Who are my real musical influences

I’ve been thinking about who and what has influenced my music. Many of the writers who reviewed my country and folk music EP wrote with great confidence of the artists I was ‘clearly influenced by’; but the thing is, they were wrong. It seems that if your voice sounds a bit like someone else’s – then that artist is cited as an influence; apparently my music has been influenced by Johnny Cash, Lloyd Cole and Leonard Cohen; because I’ve got a deep voice and I’m a bit wordy at times.

I don’t consciously try to sound like, play like or write like anyone else; however – like every musician who has ever lived – I’m clearly influenced by the artists and songwriters that I’ve listened to or have played the songs of.

So what’s in the mix that has lead me to write the songs I do, play the guitar the way I play it and sound the way I do?

The following accounts are the people and events my brain is throwing up in response to this question; it could be that it’s suppressing influences to protect me, or to throw both of us of the scent.

Tom Waits

Tom Waits has been a songwriter, artist that I’ve listened to since the 70s – starting with his first piano driven 50s hobo act – through to his re-invention as a clanging hoarse junkyard poet (Swordfishtrombones). As an aside, I met Tom Waits in Edinburgh after a gig he played at the Playhouse in the 1980s; it wasn’t quite the momentous occasion that it sounds; he asked me if I knew a good place to go for a late drink. Not being from Edinburgh I had no idea. The personal relationship between me and Tom started and finished right there.

Guitar playing

The events, books and players who taught me guitar but are now ‘hidden in the mix’ of my style are:

Classical guitar playing. I first started to learn guitar (I was about 13) on a nylon strung classical guitar; I learned from a book on classical guitar playing. I still have the tendency to play the odd arpeggio or a random flamenco influenced lick.

A book on ‘rock rhythm guitar playing’ that I can’t remember the name of; it taught me how to ‘strum’ in lots of different rhythms and added a very distinctly sharp staccato to my playing style.

Wilko Johnson; as a teenager I learned every one of his guitar parts from the 1976 Dr Feelgood’s live album ‘Stupidity’. Chunk, chunk, chaunka – ‘Back in the night’.

Steve Forbert; similarly I learned every guitar lick on every song from Steve Forbert’s 1978 album, Alive on Arrival. Lots of G, Am and D stuff.

Big Bill Broonzy and lots of the finger-picking blues players from the 30s and 40s. I couldn’t play the complex blues picking of those old guys but because I listened to so much of it, it seeped in to whatever part of my brain that stores musical styles – and it is now seeping out again when I play the guitar. In general the simplicity of the blues has influenced my songwriting and taught me about building and resolving musical tension.

The Beatles and the Stones; I learned a lot of Beatles and Rolling Stones songs as a very young teenager; I wasn’t trying to learn the style of any particular player (I wouldn’t have known who played what) but playing their songs taught me the logic of their chord structures and the way they put their songs together; I’m influenced now in as much as if I play anything that reminds me of one of their chord structures I try to avoid it; because I’m so familiar with it, it sounds like a cliche.

Punk and Garage bands; my playing in bands consisted of my playing fast – with lots of bar chords and bits of chords half-way up the guitar neck combined with open strings; I did this while swinging my arm about theatrically. I’m still trying to figure out how that translates to playing the acoustic guitar.

The Carter Family; most recently my guitar playing has been influenced by Maybelle Carter; as I’ve been playing quite a few Carter Family songs.

The Punk Era

Punk music was the music of my teenage years and like many teenagers at the time I wasn’t just a fan I was part of the Punk ‘movement’; bands like The Sex Pistols, The Buzzcocks, PIL, The Rezillos, Siouxsie & The Banshees and later bands that had punk attitude like The Jam and Adam and the Ants.

The first band I played in was a punk band and all the bands I’ve played in since have been influenced in some way by the attitudes of the punk period. I’m still not keen on long guitar solos and I struggle at times to connect with delicate, quiet and reserved playing styles.

Punk taught me to play fast energetic music; so I struggled to play slowly when I started playing solo acoustic; it’s taken me a couple of years to slow down.

It also taught me to jump about on stage; but that doesn’t work in the folk clubs for an artist playing an acoustic guitar.

I’m fond of the ‘do it yourself’ attitude; which was part of punk; so no need to use a studio if you can record your album yourself (not that that is unusual now; it’s become the default approach).

