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    Joseph Byrd

    April 18th, 2021

    Joseph Byrd.
    Joseph Byrd, circa 1961.

    Joseph Byrd is a composer and music teacher who’s been working since the 1950s. After starting out playing in pop, jazz and country bands as a Tucson, Arizona teen, Byrd moseyed on over to Stanford college in New York City in 1959, where he became a student of experimental composer John Cage and joined the nascent Fluxus art scene. He even debuted his first minimal music works at Yoko Ono’s loft! Soon after college, Byrd accepted a teaching position at UCLA in the mid ’60s, but after the music bug bit him hard, he quit to play full-time. His most well-known work appeared on two LPs at the end of that decade.

 Byrd’s first band, the short-lived United States of America, splashed out a unique spray of rock, psychedelic and avant-garde music. They eschewed rock’s staple instrument, the electric guitar, in favor of then cutting-edge electronic devices like an early, primitive synthesizer and a ring modulator, the whoosh and bleeps of which they blended in with crystal clear female vocals and searing violin to effortlessly bake a whole loaf’s worth of damaged space age pop. After the release of their one and only self-titled LP in 1968, the band played a few shows, then promptly and predictably imploded due to the usual drug problems and creative differences.

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