Jonathan Byrd flies under too many radars for reasons that are beyond me. That the taste masters of folk and Americana revere him is testament to the fact that they let the music speak for itself, irrespective of pop charts and record labels.
He is the true traveling troubadour, eking out a living on the road that he seems to thrive off.
And the North Carolinian ventures far and wide, from the Yukon to Switzerland, traveling with fellow musicians in vehicles too small, delayed trains and planes that are eagerly met by music lovers, who ferry him wherever. He carries a guitar, wears the same caved-in straw hat and worn out boots, while lugging a suitcase full of CDs.
If you friend him on Facebook, you will receive the double treat of reading his travelogues which are in the best tradition of the traveling artist, who writes on the many places and people he visits and comes to know as only a traveling minstrel can.
Like many singer songwriters before him, Jonathan grew up in a religious household, with his preacher father and piano playing mother. His father lost his mind, according to his son, became a philandering drunk who eventually recovered. Jonathan’s “Father’s Day” song on his “Cackalack” CD does what so many of his songs do: renders a real hurt into a healing without a hint of maudlin sentimentality. In other words, he ain’t sappy.
He spent a tour of duty with the Navy. He played in rock bands. He discovered old-timey music at a fiddler’s convention and it changed his life. Here was real music. No gimmicks. Down to the bone. Not trying to impress anyone, except those who needed warning that this was a No Bullshit zone.
Check him out. He’s the real deal. As one reviewer wrote: “Some people write good songs, Byrd writes phenomenal ones.”
Here’s one of his early songs that garnered him some serious attention:
The Ballad of Larry by Jonathan Byrd
Larry is a veteran, I seen him at the store
A six pack of malt liquor- it’s the Prozac of the poor
A can o’ chili and a can o’ beans and a pack of cigarettes
Four cheap cigars- he writes a check
He climbs into his van, it’s a blue Econoline
They’re both on their last legs, if looks are any sign
There’s a flag on the bumper and, just to the right
A bald eagle with a nail file says, “it’s time to fight.”
(chorus):You think you’ve got nothing to give
Look around how people live
Loneliness is poverty
Say, “hey,” say, “hey,” to me.
I had an old piano, it just didn’t belong
A couple missin’ keys that seem to be in every song
Even when I had it tuned, it didn’t sound that good
I was tempted to scrap the guts and burn the wood
I put it in the paper, a piano for free
If you can haul it, you can have it, and people came to see
Some folks played “Chopsticks” or “Body and Soul”
Always, they’d hammer in the empty holes
“I heard you got a piano,” he said with suspicion
He was shakin’ from the cold and probably malnutrition
I said, “Hey, Larry, won’t you come on in
Can I make you some coffee?” but he wasn’t listenin’
He went to that piano like he’d seen an old friend
He drew his name in the dust, he told me where it was made and when
He said, “I haven’t seen one like this since I was a boy.”
His face was twisted into joy.
Well, we talked a few minutes, then the coffee was hot
I said, “Hey, Larry, won’t you show me what you’ve got.”
He showed me what he had alright, with conviction and soul
He banged the barrelhouse blues, baby, he rolled like Jellyroll
He played songs of love and country, “from sea to shining sea”
And not once, not once, did I hear a broken key
A broken old piano and a broken old man
Rolled away smokin’ in a broken old van