Rock guitarist and new Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Ricky Byrd won't call out someone else's 12-Step participation, but don't expect him to be silent about his own. He will talk about his meeting involvement with just about anyone who will listen, and his main audience lately consists of young people who need a healthy dose of hope in their lives.
In a plenary session on the opening day of the National Conference on Addiction Disorders (NCAD) in St. Louis, Byrd combined a talk about his life story with performances of several songs about addiction and recovery on the acoustic guitar. He indicated to the audience of clinicians and managers that he would like to carve a higher-profile presence in the treatment community, as he has founded the Clean Getaway foundation that will seek to assemble all-star bands and raise money for local treatment entities.
“I want to do a 12-stop Step tour, or a 12-Step stop tour,” quipped Byrd, who this year was inducted into the Rock Hall with the other members of Joan Jett and the Blackhearts—and who talked openly about his recovery during the nationally televised acceptance speech.
Byrd filled in at NCAD for Richie Supa, who has written songs for numerous top artists and who briefly played at one time in his career with Aerosmith. The arrangement was fitting because Supa and Byrd are longtime friends in recovery who now each have found a way to reach out to others through their music. Supa directs the creative recovery program at the Recovery Unplugged young-adult program in South Florida, while Byrd has been doing similar work on visits to Sunrise Detox's facilities in New Jersey.
“I'm not anonymous,” said Byrd, adding that in his very early recovery he proudly wore a triangle around his neck on the back cover art for Joan Jett and the Blackhearts' last record.
Working in the rooms
Byrd, who has been sober since September 1987 when someone placed a phone call on his behalf and got him into a 12-Step meeting, clearly buys into the Steps' potential for helping society emerge from its present crisis point in addiction.
“I never go to a bad meeting, because I either hear how to work my program or how not to work my program,” he said.
He also issued a strong call for personal responsibility in seeking treatment and working one's recovery. “Anything [else] put before sobriety will be lost,” he tells those who waver. “Don't leave before the miracle happens,” he tells those who have had less than satisfactory experiences. And to those looking for a scapegoat when something in treatment doesn't go well, he would say, “Don't blame the treatment center, baby; it's you.”
Byrd is organizing the first Clean Getaway event on Sept. 19 in Torrington, Conn. He would like to find numerous partners across the country who would have ideas about raising funds locally through music. He admits to never thinking small, with this reference to his substance-using days: “I never did one of anything; I'm addicted to more.”
The 58-year-old Bronx native described a boyhood love for baseball and the New York Yankees that later would be accompanied by an interest in music fueled by the British Invasion, and later a debilitating addiction. Saying he does not have great insight into addiction's causes and typical profiles, he explained that all he knows is that when he and many others choose to pick up their first drink or drug, they find they can't stop. “To me the obvious answer is not to pick up the first one,” he said.