Ron Byrd Foster

Roy Buchanan, The Silencers, the House Rockers, and Kingsnake Studios Session Drummer

Ron “Byrd” Foster was a drummer, vocalist, and recording artist who performed and recorded with many great bluesmen and several of Pittsburgh’s most successful bands.  Byrd became known on the national blues scene in the 1970’s touring and recording with legendary blues guitar master Roy Buchanan.  He recorded five albums with Roy Buchanan as a vocalist, drummer, and song writer:  Live Stock (Polydor 1975), A Street Called Straight (Atlantic 1967), the Loading Zone (Atlantic 1977), Live in Japan (Polydor 1977), and My Babe (1980).  Foster is also featured in the Roy Buchanan Anthology “Sweet Dreams” (Polydor 1992) and 20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection: Best Of Roy Buchanan (Polydor, 2002).  Working in Pittsburgh during the 1970’s and 1980’s he recorded with the Igniters (Atantic Records), Sweet Lightening (RCA), the Silencers (CBS/Precision), and the Iron City Houserockers (MCA).  During the 1990’s and into the 2000’s Foster recorded with bluesmen Billy C, Wirtz, Sonny Rhodes, Ace Moreland, Eric Culberson, Smokehouse, and many others working at Kingsnake Studio with owner Bob "Rattlesnake" Greenlee and guitarist Warren King.  Foster recorded on over 36 releases.  He was a much in demand session player and live performer who energized every band with his strong steady beat.

Eruptining in the Wildwoods

Born the in the Mt. Oliver section of Pittsburgh Ron Foster attended Seneca Valley High School.  At age 17 he answered an ad for a group called Michael G and the Eruptions who looking for a drummer to play all summer in Wildwood, N.J.  Landing the gig he started his professional career on the Jersey Shore.  

Lighting Up with the Igniters

When he returned to Pittsburgh in 1967 he joined the blues-rock band the Igniters with Frank Czuri and Bubs McKeg.  It was during his time with the Igniters that he was christened with his nick name Byrd.   Upon seeing Foster wake-up in the morning with his hair standing straight up, fellow Igniter Rob Abberzizzi, said he looked just like a “baby bird”.  In 1968 Atlantic Records signed the Igniters to a contract, making them the second white band on the label after the Rascals.  Insisting that the Igniters change their name to Jimmy Mack and the Music Factory Atlantic they released their first single, a pop soul tune, “Baby I Love You" in 1968.  It received airplay on some stations across the country.  Changing their name again to “The Friends” they recorded two original songs on Atlantic that went unreleased.  They continue to perform live around the Pittsburgh area and at a regular gig at a club called Psychedilly.  They called it quits in 1970.

Sweet Lightning

After the Igniters broke up, Foster played in a band called the Marshmallow Steam Shovel.  In 1972 Foster was a member of the band "Sweet Lightning" along with guitarist Sid McGinnis (of the David Letterman Band), and singer/guitarist Pete Hewlett (of the Billy Joel Band).  They signed with RCA Records releasing an LP and two singles.

On the Road with Roy Buchanan

Pittsburgher Jay Reich, who became the manager of guitar legend Roy Buchanan in 1972 recruited Ron Foster and several other Pittsburgh musicians to play in Roy’s band.  Buchanan biographer Phil Carson calls the Buchanan band comprised of Pittsburghers Billy Price, bassist John Harrison, drummer Byrd Foster ”his best band ever”.  Reich booked Buchanan at major concert halls across the country, including Carnegie Hall, and negotiated Roy’s contract with Atlantic Records.  He brought Atlantic’s president Ahmet Ertegun to Pittsburgh to hear Roy play.  In August of 1974 Jay Reich approached Foster in a fast food restaurant in Pittsburgh to ask him if he could play a gig with Roy on the weekend in New York City.  Ron jumped at the chance.  

Byrd’s first Buchanan gig was at the Shaefer Music Festival in Central Park on August 26, 1974.  He met Roy backstage at the show for the first time and went out unrehearsed.  Foster became the back beat of the Roy Buchanan band for the next six years.  

To close out his contractual obligation to Polydor Buchanan recorded a live album at New York City’s Town Hall Records on November 24,1974.  Billy Price was called in to sing that night. Released in 1975 with Ron Foster on drums several music critics consider the Live Stock album Buchanan’s best recording.  “Buchanan is undeniably at the peak of his abilities.” - Lindsay Planer All musicguide.com   Live Stock, a spellbinding showcase of Buchanan's talents and one of the best live electric guitar records ever made.” – Phil Carson Vintage Guitar Aug. '99 issue.

Foster performed as a vocalist, drummer, and background vocalist on Buchanan’s first Atlantic Records album “A Street Calling Straight” released in 1976.  Foster sang the lead vocals on the album’s lead cut “Running Out”.  On the “Loading Zone” released in 1977 that was produced by bassist Stanley Clarke,  Foster co-wrote the cut “The Circle” with Buchanan, Foster, and Musmanno.  During a tour of Japan in June of 1977 Buchanan recorded the album “Live in Japan” that featured two songs co-written by Ron Foster and Roy Buchanan: “Sweet Honey Dew” and “Blues Otani”.  It was never released in the U.S. but two tracks are included on Polygram's Sweet Dreams Anthology.  

