date thus far - "Byrd - Anthem". This album saw the sound of 'Flying Beyond The 9' built upon with a return to the slightly guitar heavier approach of earlier albums. Vocals melodies were again an integral part of the sound and this side of the album shows Byrd's ability to pen timeless memorable melodies and hooks. Symphonic orchestrations were again heavily used and the production of the album is something to savour with Byrd's best guitar work and tone to date.
July 2003 brought the Lion Music release "Beyond Inspiration - A Tribute To Uli Jon Roth". James contributed the track 'So Many Lives Away'. Many reviews of the album have called this track the highlight, its also the first track to hear the sonic possibilities of Byrd's revamped 'Strange Particle Productions' home studio. The guitar tone is especially strong on this track.
2004 saw Byrd play a guest solo on the Lion Music Jimi Hendrix tribute album "The Spirit Lives On Vol 2". Byrd contributes a solo to the track Burning Of The Midnight Lamp which showcases his blues guitar ability.
Originally released 1998 Byrd re-mastered "Crimes of Virtuosity" with two previously unreleased bonus tracks and all new artwork for its Lion Music re-release in 2005. The "Crimes Of Virtuosity Special Edition", features the re-mixed Japanese bonus track “Shot Down In Flames”, one of the hardest driving and politically biting pieces of heavy metal ever recorded by the band. In addition to the never before released symphonic performance recorded just before the COV sessions in the same studio: “Bolero - No. 46 Mvt. 3”. Known in the neo-classical rumour mill as "Byrd's Bolero"; this melding of technical electric guitar virtuosity, with symphony, predated later similar hybrids by guitarist and long-time friend Yngwie J Malmsteen by more than a year. Always on the cutting edge, James Byrd unleashes a soaring blend of neo-romantic Mediterranean melody and dynamics that are unsurpassed for beauty and unique to this day.
For the past few years James Byrd has been honing his own take on the electric guitar. His guitar company “Byrd Guitars” was officially launched in April 2005 which sees the Super Avianti guitar marketed to the public - for more information see the Byrd Guitars website.