Stillwater News Press

April 6, 2012

VIDEO: Stillwater instrumentalist uses songs to translate Oklahoma living

By Chase Rheam

STILLWATER, Okla. — For William Byrd, music was just an everyday part of life.

Despite the fact that none of his immediate family were involved in music, there were plenty of other relatives who influenced Byrd.

“I had some uncles who played, some cousins who played,” Byrd said. “And I grew up in Ada, Okla., in the country, so I assumed everyone played the guitar or banjo or something.”

Byrd got his hands on a guitar for the first time at age 15.

“There was a really flashy acoustic guitar brought in to the house and we were told not to touch it, so a buddy and I decided to touch it,” Byrd said.

While not impassioned with the instrument at first, he found that he picked up playing fast.

“I was just kind of freaked out that I could hear something and duplicate it,” Byrd said. “And I didn’t know if I was right or not because we didn’t have any way of checking. If you heard something on the radio and you wanted to try and play it, you had to wait until it was played again if you didn’t have a way of recording it.”

He went to his uncles and asked them to show him more. However, he said he didn’t find interest in their music.

“I wanted something else, so I would listen to the radio and albums,” Byrd said.

Byrd eventually turned to Bluegrass. Along with the guitar, he also began learning the banjo. Byrd and friends would gather instruments and go to Mount View, Ark., to play.

“There seemed to be an unlimited amount of songs to that category and we played a lot of that,” Byrd said.

He began to duplicate songs, learning how to play them.

“(I began writing music) after realizing that most musicians can spend a lifetime playing other peoples’ music because it’s popular or it’s attractive, when the fact is that somebody wrote it,” Byrd said.

Byrd tells others to tune their guitar the way they want, play their guitar the way they want and play how they feel.

“Don’t play the instrument, play the music and write your own stuff and think outside your box,” Byrd said.

He began to write his first song at 18. Byrd would perform at church and through his church at prisons. He would also perform publicly in Ada, where he grew up.

“I’m not a performer or an entertainer,” Byrd said. “I’m more of a mechanic. To me, there’s different types of musicians.”

As he grew in his passion, he began to draw from other artists, some of which were from other countries.

“Music doesn’t really know an age or a color or anything like that,” Byrd said.

Among Byrd’s goals is to have one of his songs, “His Universe,” which he describes as universal, featured on The Weather Channel.

“I recognize a lot of those people, and they aren’t mainstream here,” Byrd said. “But, once again, I’m constantly pushing myself to think outside the norm, what’s considered the norm here. There is no normal in music. There really isn’t. It just goes on and on and on. It’s ever-changing and peoples’ perception of cultural music changes.”

Byrd will be participating in the Walnut Valley Festival, an international strings competition held in Winfield, Kan., in September.

He said 40 randomly picked individuals compete. Byrd said it’s a great place to see the best in the world when it comes to artists who play stringed instruments.

 “Today, we have America’s Got Talent and this Voice thing and we’re very quick to judge,” Byrd said. “It’s hard to base someone’s talent on one or two songs. You can’t really see the depth of that individual until you listen to their CD maybe or get to know them or follow them.”

Byrd said he wouldn’t mind playing a concert in Stillwater, provided the proceeds went to a cause in which he believed.

Currently in the process of finding a studio in Stillwater or Oklahoma City, Byrd said he has 12 solid songs to record.

“(Playing is) a type of gratification that doesn’t have a dollar sign on it,” Byrd said. “Today, I mean, you can record something and it’s kind of cool because three hundred years from now we look back, this is going to seem really strange and kind of cool at the same time.”

In the end, Byrd said he hopes his music impacts listeners.

“Bottom line, if it helps somebody else, then I’ve achieved my goal,” Byrd said.