Last updateSat, 28 Mar 2020 1pm


Ricky Byrd’s Journey From Rock ‘N Roll to Recovery

Ricky Byrds JourneyThe University hosted a conversation with former Joan Jett and the Blackhearts guitarist Ricky Byrd to discuss his struggles with addiction last Thursday, Feb. 21, at Woods Theatre.

Byrd has had an incredible journey featuring some of the highest of highs and lowest of lows.

While I was waiting in the foyer for the event to begin, I saw a student emerge from the stage area and began talking to someone about Byrd. “I asked [Byrd] when he knew he had needed to get help,” I heard him say. “[Byrd] replied and told me ‘Well, I almost died.’”

Hearing that right before the show piqued my interest and made me wonder what this guy was all about.

When the event started, Byrd walked out onto the stage wearing a black button down with the two top buttons undone, blue-tinted shades and longish white hair; he has the aura of a rock legend.

Byrd was joined on stage with music industry student and fellow musician Zack Sandler, who conducted the interview and helped organize the event.

A PowerPoint played in the back featuring pictures from Byrd’s life and career, as he talked about everything far and few between.

Byrd recalled the first time he knew he wanted to be a musician while watching the Ed Sullivan Show and seeing super groups like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones perform.

While he had good moments in his youth, Byrd also talked about how he started to get into drugs and alcohol during this time.

The artist also discussed how his family has a history of suffering from addiction

After bouncing around a few bands early on, Byrd’s career began to take off in the 1980’s when he met Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, where he came on to be their guitarist.

It was during this time Byrd began to see monumental success, culminating in the number one hit “I Love Rock ‘N Roll.”

Byrd played and opened for legendary bands like The Police and Queen, and was living the life of an international rock star.

While he saw his career get better, Byrd’s addiction to drugs got worse. In what Byrd described as his “Richard Pryor moment,” he had reached the bottom.

The guitarist’s addiction to alcohol and cocaine had him at a point where he weighed 128 lb and hadn’t slept in days.

One night while Byrd was doing a set, his lung collapsed, and he struggled to breathe.

Byrd was brought to the hospital and was told that if had he fallen asleep that he would have died.

It took Byrd four years after that to reach out for help with his addiction. But on Sept. 25, 1987, the guitarist got clean and has been sober ever since.

Byrd told his story for about an hour and half and then talked about his new endeavor in life; pursuing a career as a recovery coach.

Byrd has an album titled Clean Getaway that features music with pro-recovery themes. “I want to try and hold a mirror up to the clients in recovery,” Byrd said.

At the event, Byrd played four songs, some with bluesy guitar riffs with lyrics like, “Please save me from myself/ I’m tired of this hell.” He’s billed as a guitar player, but Byrd has a solid voice and the message he’s spreading is incredibly worthy.

After the event, Sandler spoke about the significance of Byrd’s visit. “Because of the great reception of his original music geared towards recovery and addiction, I wanted to bring the event to Monmouth University to benefit the local community struggling with addiction,” said Sandler.

He had the opportunity to play with Byrd back in January at a Parkinson’s disease benefit.

Sandler talked about how cool it was to be on stage and play “I Love Rock ‘N Roll” with him because he would play that song on Guitar Hero as a kid.

Sandler showed his admiration for Byrd with,” He’s a living legend in two worlds: the rock and roll world and the recovery world.”

The show had about 40-50 people in attendance, an audience that Sandler prefers because it’s a more intimate subject to talk about.

The event was put together in collaboration with Byrd and his Clean Getaway album, along with the University’s Office of Substance Awareness, Students in Recovery, and the Music and Theatre Department.

Sandler thanked everyone involved in putting the show together and hopes that he can welcome back the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer to Monmouth some day.


Contact Information

The Outlook
Jules L. Plangere Jr. Center for Communication
and Instructional Technology (CCIT)
Room 260, 2nd floor

The Outlook
Monmouth University
400 Cedar Ave, West Long Branch, New Jersey

Phone: (732) 571-3481 | Fax: (732) 263-5151