Courtesy of D.L. Byron
At the age of five, D.L. Byron became transfixed by the very act of someone playing an instrument. Although his first instrument was the piano, as soon as he saw The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show, he had to learn to play the guitar.
During his teen years in New Jersey, he formed his first band. As he told us in a recent one-one-one interview, “My first band was called The Famly Syrkle, after the Family Circle magazine which my mother subscribed to and copies of the publication lay all about the house. This first band was pretty basic. A drummer, bass player and myself singing and playing guitar.”
But when things got difficult at home, Byron decided to make the move to New York in 1971. “I was coming from a rather rough childhood,” he recounted. “My adoptive mother had some serious emotional problems and was also cross addicted to prescription drugs. Namely amphetamines and barbiturates, which would make her mood swings incredibly dramatic. I left my home for NYC in 71 not only to get into the music business but also to escape the caustic situation that I was living in at home.”
While he pursued a career in music, Byron took work at the legendary Colony Records shop, where he encountered some of the biggest musicians of the day. “Working at Colony was incredibly cool,” he admitted. “I got to actually wait on superstars. Rock stars of the day would walk in and be hunting for particular recordings. It was my job as a clerk to help them find exactly what they were looking for. One morning I waited on Tommy James. I actually said to him, ‘Hey, you look an awful lot like Tommy James,’ to which he responded, ‘Well, that’s because I am.’ One other time I had the pleasure of waiting on Rod Stewart. He happened to be shopping for old R&B 45’s. He bought a bunch that day.”
Since the shop was located on the ground floor of the historic Brill Building, he also encountered some of the greatest songwriters of the time including Neil Sedaka, Carole Kind and Neil Diamond.
Byron soon became a paid songwriter himself, working as a staff writer for E.H. Morris in Tin Pan Alley. “Harold Arlen would come to the office to pick up his quarterly check. He wrote may popular standards and of course, the songs from The Wizard of Oz. Also there were the likes of Buddy Green, who was one of the three writers who wrote ‘Sentimental Journey.’ And the list goes on,” he recalled.
Ultimately, Byron wanted to step center stage and hoped to land a record deal. “The first response from a label actually came from Columbia records,” he noted. “CBS gave us a developmental deal to do demos and granted them the right of first refusal to sign me as an artist. When CBS did not respond immediately we began to shop other record labels. One was Mercury and the other was Arista, Clive Davis’ label. Somehow I knew deep in my heart that signing with Arista would be a mistake. In fact, my relationship with Mr. Davis was not smooth and easy.”
In 1980, Byron released his debut album for Arista, This Day and Age — a pop/punk record reminiscent of In the City by the Jam and Elvis Costello’s Armed Forces. His single “Listen to the Heartbeat” landed on the Top 40 charts and led to a popular video on MTV.
Shortly thereafter, Byron began recording demos for his second album for Arista, which was going to include the single "Shadows of the Night." He talked about the process saying, “I was asked by Jimmy Iovine, who produced my debut record for Arista, to write a theme song for a film that he was working on. "Times Square" was supposed to be Robert Stigwood’s punk Saturday Night Fever and be the film that catapulted Stigwood from the record business into the film business. When it was all said and done, Iovine could not make it work in the film, so it was dropped [from the soundtrack.]”
But despite some set backs along the way, nothing has deterred Byron from pursuing his career in music. Never one to be pigeon holed into a certain sound, he believes his music has evolved in a very natural way. “The problem with many record labels is that they want you, as an artist, to simply reproduce what you initially had a hit with,” Byron conceded. “They don’t foster the growth of an artist easily. When it’s more about revenue than art then art suffers. I have tried to be true to myself every step of the way. I don’t question or over-examine what I write. I just try to keep out of the way and let it happen.”
Byron has also found another creative outlet in writing beyond songs, releasing his first book Shadows of the Night. He described the work saying, “All of the book is based on real life events… Everyone I ever met and/or worked with had a great influence on me and as a result have had an incredible influence on my music and consequently this book.”
In turn, he hopes to influence people who read the book. “I would very much like for everyone to understand that we all come here with a gift and it is incumbent upon us to share that gift,” he noted. “Also, never give up. No matter what kind of obstacle you may face, never ever give up. Share your gift and keep going no matter what.”
To find out more about D.L. Byron, his music and the book Shadows of the Night, visit his website.