Jerry Byrd (1920-2005)
Master of Touch and Tone

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Some Thoughts by Jerry Byrd . . .

(Jerry passed away on April 11, 2005 in Hawaii)

Has it ever occurred to you that we play the most "cluttered-up" musical instrument ever invented?? Well, we do by far! And why so? I have lived to bear witness to all of them, most of which were designed (?) to make playing a difficult instrument easier but actually doing just the opposite, and then finally giving it up altogether - or moving on to another instrument like electronic gadgets of all kinds.

Let's look at one of those: Electronic Keyboards. It was now possible to electronically "bend" or "slur" notes (and here I'll use a salesman's "pitch") to sound just exactly like a steel guitar. These came into being when? - 15 or 20 years ago? - and would now replace a whole orchestra: string section, rhythm section, everything and anything and would now throw hundreds of musicians "out of work."

Since I was, and still am, teaching at Harry's Music Store, I witnessed first-hand the birth (and death) of these "boons" to music. Half of the floor space was taken up with electric keyboards purchased by a few young 'kids' who ordered every new model that came out (which was almost a monthly happening) only to very quickly become obsolete due to a newer, and much better model. During a conversation one day, one of these young geniuses said boastingly, "These will put steel guitar out of business because we can do it on keyboards same sound, same way" etc etc etc. I replied, "No, you can make it sound like you think a steel guitar sounds: which is gliss, gliss, gliss. If it can sound just like a steel, as you say, then tell it to play like Jerry Byrd." End of conversation.

The "fad" lasted a few years as all fads do; the "salesmen" left and there sat dozens of keyboards and amplifiers of all sizes, which were later shipped to an auction house in California for a very small fraction of what they cost.

Slide Guitar. Here is another one! "New and Improved" by the use of better "slides" - that ugly tube of metal that's placed over the fingers of the left hand that, I'm told, sounds "just like a steel guitar." (Where have I heard that before?) And what they do, typically so, is "scoop" into every position - by at least two frets, usually more - like shooting arrows at something. It drives me nuts!!! Zip, Zip, Zip and about as subtle as a bulldozer!!! Often, people come up to me and ask about or refer to my "slide" guitar. I hastily, and emphatically tell them that I play steel guitar and add that it was not born in the "southern" U.S. - it was born right here on this island in Hawaii.

Pedal Steel. I have never said that I dislike the use of pedals - I dislike what they do with them with only a very few exceptions.

Regardless of how many gadgets they invent, it all comes down to this: "Excellency" does not come easily and is not dependent upon "tools" - or even whether you have two hands and ten fingers.


Jerry Byrd and Curly Chalker

Steel Guitar Legends Of The Past

The Incredible Kayton Roberts!

E9th Recordings of Jerry Byrd

By Jack Bird

       The Vintage Series of Jerry's recordings were re-issued by Tom Bradshaw of Pedal Guitar Products. The packaging isn't much.

It looks like Tom Xeroxed in black and white a lot of wonderful color album covers in producing this series of albums originally recorded for Mercury, Monument, Decca and RCA Victor, but the sound is a pure and crisp as ever and as Jerry said he made more from the re-issue of these albums that he made when they first came out.

Here is a listing of the seven Vintage albums re-issued by Bradshaw. They sold for $6 when they came out.

No. 1 Hi-Fi Guitar (originally Decca DL 8643)
No. 2 Steel Guitar Favorites (Mercury MC 20345)
No. 3 Burning Sands, Pearly Shells and Steel Guitars ( Monument SLP 18081)
No. 4 Hawaiian Beach Party (RCA Victor LPM-1687
No. 5 Byrd of Paradise (Monument SM 14003
No. 6 Satin Strings of Steel (Monument SLP 18033) This is also the same as Memories of Maria (monument M 4008) it was renamed.
No. 7 Admirable Byrd (Monument SLP 18104

CC Johnson is correct on the tuning on Admirable Byrd. Chet made a mistake and that was also what Jerry told me some time ago when I was gathering information for his book.

Also Michael Cord of Cord International owns the copyright of the six Monument albums Jerry recorded. I believe he purchased it from Sony a few years back He intends to issues them as CDs selecting various tunes from the six albums. The first one is titled Jerry Byrd Master of the Steel Guitar, Vol. One. If you go to his site you will find it . It is HOCD 95980 and has 15 instrumentals the URL is

Here are the album notes by Chet...

Since Jerry has offered me this space to say anything I’d like, I’ll sketch a pet story of mine for you.

The average young musician begins his career with a head full of high ideals; he tells himself, and everybody around who’ll listen, about his determination to play only what he honestly believes in.

By his third or fourth day of working for the public, he has discovered it’s probably going to be just a little tougher than he imagined to reeducate the whole world to entirely agree with his own personal tastes. And then, not more than a week passes until he has become a 100% realist who sees that he’d better hurry and get with the popular trend of the day if he’s going to be able to survive in the business at all.

Now, there are two ways to react to such an unfortunately true story: (1) you can shrug your shoulders and say, “Oh well, I guess that’s life”, or (2) you can join me in paying tribute to the remarkable individualism represented by Jerry Byrd a rare bird in the modern menagerie of musicians, because he has gone against the odds to prove a man can hold fast to his ideals and still have immensely successful career.

My association with Jerry dates back to a 1947 recording in Atlanta’s old Fox theatre. Later, in the Fifties, we shared a three-year experience I’ll look back upon gratefully for years to come, playing together five afternoons a week on a WSM radio series called “Two Guitars”. From that close relationship I learned there are no shortcuts, no compromises in Jerry’s approach to his music, and he has within him no tolerance whatever for the sort of entertainment which must be classed as “musical noise”. Combine these ideals with the gift of perfect intonation and you’ve got yourself an exceptional steel guitarist.

Seven of this fine collection of instrumentals were written by Jerry, especially for this album, and steel guitar fans will be surprised to find that all but three are played in the old E7th tuning, (Chet was in error here, the tuning was E9th-(JB I changed E7th ) a new experiment and a new sound for Jerry Byrd.

I know there must be a much more sophisticated phrase to describe the kind of thing Jerry plays, but to me it’s simply Pretty Music. Unquestionably some of the prettiest music on the steel or any other instrument. Jerry is interested in no other kind. I wish the same could be said of everyone who plays and everyone who listens.
Chet Atkins

1990 Steel Guitar West Convention:

Jerry Byrd Playing E9th Frypan from 1990
(right click to download, 132 MB)

Kawohikukapulani ...

Surprise Waltz ...

I'll be All Smiles Tonight ...

Tomi Tomi ...

Jerry Byrd's E9 tuning ... (hi to lo) E - B - G# - F# - E - D - (B - G#)

E MAMA E (E9th by David J. Stewart. Free online tabs and rhythm track)

Jesus Christ is the ONLY way to Heaven!