Album Review: Gary Byrd-Presenting The Gary Byrd Experience (Sony 1972/Get On Down 2011)

October 20, 2011 4 min read


Gary Byrd is a legendary and somewhat mysterious figure in the world of music and radio. I say "mysterious" because info about him is not plainly accessible. Though his name appears thru out time in one fashion or another.

I actually first became familiar with Gary Byrd a bit late in the game. In 1983 Rap 12" singles were still limited enough that I would buy nearly anything I saw that seemed to be Hip Hop. One such mission lead me to an interesting looking record; Gary Byrd & the G.B. Experience "The Crown". First off, it was a picture cover, which wasn't very common for Rap singles yet. Then right on the front it read "Produced By Stevie Wonder". Flipping it over you notice that is on the Motown label so seeing the dabbling in Rap was intriguing. The back cover also contains the songs lyrics, which focuses on Black History. That aforementioned picture cover features Gary Byrd surrounded by some youth in a classroom setting, complete with some notes about the history of Egypt, Africa, Ethiopia, and more written on the chalk board. Besides producing the track, Stevie Wonder also adds to the lessons on the bridge the with some soulful conscious singing.

Gary Byrd & The G.B.E-The Crown:
[audio:|titles=A The Crown (Vocal)]

At the time, I thought or rather assumed, Gary Byrd was some sort of College Professor or something who was inspired rap and decided to jump on the rap train to connect with younger students. Of course, I eventually learned it was quite the other way around.

The next time I recall hearing his name was in reference to his radio show. I can't remember which, but some book or article on Hip Hop history was speaking on how influential black radio jocks were on the evolution into what we know as Rap. Gary Byrd was among those names*. I immediately made the connection to him being the same man behind "The Crown". I searched for years to try to find recordings of his radio show, but to no avail. A patient google search revealed a few things. He is originally from Buffalo, NY and was a pioneering Black Radio Disc Jockey in the area. His most famous radio show, "The G.B.E" (Gary Bird Experience), debuted on Buffalo's WWRL AM station in 1969. The show was a mixture of music and social/community consciousness. I'm still trying to hunt down copies of these shows.

Beyond that, his name appears on a few projects thru out the years. On James Brown's "Mind Power" he makes reference to the "J.B.E", the James Brown Experience and he explains, "I dug this from a young man out of New York...he says the G.B.E"... Plus the contents of this James Brown track are in line with the teachings and words of Gary Byrd. Showing that even the Godfather Of Soul was inspired by the work and messages of Gary Byrd.

James Brown-Mind Power [Gary Byrd Segment from 3:05-3:23]:
[audio:|titles=08 Mind Power]

On Stevie Wonder's classic album "Songs In The Key Of Life", Gary Byrd is credited as a writer, alongside Stevie Wonderfor two tracks; "Village Ghetto Land" and "Black Man". He's also credited on Millie Jackson's powerful song "I Cry" from her "It Hurts So Good" album in '73.

Stevie Wonder-Black Man [Written With Gary Byrd]:
[audio:|titles=03 Black Man]

Millie Jackson-I Cry [Written By Gary Byrd]
[audio:|titles=01 I cry]

However, proceeding all of this is his often-overlooked 1972 album on the RCA Victor label, "Presenting The Gary Byrd Experience". The album is a exploration in Black History, Black Leaders, social commentary, spoken word, soul, funk, and one of the most literal precursors to Rap you are likely to find.

Every song is powerful and focused on his messages backed with words of encouragement, inspiration, & passion. "How Long People" serves as the perfect album intro, which sets the tone and touches on much of the subject matter and names that he details later in the album. "Little Black Baby" speaks of the hardships that will face the infants thru their whole life, as a call for the adults to strive and fight to make changes, to avoid this fate for the children. "To You Beautiful Black Sister" is dedicated to the Black Woman and covers both sides of the spectrum of how both men and women can work to improve their relationships and appreciation of one another. "If The People Only Knew (The Power Of The People)" & "Black Is So Beautiful" both exists as tools of empowerment to the people often consider the minority, but have more power and numbers than they realize. "Where Were You" asks the question of where you were when you heard the news of Martin Luther King Jrs death. "Country Preacher" speaks of the rising leadership role of Reverend Jesse Jackson. "Shining Black Prince" pays tribute to the life of Malcolm X".

Gary Byrd-Introduction How Long My People:
[audio:|titles=01 Introduction - How Long My People]

Get On Down Records, one of the most amazing reissue labels we've witnessed in recent times, has re-released this elusive album with the above 8 tracks plus a important bonus, "Soul Travelin' Pt 1 & 2" from 1973. This tracks bears witness that Gary Byrds forward-thinking in music wasn't limited to being a precursor to MCing as we know it, but also being one of the most early representations of Sampling. "Soul Travelin" takes the listener on a journey thru the United States stopping to experience some of the Soul/Funk musical greats of these cities. After Gary Byrd lays down a rap to pay tribute to each icon, his band recreates a classical musical piece from the focus artist, giving you a Sample....

Gary Byrd & The G.B.E-Soul Travelin' Pt 1:
[audio:|titles=09 Soul Travelin' Pt. I (The G.B.E) [Bonus Track]]

Gary Byrd is still doing his thing on radio on WBLS, according to his Facebook Page.

*Among others such as Sonny Hopson, Jocko Henderson, Dr Daddy O, Jack The Rapper, Frankie Crocker, Eddie O'Jay, etc...

SHOP THE REST OF THE GET ON DOWN CATALOG: An Amazing assortment of reissues ranging from Soul, Funk, Old School Hip Hop, Reggae, 90s Hip Hop Classics, World Music and Beyond!

Written By Kevin Beacham

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