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Jerry Byrd  

Steel guitar's most influential artist, and a legend to his peers.
More major players credit Jerry with influencing and inspiring them than anyone else. It was his style that most modern players tried to copy when they were learning.

His talent is deceptively simple because it is unpretentious and honest, while always delivered with precision, clarity and richness of tone. Jerry took harmonics to the height of perfection, while the "do-wah" sound he created with his guitar's tone control has never been equaled. Few have mastered his delivery, and that is why he is truly the "Master Of Touch And Tone," as the inscription reads on his plaque in the Steel Guitar Hall of Fame. Even today, his execution remains flawless, while his tone is as rich as when he recorded his first song in 1949.

Jerry is most often mentioned as the greatest steel guitar player of all time! He is best described as "in a class unto himself," since he created his own mold. Although his preference was Hawaiian music, he added such a distinctive sound to Country that he captured the attention of virtually every player of his day... many of whom went on to become major stylists in their own right.

In the 1950s he recorded behind Hank Williams, Marty Robbins, Rex Allen and Red Foley. On those artists' recordings Jerry made an indelible mark as a steel guitarist. His individual recordings soon followed and were ultimately assembled into albums that included Country, Pop, Hawaiian and even Japanese music.

Byrd so impacted the sound of traditional Hawaiian steel guitar delivery as to cause modern players and a listening public to deem his interpretation of it as authentic Hawaiian, even though there is no true standard of authenticity for the sound of a steel guitar playing Hawaiian music. Byrd though, changed the perception of how the music should be delivered on a steel guitar. If you allow yourself to be absorbed by his interpretive styling of the Island's melodies, it is easy to conclude that the music's originators intended it to be played in the Byrd manner. Today, all major recording productions (motion pictures, plays, commercials, etc.) emphasizing this musical genre, use players who can duplicate the Hawaiian guitar sounds typical of Byrd's stylized delivery.

Jerry chose not to take up pedals, feeling confident in his ability to continue doing what had gained him the appreciation he so justly earned. His decision was a good one, since his talent and style didn't need changing. After all, perfection achieved needs no improvement! James Cagney once said, "A man practices all his life until he finally becomes himself." Jerry practiced all his life, but has been his own man since he decided that the steel guitar was going to be his life.

-Tom Bradshaw

His Steel Guitar Hall of Fame plaque reads:



Jerry Byrd died in Honolulu, Hawaii on April 11, 2005.

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