Jonathan Byrd is the real deal

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.

Jonathan Byrd

Jonathan Byrd

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


At Tybee’s Beach Bum Parade

Tybee loves parades.  Especially, the Beach Bum Parade, the one that commemorates (in a commiserating sense for us locals) the start of the tourist season.  It’s held the Friday before Memorial Day Weekend.

It’s a water fight.  Plain and simple.

And you have to experience it to get it.

The crowds lines Butler Avenue (Highway 80 along the beach) with large buckets, in many cases trash dumpsters, full of water.  Most have water soakers and water cannons.  They await not so patiently the parade of floats, little more than pickups and flatbeds loaded down with buckets and dumpsters full of water and folks carrying water soakers and cannons.

Beach Bum Parade 2013

Soaking commences at 6:30, though some skirmishes breakout among the bystanders who can’t stand having a loaded water gun without drenching somebody.

It’s a free for all.  They soak you.  You soak them.  You soak each other.  Everyone gets wet.  Completely wet.

Two rules:  no ice water and no shooting the cops.

Crazy.  Fun.  Silly.


I was without weapon.  So I used the next best thing: my fingers as pistols.  I would shoot into the flatbeds, whose drenched occupants would look strangely at the unarmed man pointing his cocked fingers at them right before unloading on me.

julia's token at Huc-a-poos

julia’s token at Huc-a-poos

I returned “fire” with the exclamation:  “You’re dead.  I win,” which my daughter and her friend thought hilarious.  Which of course then became a mantra for the rest of the day of being silly.

That night, Julia and her friend Maria left the traditional dollar bill on Huc-a-poos bar with the inscription:  “You’re dead.  I win.”

Life on Tybee Island is living on the edge of America

Life on Tybee Island,  off the coast of Georgia, is literally living  on “the edge of America.”

Tybee Island: The Edge of America

Tybee Island

I first came across that description when Melissa and I were traveling with our friends David and Judy McNaughton.  We were island shopping, so to speak.

And we visited Folly Beach, a small island beach outside of Charleston, S.C.

The sign welcoming us to town described Folly Beach as “the edge of America.”  I was so taken with that description that I wrote a song by that title.  I refer to it as my noir song, as it captures the feeling of fleeing  to an island to escape from some pursuer or a tormented love affair.  Mysterious yet comforting.

The song is the title track to my new CD — “The Edge of America.”

I’m also appropriating the description as a blog category for my website:  “Letters from the Edge of America.”

Here, I can write about life on the island, or anything, really.  But I promise no politics.  Ever.  Or really anything remotely akin to issues of the public square.

We don’t have a public square on Tybee.  We do have a roundabout at the beach, near the pier.  But no public square.  And I’m good with that.


The guy who started me on the path to songwriting was Merle Haggard.

While others in my college dorm were intently listening the to Doors, the Stones and Led Zeppelin, I was hiding out in the laundry room listening to Merle’s 1970 Fighting Side of Me. Not because I was a reactionary redneck.  In fact, I was racing as fast as I could toward being a long-haired, dope-smoking hippie.

No, I was listening to that red, white and blue record because of one song:  “Today I Started Loving You Again.”

Merle Haggard (public domain

Merle Haggard (public domain

It was the first song I learned how to play on my Epiphone dreadnaught.

Not only did it adhere to the 3 chords and the truth formula of Harland Howard, but also its lyrics were simple:  a chorus and verse.  Period.

Today I started loving you again
I’m right back where I’ve really always been
I got over you just long enough to let my heartache mend
Then today, I started loving you again

What a fool I was to think I could get by
With only these few millions tears I cry
I should have known the worst was yet to come
And that crying time for me had just begun

(Repeat Chorus)


Doesn’t get much shorter than that.

Perhaps that’s why it is so powerful.

And Merle’s concise rendering of the most powerful emotions can also be heard in “Silver Wings,” which is another chorus-verse song, or verse-bridge depending on your point of view:

Silver wings
Shining in the sunlight
Roaring engines
Headed somewhere in flight
They’re taking you away
And leaving me lonely
Silver wings
Slowly fading out of sight

Don’t leave me I cry
Don’t take that airplane ride
But you’ve locked me out of your mind
And left me standing here behind

As fate would have it:  The Fighting Side of Me album also contained some not-so-conventional top 40 country tunes that helped ground me in real country (that blending of country, folk and blues).  Songs like Bo Chatmon’s “Corrine, Corrina,” Jimmie Rodgers’ “T.B. Blues,” and Woody Guthrie’s “Philadelphia Lawyer.”

Writing simple songs ain’t easy

Simple songs are often the hardest to write. Or at least they are for this Georgia songwriter.  There is a line between trite and profound.  And never mistake profundity for the piling on of every description or thought imaginable.

I spent a few decades honing the craft of news writing, paying particular attention to the leads of stories, which should compel the reader to read on.  I eventually created a class, the Craft of Writing, which I taught to countless journalists around the country.  Its primary premise was that the key to powerful writing begins with clear, simple sentences.

I like to think you can hear in the first lines of my songs the lessons learned from writing and editing news leads intended to hook the reader with clear, simple sentences.  Here are a few from my new CD, “The Edge of America.”

 You got fleas in your bed, the roof’s got a leak, your car won’t start and it sure does seem like it’s all falling apart…   

 Old men, they say, don’t sleep well in strange beds, when closing your eyes is an act of faith.   

 She can tell you all the presidents and the first 100 digits of pi.  She can write haiku and even make it rhyme.


She poured coffee in my cup and said how do you like it hon. I said a little bit of cream and something sweet.


No more secrets. No place to hide.  Doesn’t really matter if you’re too old to cry.



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Music and musings

Welcome to my new website, devoted to my music and musings.

Here you will be able to listen and download my songs — old, new and songs in-the-works.  I’ll also let you know where you can hear them live when I’m playing out. I’ll also be discussing what went into the writing of the songs.

That’ll lead me naturally into writing about songwriting in general and individual songwriters specifically. And in that way I hope to turn you on to some singer/songwriters you may not be familiar with.

To change up every now and then, I’ll post “Letters from the Edge of America” about life on a little island off the coast of Georgia.  It’ll be about anything and everything, except state or national politics.  As with beer, I had to give that up.

Martin guitar used on The Edge of America shoot

Martin guitar used on The Edge of America shoot

I have finished recording a new CD!  My first in seven years.  Obviously, a lot changes in seven years, and for me it was indeed a lot: I quit my job, got married, moved from the city of my birth to a small island off the coast of Georgia, where I have made new friend and a place I call home.

And as you would expect, my songwriting reflects those changes.

I’m very excited about the 11 songs on “The Edge of America,” and can’t wait for everyone to heart them.

More about that as we get closer to the CD’s release – some time in late summer, early fall.