However I’ve no desire to listen to punk music now; it was the music of my youth – and I’m not a nostalgic person. I wore a ‘Denis the menace’ style top when I was a punk; and I don’t wear that now.

Piano players

Piano players influenced my guitar playing. I loved a lot of piano playing when I was young; anyone who had the New Orleans swing; people like Professor Longhair or Dr John – or could play barrelhouse blues or stride piano. The rhythm of the piano players influenced my songwriting and the rhythms I play on the guitar.


There are a lot of styles that I think have influenced the way I sing (or don’t sing); the crooners (including Frank Sinatra), Elvis, Edwyn Collins, old time American country and blues players, dramatic ‘European’ sounding singers like Jacques Brel and the pop singers of the 60s and punk ‘anti-singing’ style of Johnny Rotten.

I sang ‘Blue Christmas’ a few years ago in the Ettrick in Old Kilpatrick – and was told by an admittedly drunk audience member that I sang ‘better than Elvis’. Clearly I don’t believe that but I’ve been waiting for the day when I can tell someone about that compliment; and this is as good a time as any. 🙂

The end

So there you go – that’s as much as I can remember right now; the people, books and music that have actually influenced me rather than those people that I ‘sound a bit like’.

And this influence thing goes on; I continue to learn and be changed by the music I listen to and the cover songs I learn. At the moment I’m listening to a lot of old time country music and both old and new American and British folk. These styles are coming out in the songs I’m writing.

Thinking about what I’m writing at the moment I notice another influence I haven’t mentioned and that is 20s and 30s Jazz; of the sort of that Louis Armstrong would be playing trumpet on.

I could go on for ever; there will never be a time when there isn’t great music to listen to, learn from and be influenced by; this continual discovery of new music is a joy in itself.

Check out my latest EP, ‘4 Country & Folk Songs‘, to hear what all these influences add up to.

59 year old songwriter signs his first solo record deal

“I’m excited! I feel I’m doing my best work – writing my best songs.”

At the age of 59, songwriter Jim Byrne has signed to FoxStar Records. His first release is the EP ‘4 Country & Folk Songs’ is a mix of roots-based influences (country, blues, Cajun fiddle & accordion and Scottish folk) and melodic singer-songwriter sounds from the 1960s.

On ‘The Yellow Clock’ and ‘This Heart of Mine is a Blind Blind Fool’ Jim is joined by fellow country music lover and singer/storyteller Lesley O’Brien (Carlton Jug Band) – to great effect – as Lesley’s voice complements his own.

About Jim Byrne

Born in Clydebank Jim spent his teenage years playing in punk bands and many subsequent years playing in garage bands, (most notably, The Primevals). When he set out on a solo career in 2008 he picked up his acoustic guitar and headed towards the Americana genre.

An award-winning songwriter and accomplished guitar player, he has self-released 4 critically acclaimed solo albums. The three most recent, ‘Oh My Beautiful You’, ’The Innocent’ and ‘Every Day is Sunshine’ were well received by listeners and press alike (Q Magazine, UNCUT, Maverick, Folk Blues and Beyond, Spiral Earth).

Jim has toured internationally and has supported artists such as Benny Gallagher (of Gallagher and Lyle) and shared the stage with Blues performers Hans Theessink and Whizz Jones (famed for influencing Eric Clapton).

As a songwriter he has written with, among others, the Jazz singer Carol Kidd, pop singer Marti Pellow and with the poet Janet Crawford.

What they are saying about ‘4 Country & Folk Songs’:

“…it feels like his soul is communicating directly with your soul. Duglas T Stewart (BMX Bandits) “…dives headlong into Americana territory. Magic.” Dave Acari – Touring musician & songwriter
“a great songwriter. reminds you of the greats like Johnny Cash, Leonard Cohen.” Michaela Foster Marsh, Singer & musician, finalist of Scotswoman of the Year
“an undeniably ‘classic’ sound.. same time somehow sounding like a fresh take.” Jamie Flett, folk/ folk rock musician, singer songwriter

Talk to Jim about his latest release

Jim is an entertaining guest and would love to chat about his new songs and the story of the new EP. Send him an email to arrange an interview: [email protected]

