Gary James' Interview With Joan Jett's ex-guitarist
and founder of Clean Getaway
Ricky Byrd

For over a decade Ricky Byrd was Joan Jett's guitarist. These days he's dedicated his life to Clean Getaway, which provides education, prevention and treatment resources to those suffering from drug addition and / or alcoholism. Ricky spoke with us about his days with Joan Jett and his foundation Clean Getaway.

Q - I actually saw you in concert with Joan Jett way back in early 1982, just when "I Love Rock And Roll" was breaking. You were performing in a club called Club 37 in Syracuse, New York. It wasn't exactly a big club and it wasn't a small club. It was an in-between club. Was that typical of the venues Joan Jett And The Blackhearts were performing in back then?

A - I mean, we were on a club tour. If the record just came out, we were recording the record and in-between we'd be in the studio, then we'd hit the road. We probably were in a Winnebago at that point.

Q - The record was climbing the charts. It was hot.

A - Yeah. We were on the road as it was climbing the charts and then as it got higher and higher our transportation got better, the clubs got bigger and then the next thing you want to do is hook yourself up to a good headliner and go out. Don't ask me who it was back then. We were playing with everybody at that point. So the answer is, it was the transition period. A lot of '82, as the record went up the charts, we got better options.

Q - You spent over a decade with Joan?

A - Yeah. Eleven and half years. Something like that.

Q - Then you went your separate ways. Was that your idea or Joan's idea?

A - It was me. It was just time. I'd gotten clean in '87. I needed to do some other stuff. Immediately after I left I got a call from Roger Daltrey, so I did a record with him. We did a radio tour, played some benefits across the country, did some TV shows. Pretty much after that I got a call from Ian Hunter. I think Mick Ronson had just died and I did a Scandinavian tour with Ian. Then we did a few big shows in London. so it was me. It was just time. It's a lot of time to be in one band. Believe me, it's not like we took six months off. We were either in the studio or on the road.

Q - How did working with Roger Daltrey, Ian Hunter and Southside Johnny compare with Joan Jett?

A - Well, I probably was in a better frame of mind. (laughs) It was all good. With Joan we had the hit record. We had a few. We had "Hate Myself For Lovin' You", "Crimson" and "Little Liar", but with the other two I was playing with people I grew up listening to. So that was a whole different story. Southside's an old friend. It was an honor to play with Roger and Ian I grew up with the headphones on, listening to The Who and Mott The Hoople and Ian's solo work. Then Southside called me and Bobby Bandiera, his long time guitar player, was going out with Bon Jovi. He asked me if I wanted to fill in. I wound up doing that for a couple of years, maybe a year and a half, two years. Something like that.

Q - I want you to speak to people who might be reading this interview 100 or 200 years from now on the internet or somewhere, and they are going to wonder why so many musicians of the 20th century got caught up on drugs.

A - I don't have a good answer for that. Right now, this the worst drug epidemic probably in the last hundred years and it's not musicians. It's in almost every school, from junior high school up. It all revolves around opiate pain relievers and heroin right now. So that's what's going on. So for me it was growing up like everybody else. I'm reading Rock 'n' Roll magazines. Obviously there was no MTV. The only way we learned about other people was from reading magazines, right?

Q - Right.

A - Circus.

Q - Hit Parader, Rock Scene.

A - Rolling Stone, Crawdaddy.

Q - And if you wanted to see a group, maybe you got to see them for five minutes on Ed Sullivan.

