Joe Byrd, a bassist best known for his work with his brother, the late guitarist Charlie Byrd, died March 6 in Annapolis, Md., of injuries sustained in an automobile accident. According to police reports documented in Maryland news outlets, Byrd was killed when his car was struck by an SUV driven by a man with numerous previous traffic offenses. He was 78.
Joe Byrd was born with the given name Gene on May 21, 1933, in Chuckatuck, Va. The youngest of four brothers, he took the nickname Joe in childhood, and it stuck throughout his life. The boys’ father, Newman, was a farmer and musician and he led a family band-Joe also played guitar early in his career, but following military service, he attended the Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore, where he graduated with a degree in double bass and in teaching.
Joe joined his brother Charlie’s trio and remained with him for four decades (Chuck Redd filled out the trio on drums and vibraphone), performing in more than 100 countries, including State Department-sponsored tours. The group also performed at the White House for three presidents.
The 1962 Verve album Jazz Samba, credited to saxophonist Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd, and featuring Joe (still billed as Gene) on rhythm guitar as well as bass, reached number one on the Billboard pop albums chart, the only jazz album ever to do so. The first massively successful album of its kind commercially, it ushered in a wave of bossa nova-tinged jazz recordings, a fusion of styles that remains popular today.
Joe Byrd also backed other musicians who performed in the Washington, D.C., area, including Jimmy Witherspoon, Mose Allison and Coleman Hawkins. Byrd retired from performing a few years ago. (Charlie Byrd passed away in 1999.)