Stay true to yourself and your art. If you’re a songwriter then write what’s in your heart, write what you know. For example, when I signed with Arista and I began writing songs for the second record, I was told that they should be more like the songs on the first record. They just wanted me to regurgitate the very same thing. Then I wrote “Shadows of the Night” and Clive Davis literally told me to my face that the song wasn’t commercial enough. I was furious so I began to shop the song to other artists, knowing all the while in my heart that it was a hit. I managed to get it to Benatar’s people and the rest, as they say, is history.
As part of my series featuring the rising stars in the music industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing D.L. Byron. Raised by his adoptive parents in southern New Jersey, D.L. Byron (born David Byron) became enamored with the Beatles, the Byrds, and Bob Dylan at an early age. When he wasn’t busy getting thrown out of a string of exclusive prep schools, Byron formed several teenage garage bands and won a number of poetry competitions. Deciding to pursue his music career in earnest, Byron moved to New York City in February of 1971. After working briefly at the Colony Record shop (located on the ground floor of the Brill Building) and living in a $45 per week fleabag hotel, Byron managed to catch the tail-end of Tin pan alley, procuring a $75-a-week job as a staff writer for E.H. Morris. While there, he met and was influenced by greats like Harold Arlen, and began to perform at open mike nights around New York. In 1979, Clive Davis and Arista discovered Byron and signed him, hoping to find success with an American version of Elvis Costello or Graham Parker. In 1980, Byron released This Day and Age, which became an instant power pop classic. Produced by Jimmy Iovine and featuring members of Billy Joel’s band, the record contained ten tracks of energetic pop/punk in the vein of the Jam’s In the City and Elvis Costello’s Armed Forces. The album spawned a Top 40 hit and popular MTV video with the first single, “Listen to the Heartbeat.” Byron toured the U.S. heavily in support of This Day and Age, both as a headliner and as an opening act for Bob Seger (on his Against the Wind tour) and the Boomtown Rats (on their Fine Art of Surfacing tour). Shortly afterwards, Byron recorded a version of “You Can’t Hurry Love” for the R.S.O. Records soundtrack to the Tim Curry vehicle Times Square, which also included songs from the Cure, XTC, Joe Jackson, Suzi Quatro, Lou Reed, the Ramones, Roxy Music, and others. Arista also released a 12″ single version of Byron’s remake of “Down in the Boondocks,” which featured Billy Joel on backing vocals. Soon afterwards, Byron began recording demos for his second Arista album. One of these songs, which he planned to use as the lead single for the album, was “Shadows of the Night.” Arista, however, told Byron that “Shadows of the Night” and the other songs were not commercial enough and promptly put him on suspension for a year. Later, several other artists recorded “Shadows of the Night,” the most famous of whom was Pat Benatar. Benatar used the song as the opening track on her 1982 Get Nervous LP, which went on to sell over four million copies. “Shadows of the Night” won the 1982 Grammy Award for Record of the Year and has since been included on several compilations and greatest-hits packages. Disillusioned by Arista’s lack of foresight, Byron asked to be released from his contract and the label complied. He then decided to concentrate on his writing and, although plagued by personal problems and drug abuse, managed to place songs on Never Run, Never Hide by Benny Mardones (a gold record), Lights On by Price-Sulton, the self-titled record by Drive She Said, and others. In the early ’90s, Byron completely renounced drugs, delved seriously into various forms of spirituality and successfully located his birth mother (interestingly enough, Byron found that his real grandfather had owned the music store where he bought his first guitar). He then began performing and recording again, releasing Exploding Plastic Inevitable on Zen Archer/Fountainbleu Records in 1998. The new album had a much folkier slant than This Day and Age (drawing critical comparisons to Marshall Crenshaw and Tom Petty), although Byron’s pop songwriting chops were fully intact. In 1999, Byron undertook a U.S. tour co-headlining with two other Fountainbleu artists, began writing material for a new album, and recorded a song for a Gene Clark tribute album.
Thank you so much for joining us D.L.! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
At a very early age I was captivated by what I was hearing on pop radio. By age six I was playing piano. Then, when I was eleven years old I saw the Beatles preform on The Ed Sullivan Show. That was it for me…I was hooked!
Can you share the most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your music career?
