Note: Avid readers of the blog know that I generally place a nice label scan and post an mp3 of the featured song for each blog entry. There’s a transition going on with the computers at home right now which prevents me from doing this for today’s blog entry. However, there are Youtube videos posted at the bottom of the entry for your enjoyment.
There’s an old saying in the record collecting world that rarity is not always an indication of quality. Today’s 45, Billy Byrd’s only recording for the Scream label, is something of a “holy grail” among collectors and exudes quality of the highest order. It almost never turns up for sale, and when it does, there is plenty of competition for it’s purchase by international Funk and Soul DJs. When you hear either today’s featured side “Lost In the Crowd” or the flip “Silly Kind of Love”, it doesn’t take long to figure out why.
Like so many rare 45s, not much is known of the artist. Over the years, I’ve spoken with one of the song writers, the studio engineer and the label owner about this record, and nobody really remembers much at all about Billy Byrd, the man. From what I’ve gathered, Billy seems to have been a quiet guy who lived near Calvin Arnold and Herb Lance’s four track Atlanta Sound Studio on Memorial Drive, where the single was recorded. He would occasionally walk from his home through an empty lot and across a parking lot to the studio and hang out there when other musicians gathered.
Louis Creel is the songwriter for the single’s A-side, “Lost In the Crowd”, and in a 2009 phone conversation remembered that the song was written specifically for Billy, since he was known around nearby nightclubs, but was something of a loner and stuck mostly to himself. Calvin Arnold remembers that Billy once told him he had been a member of the Five Du-Tones, the St. Louis group who first recorded the hit R&B song “Shake A Tail Feather”. However, a quick check of the Five Du-Tones line up reveals no Billy Bird, perhaps making Billy’s claim to this band a tall tale at best.
The 45 credits a band called Black Cloud backing Billy. By all accounts, there doesn’t seem to have actually been a functioning band by that name in Atlanta, and the likely scenario is that Black Cloud was just a somewhat arbitrary name given to otherwise anonymous studio musicians working at Atlanta Sound Studio with Calvin Arnold at the time. While the exact musicians aren’t concretely known, it has been suggested that Richard Marks played guitar, and Steveo Milner played drums. Other musicians might have been JD Mars and Charles Terrell. Tommy Stewart remembers these musicians as regular session players between 1973 and 1975, before the studio moved from Memorial Drive to the upgraded 16 track studio on Campbellton Road. Tommy himself was a regular keyboard player and arranger at the studio from 1972 through 1976 but does not remember playing on the Billy Byrd session.
As little as we know now about Billy around the making of his 45, we know even less about what happened to him after. There is a later 45 by an artist named Billy Byrd on the Communication label from Chicago, “I Can’t Make It without You” b/w “Can You Feel It” (Communication 7303-32), though there is not enough evidence right now to definitively connect this to the Scream 45.
Those who need this 45 in their lives, but can’t wait for an original to turn up, can quite easily purchase the reissue from the Jazzman label by following this link.
Special thanks to Bob Abrahamian for information about the Communication label 45.