A - Exactly. Or The Clay Cole Show if you lived in New York and Lloyd Thaxton. The thing is, when I look back now, I'm in my 29th year of recovering right now. I look back now and I look at all the people that I loved when I was a kid, not just music. There was Rock 'n' Roll, but there was also The Rat Pack, who loved to drink. There were writers I was into like Dorothy Parker from the '40s and Robert Benchley. I read Jackie by William Burroughs when I was 15 probably. Actors. When I look back now, three quarters of them would have been either drug addicts or alcoholics. So maybe I was attracted to that side of life because I was a shy, quiet little kid. I grew up in the Bronx, only child, so a lot of stuff was in my head. I think I was just attracted to that kind of thing and they made it. Listen, we didn't realize they died. It's two things when you're a kid, you never think you're gonna die so there's that. And then the other thing is all we saw on this side of it is in the magazines, where it was the glamour of it. So, when Jimi Hendrix died or Jim Morrison died, we kind of shrugged our shoulders and brushed it off. We didn't know. What the hell did we know? Then as I got older I just happened to be one of those people with that addiction disorder. At a young age I started experimenting. Listen, I can only talk for me. I can't talk how other kids did it. I'm in a band. I'm playing in garages. Somebody brings some Heineken and some joints and there's girls hanging around 'cause we're a band. Most of the other people grew up to be adults. (laughs) I just kind of went back after that first hit. I was attracted to the feeling of not feeling. Then I carried on for another 18 years.

Q - In the era that you grew up in, musicians didn't talk about life off stage. Then we see Keith Richards being glamorized for his drug use.

A - Keith was shooting dope in the '70s, so we kind of liked the look, the vibe, the songs that came out. We were just attracted to it. I don't think we put two and two together that those people were dying. Keith in alive, but Gram Parsons isn't. He hung around with Keith. Gram Parsons turned him on to that open G tuning, right? All those songs Keith wrote were mostly written in open G. You tune the guitar to an open chord. That's why "Honky Tonk Women" sounds like that. It's all guitar talk. (laughs) Gram Parsons from The Flying Burrito Brothers started hanging around with Keith. Keith and Mick loved Country music, and Keith absorbed a lot of the stuff Gram was doing. Unfortunately, Gram couldn't keep up with Keith on the other side of it and Gram died. So the point being, I think you also have to lay the cards on the table. We didn't have social media. We didn't have Behind The Music. We didn't have MTV. The only way we knew what was going on with these people is when we opened a magazine. If you want to related it to old movie stars back in the '40s, '50s, they had "fixers." You ever hear that expression?

Q - I have not.

A - There was a guy with each studio that was a fixer. So if Errol Flynn was caught with an underage girl, usually it wouldn't be in the papers, but some of the stuff did get out. Also, the newspapers were very tied in to the music studios so everything was protected. Now everything is so separate in music, movies and Rock 'n' Roll, The Enquirer and TMZ and what about the money people get, the paparazzi taking pictures of people coming out of clubs drunk. There's so many other variables to why we know so much about everybody now.

Q - How do you combat the philosophy of someone saying, "I can handle it. I won't have the same problems Ricky Byrd had."

A - Well, that's what young people say. Let me tell you something: I just did four music groups in a week in a detox in New Jersey, for two years. Everybody I played to went from 18 years old to 70. The older people were more into alcoholism or pills, but most of the kids started with pills, pain relievers and just quickly transitioned into heroin. So the deal is, we think we're not going t be the one that dies and we've not going to be the one that gets hooked. They're learning so much now. If you have four people in your family that have addictive behavior or are in twelve step programs, you probably don't want to start because you might have that gene, if that's what you believe in.

Q - It's the fear of liking it too much.

A - Well, it's not about liking it too much. If you believe what the American Medical Association says about it, it's a piece of your brain. It's the reward center of the brain and the circuitry is off just like a person that has diabetes. Their body doesn't make enough insulin, right? So that's why at some point in their life they may have to take shots to replace it. So a drug addict or alcoholic is a piece of the brain. There's all kinds of theories now, but I go along with the disease concept, this disorder concept, that circuitry is off so when you get that first hit, that rush, you just want more. There's no Edit button. There's no Stop button. That's the deal. But how do you find that out until it happens to you? I may say to you, "Hey man, you got people in your family with a drinking problem." You many not want to try and drink. If you're a wiser person you'll say that's a really good idea, but if you're fucking 14, you're gonna say no, that's not me. Then it might be too late.

Q - I take it your drug of choice was alcohol?

A - More.

