Ricky Byrd may not be a household name, but if you’re ever sung along to a Joan Jett and The Blackhearts’ song on the radio, you’ve heard Byrd’s distinctive Gibson tone propelling Jett’s vocals. Since leaving the Blackhearts in 1993 after twelve years of service, Byrd has played with everyone from Roger Daltrey to Ian Hunter. These days, he’s performing shows both solo and with his band, and is in the midst of recording his long-awaited debut album.

Gibson caught up with Ricky Byrd  in his hometown of New York City right before a solo gig to chat about his music, his new disc and, most importantly, why he doesn’t feel comfortable playing anything except a Gibson guitar.

How long have you been playing Gibson guitars?

I’ve used Gibsons since I first started playing. I’ve used other things guitars here and there, but I always wind up coming back to Gibson. My first Les Paul was a 1977 black Pro Deluxe—and that was the guitar I ended up using on “I Love Rock ’n’ Roll.”  I like to call that guitar “Pappy.” It’s been around the world a couple of times. I also have a blue sparkle 1973 Les Paul that I bought from G.E. Smith-supposedly it was one of Jimmy Page’s guitars, although I’m not really sure if that’s true. However, I do have one guitar that I know is the real deal:  When I did the Roger Daltery album, Days Of Light, we were in Abbey Road Studios, and on my birthday he came in and threw a guitar case on the console. I opened it up and there was one of Pete Townshend’s three-pickup Les Pauls! Talk about a great present.

Would you say that Gibson guitars have been integral to the sound of Joan Jett and the Blackhearts?

Oh, absolutely. Joan always used Gibson Melody Makers, so between the two of us, that’s pretty much that crunchy sound you heard. Of course, I played through Marshalls back then. My favorite guitar sound is on Eric Clapton’s “Stepping Out”, and from what I understand it’s a Les Paul through one of those Marshall Bluesbreaker combo amps. And then, of course, Clapton playing that ES-335 on Live Cream-that’s the sound I’m always trying to find.

Most people are probably familiar with your work with the Blackhearts, but could you talk about what you’ve been doing since you left the band?

I played with Joan from 1981 to 1993. When I left, I immediately did the Roger Daltrey record and played a bunch of gigs with him. That was a pretty amazing experience, I must say. Remember, I’m a kid from the Bronx who grew up on the Stones and the Beatles and the Who. I stood in line for four hours to see the Who in ’73—for me to be standing next to Roger Daltrey and playing guitar for him, it was pretty intense. From there, I went to Ian Hunter and did a European tour with him, which was very cool. I also played with Jimmy Page at a giant July 4th event. I actually shared an amp with him! Can you imagine? That's a special kind of thrill that not many people can lay claim to.

What’s the status of the solo record you’ve been working on?

Well, the songs that are on my website and my MySpace page are the first half of my album, which I started recording in Nashville with Ray Kennedy-he’s produced Steve Earle, Emmylou Harris, and a bunch of great people. Due to time constraints, though, it’s taken longer than I planned; on the other hand, it’s worked out okay because if it hadn’t taken so long then I wouldn’t have these new songs that I’ve written recently. Everything happens for a reason. I’m trying to finish the record as fast as I can, but life gets in the way.

So far, what’s been the main guitar you’ve used on the album?

That’s a great question. I did bring my blue Les Paul down there and my J-200. I know I used an old 335 on some stuff. It’s funny: I’ve experimented with some other brands of guitars, but I always come back to Gibson. They’re what I’m comfortable with; they’re what I’ve always played. I’m not really familiar with other guitars, so I hesitate to use them—especially for something as important as my record.