Q&A with Rock ’n Roll Hall of Famer Ricky Byrd

Ricky Byrd, musician

Grateful for all his musical achievements, Ricky Byrd is fond of saying that one of the greatest gifts he’s been given happened on Sept. 25, 1987 when he started his journey in recovery. Simply put, “it was time.” He’s been clean and sober ever since, doing whatever he can to help others recover. It’s his passion and what he’s most proud of. 

“There’s this dark hallway filled with people caught between denial and surrender,” he says. “I’ve been blessed to have this next life and because of that gift, I feel I’m responsible to turn around and wave at those people in that dark place and just go, `hey man, come on, follow me.’ ”The starting point of Ricky combining his music with recovery began in 2012, when he co-wrote a song with his friend, Richie Supa. The two wound up writing what is now considered a recovery classic:  “Broken Is A Place,” which speaks to the inherent hole in the soul of those who continue to suffer under the great weight of addiction. It hit a nerve. 

Back in New York City, he recorded a demo of the song, put it up on social media, and the response was overwhelming. That’s when he realized how strong the combination of music and recovery could be. He wrote a second song, and then a third, and he didn’t stop until the seeds of his 2017 Clean Getaway album were planted. Inspired to present these recovery-based songs on a different stage, Ricky made calls to treatment facilities, offering to come in with his acoustic guitar and perform them to the clients. He did, and the response was so powerful that he’s been doing it ever since, on the road as a Recovery Troubadour. He’d play his acoustic guitar, sing those songs, talk to people, listen to people, help people. In doing so, he was also helping himself. He kept writing, traveling, and visiting treatment facilities, schools, and juvenile detention centers. 

“It was quite the education for me,” Ricky admits. “I found that there was a real connection … a tangible something I could do to help … a reason my checkered past in rock’n’roll just might bring about awareness, maybe prevention, maybe even lessen the stigma of addiction.” Ricky Byrd has since given away thousands of copies of Clean Getaway at his recovery music groups across the country. The CD has garnered great reviews across-the-board and he’s currently working on a follow-up filled with songs of addiction, resurrection and hope. Taking it a step further, he has earned his CASAC T (Certified Alcohol and Substance Abuse Counselor) credentials and CARC (Certified Addiction Recovery Coach) credentials.As his card says, “Have Recovery Will Travel.”

Ricky Byrd

Q. If you are in recovery, what was your Drug of Choice? When did you stop using?
A. More!!! I would do anything and everything to hit that feeling of feeling numb, but I’d have to say cocaine was the drug that sped up the process and got me to where I am today. Sept 25th 1987 is my Clean and Sober date.

Q. Do you think addiction is an illness, disease, a choice or a wicked twist of fate.
A. I believe addiction is a disease. I do have it in my immediate family, and several members have died as a direct result of alcoholism. As far as choice goes. The craving and obsession that comes with the disease of addiction kinda takes that word off the table. At least it did for me. In long-term recovery I do have the choice to use the tools I’ve been freely given and live in the solution or run a game on myself and live in the problem. The disease of addiction is always sitting there waiting for which door on a daily basis I choose. So far so good

Q. Do you log on to ZOOM 12-step meetings? How often? Do you share?
A. Oh yeah. Early in March I was asked to speak at a meeting out of Boca and I fell in love with everyone there. I may not agree with everything everyone says all the time but it sure has kept me balanced while we are all on pause. I’ve maybe missed 10 days on there since March. 

Q. Have you added anything to your Tool-kit to help keep you sober during the pandemic?
A. Lots of serenity prayer throughout the day. Also reaching out to others that might be struggling. I’m not anonymous with my recovery only my methods, so I’ve put the word out on my social media pages for people to pm me if they need a chat.

Q. Where did you grow up?
A. In Da Bronx. Moved to Queens, NY when I was almost 14.

Q. From what school or teacher did you learn the most?
A. I knew from the time I was 9 I wanted to be a musician, so I spent my time in school just getting through it so I could join a band … lol, I got decent grades but I was more interested in when the next Hendrix record was coming out.

Q. If you had an extra million dollars, which charity would you donate it to?
A. Anything that helps humanity stay on the right course.

