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Roots/Rock: Catching up with John Byrne

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When I enter a club, and look at the stage, if I see guitarist John Byrne is part of the band, I know it's gonna be a pretty good night of musical revelry. The longtime guitarist, raised in Indianapolis after moving as a toddler from Long Island, wrings a sound from his guitar equal parts gritty and eloquent. I've seen John play dozens of times, with the '90s regional cover band Mere Mortals, and with Louisville’s Danny Flanigan and the Rain Chorus. I caught a show with Soul Bus, and even some shows when he was with Madison roots/rocker Rusty Bladen.

Here's what I'm saying: Indianapolis' John Byrne - never flashy, always finding his musical pocket on stage - has earned a reputation as a guy who can make a band better.

He has added pedal steel playing to his guitar repertoire, and seems to lend a hand, whether for many years (Flanigan) or fleeting (Chevy Downs) to groups that are really good - because he is in them, right? Now he's started a new band, in addition to other projects. So I wanted to get with John, and find out out what the scoop was.

NUVO: What music and bands are keeping you busy?
JOHN BYRNE: I'm playing in a variety of projects these days. Last weekend's gig was with a pretty nails 6-piece outfit featuring Jes and Vicky Richmond. Our set list is a semi-eclectic mix of great 70s and 80s singer/songwriter rock like Little Feat, Bonnie Raitt, Lyle Lovett, and John Hiatt with a fair amount of blues, hippie rock (like) Traffic and Allman Brothers, and smarter-than-the-average-bear tuneage like Steely Dan. We also do a handful of Jes and Vic's originals.

NUVO: Jes has been around a long time, and when I have seen him, he is very good at what he does.
JB: He's a genuine journeyman folk/rock singer who has been quietly bringing down the house for over 30 years in Indiana, as well as some stints in Japan and LA. Believe it or not, he had Jackson Browne's band backing him up on club and private gigs. He really is one of Indiana's best kept secrets. In addition to our rock band, he is one third of the frontmen in the so-good-I-can't-believe-they-play-for-free-every-Monday-night Soul Bus (a band that also features Gordon Bonham and Tad Robinson).

NUVO: Anything new musically for you?
JB: I've started a group in the last year which is an unapologetic Q-95, Freedom Rock-type outfit, called the 8-Track All-Stars. Our lineup includes former Johnny Socko and current Leisure Kings frontman Mike Wiltrout on vocals, Troye Kinnett on keys (when he's not touring with Mellencamp), Adam White on drums and Matt Wilson on bass. We pride ourselves in pretty dead-on treatments of the more tuneful parts of '70s and '80s rock, with emphasis on Faces, Paul McCartney and Wings, The Who, Stones, Petty and Beatles. We even throw in some epic, if semi-ironic, Foreigner and Journey, to boot. But no Styx, dammit. That was a precondition of my joining the band.
8 Track All-Stars website

NUVO: And you still play with Danny Flanigan?
JB: Danny Flanigan and our mainly original band The Rain Chorus celebrate our 20th year together this year, and Danny is releasing a new album in a month or so. My guess is that we'll be back playing some full-band shows here in Indy before too long.
Danny Flanigan website

NUVO: Anyone else we need to hear about, since you seem to know them all?
JB: Another complete gem of the Indy music scene - our own Nick Lowe, really - is Randy King. He fronted a New Wave outfit called The Positions throughout most of the '80s and '90s, but he still gets out to play the odd Radio Radio show now and again. Man, does he ever write great tunes that are a blast to play. Rumor has it we'll be doing some kind of engagement over the next few months.

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