Steve Byrd, the guitarist in the original line-up of Gillan, sadly passed away on Sunday 2nd October after suffering a fatal heart attack while on a short break in Munich. He was 61-years-old.
Byrd joined the Afro-fusion prog rock band Zzebra for their second album, ‘Panic’, after being recommended by his friend and keyboardist Tommy Eyre, who himself would much later perform in Ian Gillan’s solo band for the ‘Naked Thunder’ tour.
Zzebra also featured future Gillan members John McCoy on bass and drummer Liam Genockey, and with them Byrd would record another album, ‘Take It Or Leave It’, in 1975, performing at the Reading Festival the same year.
In 1978 he joined the new wave band Neo who recorded an album in Ian Gillan’s Kingsway studio in London. The then former Deep Purple vocalist had heard them record in the studio and asked Byrd and bassist John McCoy to join his own new band Gillan. That led to a step in the more hard rock direction, away from the jazzier Ian Gillan Band.
The band recorded their debut album in 1978. It was not released in the UK but sold well in Japan and Australia and many imported copies were sold in the UK following rave reviews. The album is now highly regarded as the ‘The Japanese Album’ by many fans.
Steve Byrd left Gillan to be replaced by Bernie Torme. Gillan then released their first official album ‘Mr Universe’ in 1979 which featured many alternative versions of songs that originally featured on the ‘Gillan’ album. However it was decided that ‘Fighting Man’ was not to be re-recorded and Steve Byrd’s blistering guitar solo was kept in place.
In 1982 Byrd joined the highly successful pop singer Kim Wilde and became a long-term member of Kim’s backing band for over a decade. With Kim Wilde he co-wrote the hit singles ‘Another Step (Closer To You)’, ‘Hey Mister Heartache’ and many other album tracks.
One of the biggest tours with Kim Wilde was supporting Michael Jackson on his ‘Bad’ tour in 1988, performing in stadiums across Europe.
In the 1990s Steve Byrd was also a member of 4 Bills And A Ben who featured at various times Status Quo members John ‘Rhino’ Edwards and Jeff Rich.
In later years Byrd continued to tour with many artists from the 80s pop and new wave scene. He was also the MD of his own Byrdsongs record label.
John McCoy today told MetalTalk: “I loved the guy and spoke to him just three days ago…
“I first met Steve when he joined Zzebra in the early seventies. He was only seventeen and stunned us all with his talent, live and recorded. We continued to work together on many sessions and notably it was while working on an album I was producing and bass playing at Kingsway recorders for his band Neo that I introduced him to Colin Towns and from there myself, Steve and Zzebra drummer Liam Genockey were asked to record the first Gillan album (the Japanese album).
“Steve’s playing on that was immaculate. I recommend checking out the track ‘Fighting Man’ from that. After being asked to form a permanent Gillan line-up he and I joined, although Liam declined to join on a permanent basis.
“We did British and Japanese tours before he was replaced by my other mate Bernie Torme! Reason? Well a more ‘Rock guitar hero’ was needed and the rest is history.
“As I write I’m in tears remembering all the times we had together. Steve next appeared with Kim Wilde, ‘Kids In America’ and all that… I have to stop now…
“Steve was living in Spain where he moved last year, still playing great. We remained friends to this sad day.”
Bernie Torme, who replaced Steve Byrd in Gillan, also spoke to MetalTalk today: “I’m devastated about it. He was such a lovely guy and I’ll never forget how nice he was to me when they sacked him and got me in. That takes a big person and I loved him for it, because I felt bad about that.
“We last talked on Facebook just a week or so before his death. he was also four or five years younger than me! And a really healthy guy. It’s just so tragic.”
“Its one of those usual music industry examples of a guy who did not get his due credit. The Japanese Album was the template on which Ian’s and our breakthrough, ‘Mr Universe’, was built. While there were new songs on ‘Universe’, the Japanese album and those original songs were what it was built on. He never got the kudos for being part of building that sound.”
Bernie also spoke fondly about Steve Byrd on his Facebook page upon hearing the sad news, saying: “…I told him a couple of months ago that I thought ‘Fighting Man’ on the ‘Mr Universe’ album, on which he played on, was the best track on that album. True that. It was.
“We had tried to re-record it and we couldn’t come close. I am truly devastated by Steve’s passing, he was one of the best, and a gentle soul, and one who never really got the credit. RIP Steve, I will miss you. All my deepest sympathies to your family friends and loved ones.”