About The Artist
William Lewis "Billy" Byrd was a high quality lead guitarist, best known for his work with Ernest Tubb and His Texas Troubadours. While he gained fame in the country field, it was said that his main interests were in pop music and especially jazz. After working on radio stations a bit without pay, Billy finally gained a real professional job in 1938 at WSM with Herald Goodman and the Tennessee Valley Boys. He did his first record session that fall on the Bluebird label.
Billy injured his elbow and left the group when the rest of the band decided to try their luck farther west. Upon recovery, he joined a dance band and soon moved to playing with Nashville's orchestra leader Francis Craig, headquartered at the Hermitage Hotel. Some months later with World War II raging, Byrd joined the navy and served as cook on a destroyer. Back in civilian life, he moved back into country as a band member with Wally Fowler, so remaining until 1948.
Departing from Fowler, Billy worked briefly with a band at KWKH, the Four Deacons, and also with Curley Williams and his Georgia Peach Pickers. However, by the fall of 1949, he was back in Nashville as a member of Ernest Tubb's Texas Troubadours. Since Tubb usually announced guitar breaks by name both on radio, on records, and on stage, Byrd gained greater fame than most sidemen (as Tubb had also earlier done with prior lead guitarists).
Billy's first session with the Texas Troubadours produced the perennial holiday favorite, "Blue Christmas." Later sessions included several of the Tubb-Red Foley duets (often of a comic nature), such hits as "Fortunes in Memories," "Half a Mind," the first long-play album The Importance of Being Ernest (1958), and the two-album The Ernest Tubb Story (1959). It also inspired one of the great country music jokes: " Question: What did Ernest Tubb say when he sat down on the cactus? Answer: Pick it out Billy Byrd."
After a decade on the road, Byrd apparently grew tired of the grueling travel schedule and retired from the band. About then or shortly afterward, he recorded three albums-two were for Warner Brothers--I Love a Guitar (1960) and The Golden Guitar of Billy Byrd (1964). In between he recorded Lonesome Country Songs (1962). In the short term Byrd and Buddy Emmons went to work in a California-based band with fiddler Gordon Terry, but this did not last long.
Billy's music activity back in Nashville was limited to club work and being part of the staff band on Eddie Hill's morning TV program. Ironically, for a man tired of traveling, his main occupation during the 1970's was driving a taxi, but at least it did not take him far from Nashville. Twice he returned to the Tubb band for about a year each time, ca. 1969 and ca. 1973. He did sessions with Ernest each time, but not anyway near the volume of the 1949-1959 era.
After his last stint as a Texas Troubadour, Byrd apparently retired from music. He lived quietly with his long-time wife Glena with whom he fathered four children. He passed on at age 81.
Credits & Sources
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