Q - More than alcohol?

A - No. My drug of choice was more. How's that?

Q - More of everything?

A - Yeah. I mean you could see it in my behavior, even in my recovery. You see that thing sometimes, when you want more of something. Like one guitar isn't enough. You have to have five. One cupcake is not enough. That's the addiction behavior. It doesn't have to do with only drugs and alcohol. But I did everything from top to bottom brother, starting with pot and ending with everything by the end.

Q - Do you get a lot of famous musicians come through the door at the Clean Get Away Foundation?

A - Well there is no door. It's a foundation. Let's put it this way, there are approximately 24 million people in recovery in this country (the United States) right now. What I used to tell those kids at the Detox is we were like always the ones that everybody looked at to be the ones that were addicted to everything, falling down drunk and Keith and Joe Walsh. These days my age group from all the musicians I knew from back then are either in recovery, they're dead, or they never really had a problem. There's really only those variables. So there are people that are 65 years old that maybe can still have a cocktail or two. They never had a problem. The ones that had huge problems, if they're smart enough they're in recovery. Maybe there's a fourth party of people that are still clinging to get a high a little bit, but they must be in awfully bad shape if they're still using.

Q - So there is no brick and mortar place that people go.

A - No. This is it in a nutshell. If you go on the website, and on Facebook, Ricky Byrd's Clean Getaway, and "Like" the page, I'm the founder of it and I'm collecting names. So, what we're going to do is pass the message of recovery through music. So what does that mean? Either I could do acoustic music groups with songs that I've written that I was doing at the detoxes that are recovery based music. In other words the lyrics are all about addiction and recovery and all really well written. Nothing goofy. Just really great songs. We did an All Star concert last September (2015). We raised money for a treatment center in Connecticut and I had Bonnie Brown as a special guest. I had an All Star band. So that's the main part of it. Passing the message of recovery. I know recovery and I know music. So, I'm going to put together all kinds of programs to do with music. I want to do it around the country. There will always be a professional from the recovery field to talk to whoever. I want to go to schools and talk to kinds. Panels. Talk to parents. It's not just the drug addicts and the alcoholics. The parents are stuck between a rock and a hard place. They don't know how to handle this. The kids are dying. They're burying kids left and right. So when your kid comes knocking at the door begging for fifty bucks to get high at three in the morning, do you give it to 'em or do you call the police? What do you do? We're trying to educate. We'll talk about over-prescribing medicine 'cause that's a huge problem in this country right now. What interests me is really passing the message through music. I'm gonna do a recovery CD and we'll give away the basic CD to addicts and alcoholics around the world and maybe we'll sell a special edition to fund the website so they'll fund the foundation so we could actually go out and do more stuff. So it's pretty cool. It's not a place. It's a foundation.

Q - Do you solicit private funds?

A - Oh, definitely. In the last six months I've been getting the website ready. We just got two really great people on the advisory board. Like I said man, I'm collecting names now. I'm collecting people to be a street team. I just got Andrew Loog Oldham. The Stones original manager. He's on the advisory board. I got Steve Earl who's a friend of mine and also has a great story. There's couple more I'm gonna havve in the next two weeks that I don't want to talk about yet. So that's the advisory board. We have a Board Of Directors. I just found the next place I want to do a benefit for. That's what I'm gonna do. I'm adding the last bits to the website. People should go on it. They can actually donate. We have t-shirts. There's all different donation packages, all the way from $30 you get a t-shirt and $2,500 I'll put your name as a supporter on the album, a CD when we finish it. Plus all kinds of backstage stuff. So there's stuff on there for everybody. If you get the t-shirt you help spread the message. This is my part. This is what I'm doing, dude. This is my part in trying to help. Music is a healer. It's one piece of this crazy puzzle trying to keep people clean and get them to go on the right path. This is how I know how to do it.

Q - Have you heard from anybody who's said, "You made a difference in my life."?

A - You wouldn't believe how many great messages I get.

Official Website:

© Gary James. All rights reserved.