Q. Do you have any children?
A. Yes, blessed to have a 19-year old daughter named Frankie. She’s the best!! Frankie took the cover photos on my new release “Sobering Times”, which comes out 9/25

Q. Have you started any new projects because of the quarantine?
A. Trying to get some things done in the house I’ve been putting off. Mostly preparing for the release of my record. A lot goes into a release after you’ve actually finished the recording process. I need to keep on top of things every day.

Q. If you ever retire would you prefer to live by the ocean, lake, river, mountaintop or penthouse?
A. I’ve heard the word retire … not sure what it means.

Q. What is your favorite hotel or resort?
A. I do love to stay in hotels … Back in my touring, active days the Riot House on Sunset and the Sunset Marquis were always interesting to stay at. Never knew who you’d run into at the bar or the hallways at 3am. These days a hotel with a good restaurant (room service), gym and walking distance to stores is priority. Over the years I’ve stayed in amazing places as well as dumps around the world.

Q. What is your biggest or littlest pet peeve?
A. I cannot stand when I hold the door for someone and they don’t say thank you … lol. Since I learned to breathe in recovery things that used to bother me don’t linger in my head too long. If it gets bad I run it by another person in recovery and it usually dissipates quickly.

Q. Who has had the biggest influence on you throughout your life?
A. Musically I’m absolutely a product of everyone I listened to when I was a teenager. Humanity wise it’s my family. Also, people I see out in the world doing positive things for others, makes me want to be part of the solution. Finally, for the last 33 years, those that have come before me in recovery are the crumbs I follow as we trudge the road of happy destiny.

Q. If you were giving a dinner party for your 3 favorite authors, living or dead, who would they be? (choose 4 if you think one might be too drunk or stoned to attend.)
A. Dorothy Parker for sure. George S. Kaufman, Damon Runyon.

Q. What books are you reading now?
A. Finishing a giant book on Sinatra called The Chairman, followed by a book of Dorothy Parker theater reviews. Then I have a book about Lucky Luciano.

Q. What is your FAVORITE Radio show, news show, podcast?
A. I haven’t really listened to podcasts. Driving I listen to Little Steven’s Underground Garage. I attempt to stay off the news because it make the veins in my neck pop and I always need to call my sponsor. 🙂 Yankee baseball always.

Q. What is your FAVORITE APP?
A. I have the usual suspects, which I need to be on to talk about and sell my music. Modern day promo.

Q. Are you bingeing on any TV series? If so which ones.?
A. Nah … I jump around. I did watch Hollywood on Netflix. I was born too late so anything about the ’20s— the ’50s I’ll watch. Love Mob shows. I Always check TCM first to see if a classic is on.

Q. Which film have you watched the most?
A. Odd Couple, Sunshine Boys, My Favorite Year, The Producers, Any Mel Brooks film, Marx Bros. You can see a pattern here.

Q. Who is your FAVORITE Director?
A. Billy Wilder, Neil Simon, Mel Brooks Frank Capra, John Huston,Rob Reiner, Carl Reiner,Mike Nichols, Preston Sturges, Hitchcock … on and on.

Q. Who is your favorite sober celebrity?
A. Watching Robert Downey Jr. go from hell to Iron Man was pretty cool.

Q. What is your FAVORITE Band/composer/musical artist?
A. Stones

Q. What is your FAVORITE Broadway musical/play?
A. Death of a Salesman

Q. What is your FAVORITE City?
A. N.Y.C

Q. What is your FAVORITE Restaurant?
A. Late night …Wo Hop in China Town. Any non tourist great Italian restaurant.

Q.  What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
A. It Too Shall Pass.

Q. What is the best piece of advice YOU’VE given?
A. An addicts mind is like a bad neighborhood … don’t go in there by yourself.

Q. What is the greatest risk you have ever taken?
A. Choosing music as full time occupation
Or maybe it chose me.

Q. What is your biggest regret?
A. No regrets really … everything had a purpose to get me to where I am. I do wish I would have paid attention more in the studio during all the records I’ve been part of, so I would know how to record on my own without having to go to you tube tutorials. Spent too much time in the lounge when I should’ve been behind the board.

Q. Have you ever been arrested and if so, for what?
A. Nope

Q What is the proudest moment in your life?
A. Whenever I get a message from someone struggling with addiction (newbie or in long term recovery) tells me my Recovery R’n”R cd’s, “Clean Getaway” or the new one “Sobering Times” helped them get through the day.
What could be better than that?

Q. What is your favorite Weekly News Bulletin?
A. This one of course