Byrd got his first real guitar when he was 9, but was not serious until September 18th, 1970--the day Jimi Hendrix died--. Before this, he did not know who he was. His parents had the evening news on that day, and they showed Hendrix playing the national anthem at Woodstock. In this, his story is apparently almost the same as Yngwie Malmsteen', but a lot of boys started wanting to play guitar on that day. His most important first influences were all blues players for the most part. He learned to really master blues guitar, and within 5 years he could play like an "Old-soul". After this, he began listening to other styles of players: Ritchie Blackmore, Uli Roth with Scorpions, Al Di Meola. The most important guitar influences from beginning to end were Hendrix, BB King, Johnny Winter, Frank Marino, Ritchie Blackmore, Uli Jon Roth/Scorpions, Al Di Meola, Jan Hammer (whom he thought was a guitarist at first, in fact, he thought HE was Jeff Beck, so he thought Beck was a lot better than he was), D'jango Reinhardt, Jan Akkerman, Paco DeLucia, Michael Schenker, and Neil Schon. At age 18, he left home and went on the road with a heavy metal cover band playing colleges and some large sized venues and events. His band covered songs by only a few bands: UFO-They performed the 'Strangers In The Night' material to the note--, and the Scorpions from their Uli Roth period. About 90 percent of the cover material was from these two bands, and as a young kid, he had to learn these entire guitar solos note for note. His band won the "Northwest Battle Of The Bands" and free studio recording time. They did not have a single original song, so 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 Ken Mary, the other was Ted Pilot. This was to become Fifth Angel. Queensryche were recent news in Seattle at this time, so his plan was to follow their business approach of assembling the players he wanted, and concentrating solely on writing, rehearsing, producing an album, and then looking for a recording contract. So that's exactly what he did. 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. They 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. The album did extremely well in Japan and Europe, but by the time it was released in the U.S.A., everyone who'd wanted it couldn't find it, so it had a serious negative impact on his sales in the region.
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 to long-time hero and influence Frank Marino, and a close friendship developed between Byrd and Marino. Frank's comments about Byrd can be found at Frank Marino Interview (Scroll down towards the end of interview)
1995 brought the recording and release of another instrumental album: "James Byrd-Son of Man". Yngwie Malmsteen granted his only endorsement of another guitarists work for Byrd's "Son of Man", and the album appeared bearing an attachment on it's cover which read "James Byrd is the most exciting, European-sounding guitarist I've heard in years"-Yngwie Malmsteen. Several mentions in major guitar magazines by Malmsteen of Byrd as "A great guitarist" created additional press, culminating in inclusion in a feature article in Guitar Magazine in 1996; "The ten bes guitarists you've never heard of". . 1996 brought the release of "The James Byrd Group-The Apocalypse Chime" with former Lynch Mob vocalist Robert Mason. This was to be Byrd's fulfilment of his last contract to Shrapnel Records.
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. Currently, work is underway on a new vocal album that will be called "Byrd-Flying Beyond the 9". Byrd also is involved in guitar research and development, beginning his own company in 1996; The Byrd Guitar Company, and he's been granted multiple patents for his innovations in guitar design.
In 2001 James Byrd put together his new group BYRD with witch he has released the album "Flying Beyond the 9" and the new album "Athem" (July 2002) on Lion Music.