  • Listen to The Yellow Clock: https://tinyurl.com/yuys8cd6
  • Download the EP tracks: Wav files: https://tinyurl.com/4hhmv86t Mp3 files: https://tinyurl.com/5f46b8uy
  • FoxStar Records: https://www.foxstarrecords.com Twitter: https://twitter.com/SongwritingMagc
  • Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/musicbyjimbyrne

About the songs The Yellow Clock

A daughter arrives back home from the funeral of her mother; she contemplates the passing of time, mortality and previous generations. She can’t sleep, she looks at her mother’s possessions around her and the flowers sent by friends; the flowers act as a painful reminder of her loss.
This Heart of Mine is a Blind Blind Fool
A country song influenced by Cajun music (with a smidgen of 1940’s big band call and response). It’s about the tension between giving into the temptations of a wandering heart and staying with your true love.

Tell The Devil I’ve Stole His Crown of Pain

There is a sub-genre of songs called, Murder Ballads, which are traditional folk ballads (narrative songs) that describe a crime or a murder. This song is influenced by elements of that genre. It was written during the initial phase of the ‘Me To’ movement; which I suspect is where the manipulative, charismatic male character comes from. There is also an element of the supernatural; that’s the Scottish influence.

The Holy Ghost

A country/Americana song – you will need to work this one out for yourself; there’s a man, a woman, the church – it seems like something’s gone wrong and perhaps someone is being protected from the consequences. Maybe?


Mastered by Mark Freegard at Kyoti Recording Studio Glasgow.
Guitar(s), vocals, bass and percussion on all tracks by Jim Byrne – unless otherwise indicated.

The Musicians involved:

  • Backing Vocals on Yellow Clock & Blind Blind Fool by Lesley O’Brien.
  • Backing Vocals on Blind Blind Fool, Tell The Devil by Michael Clark & Robert Ruthven.
  • Backing Vocals on The Holy Ghost by Robert Ruthven.
  • Drums on Tell The Devil & The Holy Ghost by Lejoe Young
  • Drums on Blind Blind Fool by Brian Petry
  • Fiddle on Yellow Clock, Blind Blind Fool and Tell The Devil by Kurt Baumer.
  • Accordion on Blind Blind Fool by Yoursound. All songs by Jim Byrne.

10 unusual facts about the singer songwriter Jim Byrne

  1. Jim has received an award from the king of Sweden; The Global Bangemann Challenge award for work related to web accessibility.
  2. Has American Indian blood in him – as a result of a 19th century marriage between an Irish booth boxer and a touring Cowboys and Indians show.
  3. Was a finalist in the UK wide ‘Grolsch live wire’ songwriting content.
  4. Worked for a time as a statistics and research methods lecturer at Glasgow Caledonian University.
  5. Worked as a computer programmer from 1979 until 1982 with a business called Computrav; programming ‘mini’ computers which used 12″ circular storage discs that screwed in to a large cabinet.
  6. Co-wrote a song with Marti Pellow of Wet Wet Wet. Marti Pellow who grew up in the same town (Clydebank) and is related through his mothers sister. Has also co-wrote a song with the Jazz singer Carol Kidd MBE.
  7. Runs a web design and development business aimed at the Voluntary, public and education sector and is a specialist in accessible web design.
  8. Played guitar in the Psychadelic rock band, The Primevals.
  9. Attended Glasgow School of Art as a teenager after winning an art contest in the Glasgow Herald.
  10. Is a published author of technical books and web accessibility guides (author/editor of the current Scottish Accessible Information Forum Accessible website design guide).

How do you know what your best songs are?

Advice that I was given when I was 17 popped into my head. Which was, ‘you should only ever record your best songs’

How is it possible to know what your best songs are? When they are not necessarily; your own favourites; the most musically accomplished; the ones with the best arrangement or the best performance or best recording?

How do you know what your best songs are when some work better live and some work better recorded, those that people seem to like most are those you like least and those that are so simple you are embarrassed by them seem to be the ones that people want to hear?

How do you know what your best songs are when you’ve been writing songs for thirty years but can only remember the ones you’ve written in the last year; and when your critical faculties are shackled by your own taste, prejudices, and formative musical influences?

How do you know what your best songs are? No bloody idea. Not now – and I suspect – not back then.