Well, there are two really. At one point I and a writing partner had a band called “Justice”. My partner and I were woodshedding songs while living in Woodstock New York. We had a sleazy manager at the time who one day called us to say that he had gotten us a record deal. He insisted that we drive to the city to sign a contract sight unseen and warned us not to bring an attorney. On top of all that, he wouldn’t say which record label we would be signing with. I got miffed and said that unless we at least knew who the label was we wouldn’t show up. As it turned out the label was RCA, which would have been great for us. I could have dealt with our manager after the fact.
The second story might be telling off Clive Davis. I was signed to Arista records as a solo artist. My first record did fairly well, producing a top 40 single. Suddenly Arista simply pulled the plug on the entire project. I was frustrated that my label did not hire any outside promotion and relied totally on “in house”, which was less than stellar. In a meeting I asked Mr. Davis if he was sending promo people to radio stations with my record in one hand and a Barry Manilow record in the other (Manilow was also an Arista artist). He was not happy with me to say the least.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I have recently finished my first book entitled “Shadows of the Night” after the song that I wrote made popular by Pat Benatar. The book deals with adoption trauma, an abusive childhood, my struggles in the music business and finally meeting my birthmother (who I was told had died in childbirth) along with my seven sisters. It’s available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.com.
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
My first job in NYC was at Colony Records on Broadway in the theatre district. This store along with its two satellite stores had the largest collection of vinyl on the east coast. One morning at around eleven or so, I was already on my third coffee when the door opened and in walked Rod Stewart with a curvy blonde on his arm. He wore a Kelly Green corduroy suit with a tailored shirt buttoned up at the top. Out of his pocket he pulled a very long laundry list of 45rpm’s that he was looking for. Most of the records on the list were on the Stax and Volt labels, or in other words, some very serious R&B. Without even thinking about who he was I began gathering every record on his list. Then he started to come up with other titles just off the top of his head, sending me rummaging through the shelves in the back. We carried some rare and out of print records and much of what was on his list would qualify as such. Finally, he thanked me and walked up to the register. I was still in some kind of daze as I stared down at his laundry list laying on the counter. It didn’t even occur to me to ask him to autograph it. As the door closed behind him I yelled out loud, “Holy Shit ! I just waited on Rod Stewart”. My co-workers were unimpressed. Soon after that I somehow landed a job as a staff writer at a major music publisher. I was on my way.
Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?
I greatly admire Bob Dylan not only for his ability for songwriting but also for his tenacity. I don’t think that early on anyone could have visualized that he would become “The Bard” that he has. He has reinvented and proven himself time and again. Not many artists have been able to do that as well as Dylan.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I believe so. The song “Shadows of the Night” has become a classic rock anthem. I hope that when people happen to hear it on the radio they are reminded of a time in their lives when things we good. Maybe they had just fallen in love or had some other meaningful even take place in their lives and my song takes them back to that place in time.
As for “Shadows of the Night”, the book, I hope that in sharing my story of adoption trauma, never giving up on one day finding my birthmother, even though I was told that she died in childbirth and one day actually finding her along with my seven sisters will convey to others that all things are possible. It’s just a matter of belief in one’s self.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
If I could start a movement it would be one to help people connect with their higher selves. Unlike most religions which set themselves up as a broker or middle man of sorts, this movement would show people how to get in touch with their inner divinity directly. There would be no need for organizations or institutions of any kind. Everyone is capable of having this very personal and meaningful experience but many are fooled into believing that they are somehow separated from the universe. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Yes! Stay true to yourself and your art. If you’re a songwriter then write what’s in your heart, write what you know. For example, when I signed with Arista and I began writing songs for the second record, I was told that they should be more like the songs on the first record. They just wanted me to regurgitate the very same thing. Then I wrote “Shadows of the Night” and Clive Davis literally told me to my face that the song wasn’t commercial enough. I was furious so I began to shop the song to other artists, knowing all the while in my heart that it was a hit. I managed to get it to Benatar’s people and the rest, as they say, is history.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- “Fame is fleeting” How big you do something is never as important as how well you do something.
- “Follow your heart” Never imitate the market…always listen to your heart.
- “Giving up is not optional” Things may become difficult but they’re never “too difficult”.
- “Be mindful of the moment” We instinctively know when the “iron is hot”. Don’t let the moment pass you by.
- “Always be grateful” Gratitude assures success.
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Thank you for these great insights. This was very inspiring!