Byrd was born in 1933 in Chuckatuck, Virginia, the youngest of four brothers. His eldest brother was the famous guitarist Charlie Byrd. For over 40 years, Charlie and Joe performed together. They traveled the world, visiting over 100 countries. They were Good Will Ambassadors for the State Department. Joe Byrd has performed at the White House in Washington, D.C., for Presidents Johnson, Ford and Carter. Byrd says of his career, “I’m the luckiest guy alive… I’ve had a wonderful 40-year career and have made a living playing the music I love best!”
Joe Byrd (Gene Byrd on his earliest recordings) graduated from the Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore. While studying classical music and honing his skills on the double bass, Byrd played jazz clubs around Baltimore, Maryland, and also joined his brother on weekends, playing in Washington, D.C. Both brothers had originally learned guitar from their father. Joe played rhythm guitar and bass in the early 60’s with the various Charlie Byrd groups. For the “Jazz Samba” album with Charlie Byrd and Stan Getz, Joe played rhythm guitar on some tracks and a 1/8 size bass on others. Joe also played guitar and sang blues and ballads in the coffee houses of the 60’s. In 1963, he permanently joined the Charlie Byrd Trio as full-time bass player.
Over the years, Joe has performed with many famous musicians. Based in Washington, D.C., the Showboat Lounge was one of the most famous jazz venues in the world. There Joe first met and played with Teddy Wilson, who would become a life-long friend. He also played bass for Jimmy Witherspoon, Mose Allison, and Coleman Hawkins. During the 70’s, Joe was bass player with the Great Guitars (Barney Kessel, Herb Ellis and Charlie Byrd), touring and recording several albums for Concord Records with that group.
Byrd settled in Annapolis, Maryland, in 1977. The Charlie Byrd Trio was “at home” for over 25 years at the King of France Tavern located in the Maryland Inn. From their Annapolis base, the Byrd brothers traveled the world.
When not traveling with the Trio, Joe created his own regional group, and the Joe Byrd Trio was house band for the old Annapolis Hilton, the Annapolis Hotel and the L’Enfant Plaza Hotel in Washington, D.C., for several years. After Charlie’s death, Joe revived his own trio and began playing regionally in the Virginia/DC/Maryland area. One year later, his groups were venturing farther afield to Florida, Alabama, and beyond. Joe and his wife, Elana, produced and recorded two albums in 2001 and created their own JEB Music label. The CD entitled “Basically Blues” draws on Joe’s earliest experiences in the music business. This is a vocal album embodying “jazzy blues” in Joe’s obviously southern style. Jim Ohlschmidt of Acoustic Guitar magazine said in writing the liner notes, “Like a bowl of gumbo, there’s a whole lot to savor and enjoy here. Let Joe and his group lay some tunes on you, and you’ll be smiling before you know it.”
“Brazilian Nights,” the CD, evolved from the early “Tribute to Charlie Byrd” concerts performed by Joe’s groups in the year 2000 and 2001. Joe considers this album to be his best work to date and a wonderful tribute to his brother and musical companion.
In January 2002, Joe and his wife Elana sponsored a concert at the Peabody Institute to raise funds for the Charlie Byrd Memorial Scholarship Fund in guitar. They picked Frank Vignola to join Joe’s trio. Immediately, there was magic in the combination. Out of that concert, a new group has emerged in the form of Joe Byrd on bass, Frank Vignola on guitar, and Chuck Redd on vibes. Their first release is entitled GypsySoul and available on gypsysoulonline.com.
And so, instead of retiring after 40 years, Joe Byrd continues to play and create beautiful music. He is bringing together new and exciting sounds.