After the ’77 tour most of Buchanan bassist and keyboard player left, the Atlantic Records deal ended, and Jay Reich quit as manager.  But the faithful Foster remained with Buchanan and put together a touring band of Pittsburghers with bassist Al Britten McClain (of Donnie Iris) and Fred DeLu (formed Sweet Lightning member) on the Hammond B-3.  In 1979 Foster recorded several tracks on Buchanan’s self produced LP “My Babe”.  Prospects for another major label deal for Buchanan were dim.

The Silencers

In 1979, Foster’s former Igniters band mate Frank Czuri recruited Foster to join a new band that just landed a recording contract with CBS Records.  Ron left Buchanan’s band with Roy’s encouragement to record with The Silencers.   Frank Cruzi in an interview with the Pittsburgh Post Gazette said "Roy heard the Silencers recordings and told him to do it. He said, 'This is your shot.'   CBS/Precision records released the Silencers debut album "Rock 'n' Roll Enforcers" in July of 1980.  WDVE gave the record its launch adding several songs to their rotation playlist creating the local hits: "The Peter Gunn Theme," "Modern Love," "Head On Collision" and "Shiver and Shake".   Gaining national airplay "Shiver and Shake" reached number 81 on the Billboard charts.  The Silencers drew national attention on August 1, 1981 when their video for the medley "Peter Gunn, Remote Control and Illegal" aired on MTV on the day that MTV made its first broadcast.  CBS/Precision Records released the Silencer's last album "Romantic" in 1981 spawning the local radio hit "Side Walk Romeo".  Warren King and Ron Foster left the Silencers around in 1982.  

Iron City Houserockers

After the leaving the Silencers broker up Foster teamed up with Warren King to form the blues band Red Hot & Blue.  He joined the Iron City Houserockers in 1983 and recorded their last MCA album "Cracking Under Pressure."   

The Mystic Knights and more

The Mystic Knights were formed as an all-star pick-up in 1984 to pump up the Decade club's slow Monday nights.  It was comprised of Warren King, guitarist Bryan Bassett (Wild Cherry, Molly Hatchet, and Foghat) keyboardist Gil Snyder (HouserockersO, and vocalist/drummer Ron "Byrd" Foster. During 1985 Byrd Foster played with the band Extension 8. In the 1991 Foster was a member of the blues group the Hell Hounds.  After Foster left the Hell Hounds to move to Florida Jill West joined and the band became Jill West and the Blues Attack.

Kingsnake Studio and the Midnight Creepers

Foster relocated to Orlando in 1991 taking a job at Kingsnake Studio as a member of the studio band The Midnight Creepers.  The lineup of the Midnight Creepers included Warren King on guitar, Bryd Foster on drums, gritty vocalist Mike Galloway on harp, and bassist Bob "Rattlesnake" Greenlee (owner of Kingsnake Studios).  Greenlee got his start in the music business playing in high-school rock bands with Duane and Gregg Allman. “Rattlesnake" a former captain of the Yale football team who was drafted by the Miami Dolphins, choose law school over football and then a touring career as bassist with Root Boy Slim.  He founded Kingsnake Studio and produced recordings for the Alligator and Ichiban labels, with the Midnight Creepers as session players.  

During a 10 year period from 1993 through 2003 working with Greenlee Byrd Foster performed on albums by noted bluesmen Billy C, Wirtz, Kenny Neal, Sonny Rhodes, Ace Moreland, Chicago Bob, Floyd Miles, Tommy McCoy, Roy Roberts, Eric Culberson, Smokehouse, Noble "Thin Man" Watts, and Erica Guerin and others.  The Midnight Creepers also performed in the Orlando area and released three albums in 1993: "Breaking Point" on Wild Dog Records and "Wild" and "Wild Dogs" on the Ichiban label.  

Bob Greenlee passed away in 2004 and Warren King returned to Pittsburgh.  Foster continued to live in Florida playing with the Shawn Rounds Band.   He returned to Mr. Foster was in Pittsburgh in August of 2010 for a reunion of The Igniters.  Ron Byrd Foster died of liver cancer at age 61 in June of 2011 in Deltona, Florida.  He played his last gig in January of 2011 backing blues guitarist Eric Culberson.  

References

Roy Buchanan: American axe – Phil Carson 2001

The life and times of Roy Buchanan - By Phil Carson Vintage Guitar Aug. '99

Ron “Byrd” Foster - By Scott Mervis, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette July 01, 2011

Live from Austin
Byrd Foster with Roy Buchanon - Live from Austin 1976
Sweet Lightning 1972
The Silencers - Ron second from left
The Silencers -Agent Double OO Soul
Iron City House Rockers - 1983
The Midnight Creepers with Warren King
The Shawn Rounds Band
The Igniters Reunion 2010